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Deep Snowpack Could Shrink US Spring Wheat Acreage

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A prolonged winter across the US northern Plains could shrink spring wheat acreage as melting snows bring overly wet conditions. The current snowpack in the critical states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, which together account for about three-quarters of spring wheat, is at the highest levels of this century. 

Previous years of significant snowpack in spring wheat growing areas occurred in 2013 and 2011, when about 1.25 million and 2 million acres of spring wheat, respectively, weren't planted because of excessive moisture. 

Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, weighted to US spring wheat growing areas, highlights the extreme soil moisture readings seen in 2013 and 2011. And given today’s snow depth, soil moisture levels are expected to surpass previous highs once the snow melts. 

Today’s snowpack, which was made worse by this week’s late season blizzard, far exceeds those of 2013 and 2011, increasing the risk of high prevent plant acres in the region. (See graph below.) That could drive spring wheat acreage below the 10.57 million acres forecast in the USDA’s March Prospective Plantings report, which already represents the lowest acres since 1972. Spring wheat represents about 30% of total US wheat production. 

Prevent-plant estimates are important because they have a direct effect on final production numbers. Prevent plant also can cause a shift of acreage away from spring wheat and into soybeans, which are planted later. Farmers in Minnesota and the Dakotas prefer to plant spring wheat by the end of April to optimize yield, whereas soybeans can be planted into early June. 

Rising spring temperatures, as seen in this Gro forecast display, could quicken the snowmelt in the coming weeks, raising flood risk in the region. Gro’s Climate Index - Observed Flood can be used to monitor how much of a county has been flooded, and therefore the risk to agricultural areas affected by floods. 

Concerns about spring wheat come on top of poor prospects for the US winter wheat crop, which emerged from dormancy last month amid drought conditions in the southern Plains. Good-to-excellent crop conditions for US winter wheat, at 28%, is the second-lowest start to the spring season in more than four decades. In Kansas, normally the largest winter wheat producer, just 16% of the crop is rated good-to-excellent.

Dry conditions in Canada, the world’s biggest spring wheat producer in some years, also threaten the crop’s production. So far this year, accumulated precipitation in Canada’s key spring wheat growing areas has been 40% below the 10-year average, and represents the lowest amount of accumulated rainfall since 2013.

When Canada’s growing season gets underway, Gro’s Canada Spring Wheat Yield Forecast Model provides daily yield forecasts at the district level across the country’s largest wheat producing provinces.

The current snowpack in US spring wheat growing regions is the highest of this century, increasing the prospect of reduced planted acreage as melting snows bring overly wet conditions. 
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