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Spring Wheat Planting Off to Slow Start in Key States

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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While it isn't time to push the panic button yet on late spring wheat planting, some spots on this map have last plant dates in early May and weather forecasts don't look promising for this week. (Map courtesy of INTL FCStone)

Spring wheat planting was behind in five of the key growing states as of April 16, with Idaho and Washington significantly behind, followed by Minnesota and then North Dakota and Montana, according to last week's USDA Crop Progress report. If you look at a map of 2017 spring wheat final planting dates, parts of Idaho, Washington and Montana are three weeks away from their final insurance plant dates. Rain is expected in Washington through the rest of the month, and some estimate prevented-planting acres could be 10% to 15% as their last plant date nears. Northwestern Minnesota is experiencing cold temperatures and a rain/snow mix as of April 24, which will also stall planting.

North Dakota NASS noted that as of April 16, in the northern part of the state where large amounts of snow were received this winter, muddy soils still exist. Some isolated areas in northeast North Dakota were still experiencing some flooding. Six inches of snow fell in the same area as of April 23, with more expected in the Northern Valley to start the week. Also, most of the western half of the state, including Jamestown and north, is under a winter weather advisory as of April 24.

I talked to farmers and elevator managers in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota to find out how planting, or the lack thereof, is progressing. South Dakota is, so far, the only winner, with 52% of their spring wheat planted, ahead of the five-year average of 44% as of April 16. In the Aberdeen, South Dakota, area, one farmer said he was 100% finished planting, and another said he has all 1,700 acres planted. Others said they were done a couple weeks ago, and acres are 40% less than last year. Another farmer said he has been done for about a week and a half, but didn't plant a lot.

"Spring wheat planting is over one-half done and should finish this week," said Jerry Cope, who does the grain marketing for Dakota Mill & Grain, Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota. "Predicted rains may slow the finish, but it is early for most crops, so not sure that there will be as big of a push to switch, at least not for another week to 10 days. Low prices now, a low price outlook and, in some cases, stress getting lines of credit renewed makes it harder than ever to predict acres. However, western South Dakota farmers like to plant wheat, so I am going to guess unchanged to down no more than 10% with a wide margin of error! On the bright side, timely rains are getting planted crops off to a good start."

Todd Yeaton, manager of Gavilon elevator in Kimball, South Dakota, said, "We have 70% of last year's acres and 90% of the spring wheat is in the ground in our area."

Ryan Wagner, Wagner Farms in Roslyn, South Dakota, told me, "We started last Saturday and, after a few short delays, finished up Monday, the day after Easter. For the most part, the guys that are still growing spring wheat around here only planned on seeding a field or two for straw or a place to put manure, so most only had a day's worth of seeding to do anyway. We got a nice 0.5 inch of rain on top of everything after planting was done, so it should get off to a good start."

Heading north of the border to North Dakota, the stories are much different than their southern neighbors. Allan Rohrich, Rohrich Farms in Zeeland, North Dakota, farms with his brother and father. He told me that they are about 50% planted on spring wheat but were shut down by showers early in the week. "Looks like we may see some more tomorrow that will keep us out of the field 'til close to the weekend. Planting has been slow around the area, mainly because I don't think there is much wheat going to be planted."

Brad Thykeson, of Portland, North Dakota, said, "Pretty slow to start. There are pockets of seed in the ground, but north of Highway 2, it will be closer to May."

Matt Powell of Hope, North Dakota, said there will be no planting for a week in Hope. Ola Lindell of Jamestown, North Dakota, said they were at least a week away if they have decent weather. And Josh Ostenson of Finley, North Dakota said, "Haven't turned a wheel yet." A farmer in Binford, North Dakota, said he didn't know of anyone in that area that has seeded any spring wheat.

Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains, Grain and Agronomy in Enderlin, North Dakota, told me late in the week, "Local area maybe has close to 25% of this year's spring wheat planted. Was in the Mott, North Dakota, area midweek; 70% to 80% of the wheat planted. Acres are down 25% from last year. While 80% to 90% of last year's crop is marketed, there is no new crop on the books."

Jeff Kittell, a merchandiser at Border Ag & Energy in Russell, North Dakota, said, "Nothing has been done in area north of Minot; we still have snow in tree rows, but we may see some NH3 going down later this week. I have heard some wheat has been planted in Garrison area."

Paul Anderson, a farmer in the Coleharbor, North Dakota area, which is near Garrison, told me that he has to plant peas and lentils first before he can start wheat.

Dave Kjelstrup, who farms near Underwood, North Dakota, said that "Planting is underway but kind of slow. Lots of wet spots in the fields, so you have to pick where to seed. Wheat planting is going to be way down, obviously because of the price. We are only putting in close to 700 acres; starting on it the end of the week. I don't think farmers around here are going to plant much wheat, and not a lot has been planted to date. I talked to a farmer from Mohall yesterday, and he has not gotten his seeder out yet and probably won't till May."

"Spring wheat planting has started, but not by everyone," said Tim Dufault, who farms in the Crookston, Minnesota, area. "West Central Minnesota and southern Red River Valley got started last week. They are drier. Less of their total acreage base is HRS, so many on those farms might be done planting. Western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota saw rains Monday and Tuesday. That southern area saw from 1 to 1.5 inches of rain. That will stop them for a few days. Northern RRV had less rain, a trace to .75 inch, but that area was wetter to start with."

Dufault continued, "In the Crookston area, maybe a third of the growers have planted wheat, usually on drier ground like last year's sugar beet ground. In the Crookston area, maybe a third of the growers have planted wheat, usually on drier ground like last year's sugar beet ground. I thought I could start Monday night (April 17), but I was wrong. Fields still have areas that are too wet to make a good seed bed. But I think after the 0.5 inches of rain we had, I should be able to go by the weekend."

In Big Sandy, Montana, some farmers were busy seeding wheat, peas and safflowers. In the Golden Triangle, located in central Montana, wheat seeding is slightly behind normal, according to a farmer who spoke to me. He said he estimated they are a week or so behind, but he expects "Lots of acres of DNS (dark northern spring wheat) to be planted." The three points of the Golden Triangle are Havre, Conrad and Great Falls. In the heart of the Golden Triangle, Chouteau County is the largest wheat-producing county in Montana.

With fewer acres predicted to be planted in the U.S., any planting delays or the inability to get the crop in before insurance dates pass will be a concern for millers, exporters and end users. And while Canada is predicting a rise in spring wheat acres, according to the most recent Stats Can report, weather problems have plagued growers there as well.


Minimal planting has taken place on the prairies to date, with some activity reported in southern Alberta and in southwestern Saskatchewan, DTN Canadian Grains Analyst Cliff Jamieson said. "Prairie temperatures are expected to remain below normal into early May, while southern Manitoba is dealing with the aftermath of spring flooding while the northern areas of Alberta have seen recent spring snow."

"Friday's Statistics Canada report shows farmers bucking the global trend when it comes to expected acres planted to wheat, after both the United States and Australian governments reported fewer acres seeded to the crop. In total, producers are expected to seed 23.2 million acres of all-wheat (includes durum and winter wheat remaining), slightly higher than the upper end of pre-report expectations, down just 0.1% from 2016-17 and only 1.2% below the 10-year average. By class, an expected 8.2% increase in spring wheat varieties to 16.7 ma comes close to offsetting the 16.9% drop in durum acres to 5.145 ma, which is still 2.9% higher than the 10-year average," Jamieson said.

"Interestingly," Jamieson said, "this is the same year-over-year percentage drop for durum expected on both sides of the border. As well, the estimated winter wheat remaining is pegged at 1.373 ma, down 15.1%. Geographically, eastern Canada's producers are expected to trim wheat acres by 8.3%, mostly winter wheat, while prairie farmers are expected to increase planted area of all-wheat by 80,000 acres or 0.4%."

The area that is expected to boost spring wheat acres is Alberta, where, according to Stats Can estimates, acres will increase 10% to 7.4 million. Maybe so, but Alberta is still trying to harvest up to 1 ma of farmland left in the field last fall because of poor weather halting harvest attempts. On top of that, snow fell over the Easter weekend in central Alberta, further delaying farmers' ability to harvest and plant. Plus, even more snow has been falling since Easter in the northern areas of the province. Time will tell how that all plays out as far as farmers' ability to increase spring wheat acreage.

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