Ag Weather Forum

Dry Spring Takes Starch Out of Hard Red Winter Wheat

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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Drought is now in effect over almost one-third of winter wheat areas, mostly due to a sharp degradation in drought conditions in Kansas during the past four weeks. (USDA and NDMC graphics)

The month of April has not been kind to the U.S. winter wheat crop. USDA's Ag in Drought assessment for April 23 placed 30% -- close to one-third -- of U.S. winter wheat production within an area experiencing drought. That is almost double the area -- 17% -- of U.S. winter wheat production in drought just four weeks prior in the week of March 25. The Ag in Drought assessment is based on U.S. Drought Monitor data.

The big reason for this jump in winter wheat drought area is hard red winter (HRW) wheat -- the largest class of winter wheat production -- had from below normal to almost no rain in Kansas, the largest wheat production state, during April.

April precipitation in Kansas offers some details. In the high-production corridor of U.S. Highway 81, Wichita's April precipitation total checks in at 1.45 inches -- 53% below the average of 3.10 inches. Salina's April precipitation at 0.48 inches is 82% below the average of 2.61 inches.

Southwestern Kansas has had an even drier time, going back to the beginning of meteorological spring.

"No measurable precipitation fell during the week in Dodge City, Kansas, leaving the March 1-April 27 total at 0.27 inch (9% of normal)," noted the April 30 USDA Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin. Strong winds have made things worse. "Dodge City's winds gusted to 50 mph or higher this month on April 6, 15, 16, 18, 22, and 23," the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin noted.

The result is a dramatic resurgence of drought conditions in this key wheat-growing state. The four-week U.S. Drought Monitor Class Change assessment for April 23 features most of southwestern Kansas incurring drought degradation of two to three categories. The bottom line is that any precipitation boost from El Nino during the winter season is now gone.

In addition, very warm temperatures have moved the wheat crop along to advanced post-dormancy stages. A full one-third -- 33% -- of the Kansas wheat crop is now headed, more than five times the average of 6% headed by the end of April. With limited moisture to support that advanced crop, small kernels and lower yields are possible.

Heavy rain in southeast Kansas during the final weekend of April largely bypassed the primary wheat production portion of the state. In terms of winter wheat in drought, updates of the Ag in Drought analysis may show some drought easing in soft red winter wheat areas, but the stress now underway in HRW brings a strong note of uncertainty to a crop season that showed high promise just a few weeks ago.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at


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