Widespread rains across parts of the Great Plains have stalled winter wheat seeding, fueling anxiety at a time of bountiful global stockpiles and plummeting prices.
Few farmers are as anxious to get into fields as those in Kansas, by far the nation's largest winter wheat grower with 8.5 million acres planted last season.
But muddy fields have kept Kansas farmers from planting much this fall with just 9 percent of the wheat seed now in the ground, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday. Normally by this late in the year, 17 percent has been planted in the state.
Kansas and Oklahoma were the top two wheat producers last year. In Oklahoma, just 17 percent has been seeded compared to the normal 25 percent so late in the season, NASS said.
"Moisture is good to have, but in some areas it is concerning. Too much moisture hasn't allowed guys to get into fields," said Justin Gilpin, executive director of Kansas Wheat, a joint venture of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and Kansas Wheat Commission.
The rain is not only delaying wheat planting in the state, but also stalling fall harvest of crops like soybeans. That could ultimately affect the acres planted for the 2010 crop because growers in central and eastern Kansas often double-crop winter wheat behind soybeans, Gilpin said.
Kansas farmers have a narrow window, optimally between Sept. 20 and Oct. 15, to get the crop into the ground in time to give it a chance to get rooted before winter sets in, said Bill Spiegel, a Kansas Wheat spokesman.
But winter wheat planting is just slightly behind the five-year average when the 18 top wheat-growing states are factored in. NASS reported that overall about 24 percent of the winter wheat has been planted, just slightly below the 25 percent average.
In Texas, farmers have 32 percent of their wheat fields seeded, while Nebraska has 56 percent planted. South Dakota growers have half their wheat acreage seeded.
It is uncertain this early in the planting season how much of the nation's acreage will be planted into winter wheat or what effect the unusually wet fall may have on planting decisions.
"We are likely to see quite a bit of wheat planted in Kansas even though prices are terrible right now," said Mike Woolverton, a grain marketing economist at Kansas State University.
Many farmers across the Great Plains who had planned to cut wheat acreage because of low prices have changed their minds in the past six weeks to take advantage of good moisture conditions.
"That is true in most of the Great Plains," Woolverton said. "Even Texas, where it has been just terribly dry, has been getting some thunderstorms out of all this activity and seen some moisture replenishment, and so I think we are going to see Texas plant more wheat than they might have otherwise."
Another unknown factor will be the impact on crop acreage of the 3.5 million-plus acres coming out this month from the Conservation Reserve Program, the program that pays farmers not to plant crops.
The majority of those former CRP acres are in the Great Plains wheat states. Kansas has 371,000 acres coming out of CRP, and some farmers are plowing those acres and planting wheat this fall, Woolverton said.
Also coming into play are huge carry-over wheat stocks globally. The 2008 wheat crop of 682 million metric tons was the biggest ever grown in the world, Woolverton said. That was followed by the 2009 wheat harvest that was better than expected.
All that wheat clogging the world markets has driven down wheat prices.
But Woolverton said that's not dissuading farmers from planting more wheat. If wheat prices sink too low, farmers can let livestock graze the crop come spring and replant something else.
"It doesn't make any sense logically with wheat prices low, but that is not what I am hearing from the field," he said. "If the moisture is there, they are going to take advantage of it and plant wheat."
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