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Farmers to Abandon Big Share of US Winter Wheat Crop, Gro Predicts

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Hard red winter wheat farmers in the US will abandon a substantial portion of their crop this year, as drought continues to punish the southern Plains for a second year in a row, Gro predicts.

In Kansas, the top state for hard red winter wheat (HRW), around 10% of the crop will be deemed uneconomic to harvest, while Texas will see at least 65% of its HRW acres abandoned, according to a Gro analysis. That’s well above historical averages of 6% abandonment in Kansas and 55% in Texas over the past 10 years. HRW, which represents about 40% of total US wheat production, can be grown as a cash crop or a cover crop. 

The higher-than-average abandonment rates would represent a further setback for HRW production, which already is threatened by lower crop yields projected to be down by double-digits from the five-year average, according to Gro’s machine-learning Yield Forecast Model. Last year, HRW production fell by 29% year over year to the lowest level in 65 years. 

Gro estimates HRW abandoned acres by analyzing historical correlations between Gro’s Drought Index and abandonment rates. Gro Drought Index readings are a strong predictor of HRW abandoned acres, with Index readings during the months of March and April, when the crop is emerging from winter dormancy, showing the greatest correlation, the Gro analysis shows. 

The USDA NASS Crop Production Report will issue its first estimate of HRW abandoned acres on May 12.  

Last spring, Gro estimated a 2022 HRW abandonment rate of 8% in Kansas and 60% in Texas. Official abandonment rates came in at 9.6% for Kansas and 74.8% for Texas, according to final USDA figures released at the end of September 2022. Nationwide, 2022 HRW abandoned acres represented 34% of the total, compared with 24% in the preceding 10 years. 

Kansas HRW-growing areas are currently experiencing “extreme” levels of drought that are among the worst in 20 years, according to the Gro Drought Index weighted for the state’s HRW acres using Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture. In Texas, Gro Drought Index readings are in the “severe” category, as seen in this Navigator display

The HRW crop’s punishing conditions are underlined by the USDA's weekly crop conditions report. In Kansas, only 11% of the HRW crop is rated in good-to-excellent condition, sharply below the 38% five-year average for this time of year. Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska aren’t much better at 7%, 20%, and 12%, respectively.

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