Fundamentally Speaking

Kansas May Have the Lowest Wheat Crop Seen Since 1989

Joel Karlin
By  Joel Karlin , DTN Contributing Analyst

The Wheat Quality Council annual crop tour of Kansas wheat fields found a poor crop with the 2018 yield in the nation's largest wheat-producing state at 37.0 bushels per acre (bpa) with the crop pegged at 243 million bushels (mb), which if verified by the USDA, would be that state's lowest wheat crop since 1989.

Ironically, as tour participants were walking the fields, they were subject to some of the best rains the state had seen in weeks if not months given the severe drought that covers most of the Sunflower state. This ironically could result in even less wheat as producers contemplate disking up poor wheat and seeding soybeans or sorghum instead if moisture levels really improve.

To probe this possibility, this blog looks at the change in planted areas of wheat and sorghum in Kansas from the March Prospective plantings report to the final acreage numbers given in the annual crop production report.

Kansas is the largest producer of both crops, and we wondered if very poor wheat conditions as of the end of May would prompt farmers to reduce wheat acreage and plant sorghum instead, so we also report end of May wheat conditions, which is winter wheat using our usual methodology where we weight the crop based on the percent in each category and assign that category a factor of 2 for very poor, 4 for poor, 6 for fair, 8 for good, and 10 for excellent and then sum the results.

We note that the 2018 crop rating is at the end of April as opposed to the end of May, but the current reading of 488 if maintained toward the end of this month, would be among the worst ever. Looking at the data, 2014 had the second lowest rating in the past 30 years at 448, yet wheat seedings increased 300,000 from the March intentions to the final production report, and sorghum seedings rose by 150,000. In 2011, a very poor 480 rating led to no change in wheat, and a 100,000 increase in sorghum seedings.

In 2006, there was a higher a rating of 504 but actually saw a 400,000-acre decline in planted wheat and a 50,000-acre drop in sorghum plantings. The most extreme shift was seen in 1996, with a rating of 486, resulting in no change in wheat, yet sorghum seedings jumped 1.40 million acres from the March intentions to the final production report.

The lowest rated crop was in 1989 at an abysmal 344, and even that year wheat seedings were unchanged though sorghum plantings were up 300,000.

To be truthful, there seems to be little relation with end of May wheat crop conditions and the change in planted wheat acreage. Perhaps using harvested data would be better, although the correlation between the Kansas harvested/planted wheat ratio versus the change in that state's planted wheat acreage is only 19.4%. We would also look at May and June precipitation to see if that makes a difference, although for this year, the crop is so late it may benefit from May rains, but since it is still heading, it could be hurt more by rising temperatures this month.

Joel Karlin can be reached at



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