Wheat growers in the Southern Plains have known the effects of a drought for about 120 consecutive weeks, and now their neighbors to the north have been added to the drought disaster list.  Nearly 600 US counties—20% of them—have been declared disaster areas in the first such USDA designation in 2013.  Drought and heat, an environment unsatisfactory for the development of the hard red winter wheat crop, have seriously threatened the vitality of the crop.

While disaster declarations were weekly events in 2012, adding dozens of counties at a time to a growing list that included 2,245 by year’s end, the initial declaration came quickly in 2013.  And it is all because of the US wheat crop that began its life in the worst condition since USDA began reporting wheat condition and crop progress. 

USDA officially identified 597 counties as primary disaster areas and made farmers eligible for low interest loans. USDA said, “The 597 counties have shown a drought intensity value of at least D2 (Drought Severe) for eight consecutive weeks based on U.S. Drought Monitor  measurements, providing for an automatic designation.”

Disaster Program Benefits

USDA identified 9 program initiatives that are available to help farmers in the disaster counties as well as the low interest loans. 

Those included “USDA actions to get help to farmers, ranchers and businesses impacted by the 2012 drought, including lowering the interest rate for emergency loans, working with crop insurance companies to provide flexibility to farmers, and expanding the use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for haying and grazing, which opened 2.8 million acres and brought nearly $200 million in forage for all livestock producers during a critical period. Many of those same actions continue to bring relief to producers ahead of the 2013 planting season.”

The 597 primary counties designated as disaster areas Wednesday by USDA were in these states: Alabama, 14; Arkansas, 47; Arizona, 4; Colorado, 30; Georgia, 92; Hawaii, 2; Kansas, 88; Oklahoma, 76; Missouri, 31; New Mexico, 19; Nevada, 9; South Carolina, 11; Texas, 157; and Utah, 17. The Farm Service Agency has individual counties list here.  With 88 Kansas and 76 Oklahoma counties among the 597, much of the hard red winter wheat area in the Southern Plains is included in the disaster declaration. 

There was an indication of the declining quality of the crop in the USDA’s Wheat Outlook  published December 31. It reported:

"Winter wheat conditions as of November 25 are not as favorable as last year at this time. For all winter wheat seedings, 33% of the crop rated good to excellent compared to 52% a year ago. 26% of the seedings this year are rated poor to very poor compared to 13% a year ago at this time.

"This year’s crop conditions are quite variable by region of the country. Conditions for HRW seedings are not as good as for SRW seedings. For the Central and Southern Plains, the percentage of seedings rated poor to very poor are: Nebraska, 46; Oklahoma, 44; and Texas, 40; and Kansas, 25. South Dakota is even worse, with 64 percent of the crop rated poor to very poor."

Moisture Stressed

The Jan. 8 report from the Climate Data Center indicated the new wheat crop tried to germinate and grow in the 27th driest October through December in the 117 year history of weather records.  “For the smaller Primary Hard Red Winter Wheat belt, November 2012 ranked 23rd driest and October-December tenth driest. By year's end, January-December 2012 ranked as the ninth driest year on record for the Winter Wheat belt and third driest for the Primary Hard Red Winter Wheat belt.

“Record dryness occurred for several states in August and September. The persistence of drought gave several states record dry seasons, including Arkansas (April-June and other seasons), Kansas (May-July), Nebraska (June-August and other seasons), and South Dakota (July-September). Six states in the Plains and Midwest (Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) ranked in the top ten driest category for January-November, with Nebraska having the driest January-November on record. For January-December 2012, five Great Plains and Midwest states ranked in the top ten driest category, including Nebraska which had the driest year on record.

“Nearly all of the Northern Plains was enveloped in drought by October, which is a record in the 13-year US Drought Monitor history. Drought coverage also rapidly increased in the Midwest, peaking at about 73.7 percent in July, which is also a USDM record. In early 2012, the Southern Plains was recovering from the 2011 drought. The percent area in moderate to exceptional drought decreased to a low of about 32.3 percent in May 2012 before expanding again to peak at about 73.7 percent in July.”


The hard red winter wheat crop started out with difficulty and weather conditions have not improved.  The USDA has declared much of the HRW growing region as the first disaster area of 2013, offering low interest loans and other programs to wheat growers in the Central and Southern Plains.

Source: FarmGate blog