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Planting Delays May Temper Spring Wheat Acre Increase
USAgNet - 04/16/2018

The 2018 planting season is off to a late start in much of the key U.S. hard red spring wheat region, and further delays may temper the expected increase in planted area this year, accounding to Jim Peterson, North Dakota Wheat Commission policy and marketing director. USDA's early March survey of producers indicated strong interest in spring wheat with intended acres up 15% to 12.6 million, as compared to 11 million in 2017, and higher than most trade expectations. The strongest rebound in acres is anticipated across North Dakota and Minnesota, up 20 and 38 percent, respectively. South Dakota's hard red spring acres are expected to be up 8 percent, while Montana will hold steady.

It appears 2018 crop budgets for wheat compared favorably with many other crops. In North Dakota, spring wheat is expected to pull acres from corn, durum, barley and pulse crops. In Minnesota, strong yields and quality in their 2017 wheat crop supported further gains in wheat acres with corn and soybeans declining. In South Dakota, challenges with getting hard red winter planted during the dry fall pushed more acres to spring wheat. In Montana, a slight increase in hay acres may have tempered gains in spring wheat, despite less acres of winter wheat, durum and pulse crops.

While it is too early to forecast the impact of the delayed start to the planting season on final acres, some strength in the Minneapolis futures in early April indicates market observers are becoming concerned, Peterson noted. As of April 8, just 2 percent of the U.S. spring wheat crop was planted, all of it in the Pacific Northwest region. This is down from 6 percent for the five-year average, and below the 4 percent pace in 2017. On average, South Dakota is nearly 20 percent planted by April 1, with North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana ranging from 2 to 5 percent.

The two most recent years where a cold spring and late season snow pushed back planting were 2011 and 2013. In both years, planting did not begin until the second half of April, and less than 50% of the crop was planted by the middle of May, with the latter half extended well into early June. In both years, final planted acres fell below the March intentions.

Will a similar scenario develop this year as in 2011 and 2013? It seems likely, but certainly not a given, as weather patterns can shift quickly, and the significant drought across much of the region last growing season has left subsoil moisture profiles well below normal in many areas. Once the frost layer is gone, soils in drought regions should absorb current snowfall levels easily, but when that will begin is uncertain, given short term forecasts for continued cool, wet conditions.

Currently, acres intended for wheat in 2018 are likely most vulnerable across southern parts of the region, where ideal planting windows for hard red spring wheat typically close by early to mid-May, and producers may opt to go with soybeans, Peterson predicted. The early March survey estimate could likely be the high point in planted acre potential and further planting delays will need to be met with gains in futures prices to hold acres.

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