OMAHA (DTN) -- Even with North America experiencing some of the coldest weather in almost 20 years, there has been very little damage to the U.S. winter wheat crop.
The brunt of cold waves in December and early January did not plummet into the driest areas of the southwestern Plains. Locations in the Midwest soft red winter wheat areas, where the bone-chilling air masses focused their tracks, had wetter conditions and snow cover to lessen the potential for damage. For example, as much as a foot of snow fell in the Ohio Valley during the Jan. 4-5 weekend prior to subzero temperatures.
There is another production-friendly detail forming for winter wheat: Sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean show a modest but consistent trend toward above-normal values. "This suggests the potential for more moisture in that southwestern Plains wheat area for late winter," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino.
Add it together, and the prognosis for the U.S. wheat crop in 2014 is favorable. The wheat supply during winter 2013-14 is enhanced as well by the record 37.5 million metric tons harvested in Canada last fall, which sent a shockwave throughout the trade. This lower-price scenario is underlined by activity in the wheat market, according to DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom.
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The structure of the winter wheat market is bearish, Newsom said. "We have pressure from both commercial and noncommercial traders. The trend in the futures spreads is down, meaning a strengthening carry and a more bearish commercial outlook."
There is, however, some potential for short-term weather-related market concern. Some damage to U.S. winter wheat is possible following bitter-cold conditions the first weekend of January, which extended below-zero Fahrenheit temperatures as far south as the Oklahoma panhandle. In addition, Plains wheat areas had almost no snowfall with this system, while soft red winter wheat areas of the eastern Midwest received 6 to 12 inches of snow.
Some possible damage to winter wheat cannot be ruled out, mostly because of dry conditions leading to stress next spring. "Direct cold injury is not the only source of winter injury. Under dry soil conditions, wheat plants may suffer from desiccation. This can kill or weaken plants, and is actually a more common problem than direct cold injury," wrote Kansas State University Extension Crops Specialist Jim Shroyer in a Kansas Wheat Growers e-mail newsletter.
Official assessments of desiccation injury prospects are quite low. Soil moisture assessments by the U.S. Foreign Ag Service indicate adequate surface moisture in the Plains, as well as in competitor wheat areas of Europe and the Black Sea region.
However, the Arctic air outbreak has the potential to cause some damage in the western Plains, particularly to later-planted wheat that may lack extensive root structure.
"We have basically open ground conditions and any time the wind gets above 20-25 (mph), there is dirt in the air," said western Nebraska wheat grower Leon Kriesel. "With the ground frozen it would be a real disaster if the soil really starts to move."
Bryce Anderson can be reached at Bryce.firstname.lastname@example.org
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