By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

The common refrain right now is “the world is awash with wheat.” While that is true in the aggregate, in terms of milling wheat and, more specifically, high-protein milling wheat, supply is very tight. The impact of the small supply of high-protein milling wheat can be seen in the protein premiums for both U.S. hard red spring (HRS) and hard red winter (HRW) wheat. The following is a breakdown of pricing and availability of the U.S. high-protein wheat supply by class and port of export. Please note that U.S. wheat protein is expressed on a 12 percent moisture basis, not on a dry matter basis, thus U.S. 11.5 percent protein is equal to 13.1 percent protein on a dry matter basis.

Hard Red Winter

According to USDA, HRW production fell 32 percent from 2016/17 to 20.4 million metric tons (MMT), putting total HRW supply at 36.5 MMT. According to USW Crop Quality data, the average protein of this year’s HRW crop is 11.4 percent. That is similar to last year, but below the 5-year average. Overall, 55 percent of HRW samples were less than 11.5 percent protein; 26 percent had 11.5 to 12.5 percent protein and 19 percent had protein levels above 12.5 percent. Extrapolating that to HRW production, there is roughly:

  • 9 MMT of HRW with protein greater than 12.5 percent;
  • 3 MMT with protein between 11.5 and 12.5 percent; and
  • 2 MMT with less than 11.5 percent protein available.

The smaller crop and lower protein support both the Kansas City Board of Trade HRW futures market and protein premiums; however, that support varies by export tributary.

Gulf. The 2017/18 marketing year (beginning June 1) average protein premium for Gulf HRW 12.0 percent protein on a 12 percent moisture basis (mb) is 51 percent above the 2016/17 marketing average at $69 per metric ton (MT) and $20 dollars per MT above the 5-year average. The HRW Gulf export tributary region experienced its second consecutive year of higher yields and very limited heat stress during the growing season, resulting in lower than normal protein. According to USW Crop Quality data, the average protein for Gulf export tributary HRW is 11.2 percent, compared to the 5-year average of 12.8 percent protein. This means that while protein premiums for high-protein HRW are climbing, ordinary HRW from the Gulf represents a significant bargain for customers with export basis levels 31 percent below the 5-year average at $28/MT.

Pacific Northwest (PNW). Unlike the Gulf export tributary states, HRW in the PNW tributary states was stressed by high temperatures and little rainfall in 2017/18, boosting protein content but cutting yields. According to USW Crop Quality data, the average protein for PNW export tributary HRW is 12.0 percent, similar to the five-year average but higher than the average of 11.7 percent protein in 2016/17. USDA estimates the PNW HRW tributary states sampled by USW produced 3.5 MMT, or just 17 percent of the total U.S. HRW supply. With the PNW supply limited, albeit a supply with higher protein than the Gulf, the average price for 12.0 percent protein HRW is 9 percent higher than the 2016/17 value at $238/MT, but still well below the 5-year average of $277/MT. This represents an excellent opportunity for customers to lock in prices before supplies dwindle in the second half of the marketing year.

Hard Red Spring

According to USDA, HRS production fell 22 percent to 10.5 MMT in 2017/18. Total HRS supply declined 18 percent from 2016/17 to 20.8 MMT on smaller production and beginning stocks. According to USW Crop Quality data, the average protein of this year’s HRS crop is 14.6 percent. That is above both last year and the 5-year average of 14.0 percent. Overall, 22 percent of HRS samples tested had less than 13.5 percent protein; 23 percent of samples had 13.5 to 14.5 percent protein and 55 percent of samples had greater than 14.5 percent protein. If that is extrapolated out to HRS production, then roughly:

  • 8 MMT of HRS was produced with protein greater than 14.5 percent;
  • 4 MMT having protein between 13.5 and 14.5 percent; and
  • 3 MMT with less than 11.5 percent protein available.

This distribution caused protein premiums for HRS to fall below the 5-year average, but supported HRS MGEX futures, which spiked in July and remain an average $49/MT above last year’s futures prices due to the smaller supply. Like HRW, price impacts of the smaller supply vary by export tributary region but were more evenly distributed due to a nearly even production split between regions.

Eastern Region. The average cash price for Gulf HRS 14.0 percent protein is 16 percent above the 2016/17 marketing average at $298/MT. The higher price is supported by the extreme drought across the U.S. Northern Plains which cut production but boosted protein content. USW Crop Quality data showed the average protein for Gulf export tributary HRS was 14.4 percent, compared to the 5-year average of 14.0 percent protein.

Western Region. The drought had devastating effects on yields in the Western Region, specifically in Montana and western North Dakota and South Dakota, but did boost protein levels. According to USW Crop Quality data, the average protein for the PNW export tributary is 14.9 percent, compared to the 5-year average of 14.2 percent protein. With the increased availability of high-protein HRS, the average protein premium for 14.0 protein HRS fell 10 percent year over year to $53/MT, well below the 5-year average of $67/MT.

With Canadian wheat production falling an estimated 5.5 MMT year over year and the sharp drop in U.S. high-protein wheat production, the global supply of high-protein wheat has tightened. Depending on what protein specifications customers need, this may be the best time to lock in lower HRS protein premiums. Low-protein HRW also represents an excellent buying opportunity for specific customers.

Harvest Report

USW and its partner organizations have completed the crop quality analysis of the 2017/18 U.S. hard red spring (HRS), soft white (SW) and durum crops. The final data is summarized below. The complete analyses will appear in class-specific reports and USW’s 2017 Crop Quality Booklet, and shared with hundreds of customers around the world as part of USW’s annual Crop Quality Seminars.

Full regional quality reports for the 2017 HRS, SW, northern durum and Desert Durum® crops are posted at

Hard Red Spring. USDA estimates that the total 2017/18 HRS supply (excluding imports) is down 19 percent from 2016/17 due to smaller production and beginning stocks.

Overall, 97 percent of Eastern Region and 83 percent of Western Region samples graded U.S. No. 1. The overall average test weight is 61.6 lb/bu (81 kg/hl), similar to the 5-year average, though the Western Region average is lower due to drought. The average protein is 14.6 percent (12 percent mb), higher than both 2016 and the 5-year average. More than one-half of all samples have greater than 14.5 percent protein in 2017 compared to just 36 percent in 2016.

The smaller 2017 HRS crop has many positive attributes, including high grades, plentiful protein, little to no DON and very good functional performance. Protein levels, shrunken and broken kernels and thousand kernel weights are more variable than recent years due to the vast differences in growing conditions across the region. Diligent contract specifications are still encouraged on this high-quality crop to ensure buyers get the quality expected.

Soft White. USDA estimates total 2017 SW production at 6.14 MMT, down slightly from 2016. Of that, the Washington Grain Commission estimates white club (WC) accounts for 359,000 MT.

The 2017 SW and WC overall average grade is U.S. No. 1. The average SW test weight of 60.9 lb/bu (80.1 kg/hl) is close to last year’s 60.8 lb/bu (80.0 kg/hl), while WC test weight of 60.2 lb/bu (79.2 kg/hl) is slightly less than 2016’s 60.8 lb/bu (80.0 kg/hl). The overall SW and WC wheat protein contents (12 percent mb) of 9.6 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively, are each 0.5 percentage point below the respective 2016 values and well below the wheat protein 5-year averages.

The 2017 PNW soft white wheat crop is generally characterized by having similar kernel characteristics to last year with good test weight, lower moisture content, lower protein content, higher falling number values and acceptable finished product characteristics. This year’s WC quality characteristics follow the same trend as SW. The high protein segment of the SW crop provides opportunities in blends for Asian noodles, steamed breads, flat breads and pan breads.

Durum. Production in the U.S. Northern Plains is down by more than 50 percent from 2016 due to a small decline in acreage and sharply lower yields caused by severe drought. Scattered rain delays toward the end of harvest affected the color of a portion of the crop.

The 2017 Northern durum crop average grade is U.S. No. 1 Hard Amber Durum (HAD). However, a larger portion of the samples than in 2016 graded U.S. No. 1 or 2 Amber Durum due to color loss in some areas. Average test weight of 60.9 lb/bu (79.4 kg/hl) is slightly below last year. Hot, dry conditions pushed protein levels higher, with the 2017 average at 14.5 percent (12 percent moisture basis).

Buyers will be pleased with this year’s excellent grading Northern durum crop boasting strong protein levels, overall high vitreous kernel levels, higher semolina extraction and improved mixing and pasta quality characteristics. With reduced supply and isolated areas with lower vitreous kernel levels, lighter thousand kernel weights and some DON detections, buyers should always remain diligent in their contract specifications.

2017 Desert Durum® production acreage was less than in 2016, largely due to lower prices available at planting time. Yields were average, and quality was uniformly good. The crop exhibits consistently large kernels and low moisture, traits that contribute to efficient transportation costs and high extraction rates. The 2017 crop will deliver the valuable milling, semolina and pasta quality traits that customers have learned to expect and appreciate.


By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

USDA’s Sept. 30 Small Grains Summary reported that U.S. farmers harvested 37.6 million acres (15.2 million hectares) of wheat for the 2017/18 crop, a 14 percent reduction from 2016/17 and the smallest harvested area since 1890. USDA estimated U.S. 2017/18 wheat production at 47.4 million metric tons (MMT) (1.74 billion bushels), down 25 percent year over year and 15 percent below the 5-year average. The smallest planted area since USDA record began in 1919, adverse weather conditions and wheat streak mosaic virus all contributed to reduced harvested area.

The largest beginning stocks since 1988/89 will partially offset lower production. USDA expects 2017/18 U.S. beginning stocks to total 32.2 MMT (1.18 billion bushels), up 21 percent year over year and 57 percent greater than the 5-year average. Total 2017/18 U.S. wheat supply is forecast at 79.6 MMT (2.92 billion bushels), down 11 percent from 2016/17 but in line with the 5-year average. Despite the sharp year over year reduction in yields, USDA expects the final average yield to reach 46.3 bu/acre (3.11 MT/ha), similar to the 5-year average of 46.6 bu/acre (3.13 MT/ha).

Last fall, low farm gate prices and large carry-in stocks prompted U.S. farmers to plant 32.7 million acres (13.2 million hectares) of winter wheat, down 9 percent from 2016/17. The winter wheat crop went into winter dormancy in good or above average condition. A mild winter and early spring was beneficial for both winter wheat and, unfortunately, the mites that carry wheat streak mosaic virus. The disease was widespread in Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Nebraska, cutting yields and causing higher rates of abandonment in affected hard red winter (HRW) areas. A late spring blizzard in western Kansas cut yields and increased abandonment. Soft red winter (SRW) generally came out of dormancy in better than normal conditions, but growing conditions also varied widely across the Southeast. In some areas, excessive moisture helped boost yields, in others it delayed or prevented emergence.

As with winter wheat, low spring wheat and durum farm gate prices and large carry-in stocks reduced planted areas. After planting (which is generally early), drought conditions spread across Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota with devastating effects on yield. As a result, the rate of abandonment in South Dakota, which was particularly hard hit, is estimated at 37 percent — nearly triple the state’s 5-year average.

Here is a by-class breakdown of the Sept. 30 report.

Hard Red Winter (HRW). USDA estimates total 2017/18 HRW production fell to 20.4 MMT (750 million bushels), down 31 percent from 2016/17 and 15 percent below the 5-year average. USDA forecast 2017/18 HRW beginning stocks at 16.1 MMT (593 million bushels), up 33 percent year over year and 81 percent above the 5-year average. Even with large beginning stocks, total HRW supply will fall 12 percent year over year to 36.5 MMT (1.34 billion bushels). Total HRW planted area fell to 23.8 million acres (9.63 million hectares), down 10 percent from 2016/17. Yields also fell an average 13 percent from 2016/17 in the top HRW-producing states of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Hard Red Spring (HRS). USDA estimates total 2017/18 HRS production fell to 10.5 MMT (385 million bushels), down 22 percent from 2016/17 and 26 percent below the 5-year average. USDA forecast 2017/18 HRS beginning stocks at 6.40 MMT (235 million bushels), down 14 percent year over year but still 21 percent above the 5-year average. Total HRS supply will fall 12 percent year over year to 16.9 MMT (620 million bushels). USDA estimates farmers planted 10.3 million acres (4.17 million hectares) to HRS, 10 percent below 2016/17 levels. The drought cut yields an average of 11 bu/acre (0.74 MT/ha) in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Abandonment in Montana and North Dakota was double the respective 5-year averages at 9 and 6 percent, and South Dakota farmers abandoned 37 percent of wheat fields due to the drought. The single bright spot for HRS production was Minnesota, with a record high average yield of 67.0 bu/acre (4.50 MT/ha) offsetting lower harvested area.

Soft Red Winter (SRW). USDA estimates total 2017/18 SRW production fell to 7.95 MMT (292 million bushels), down 15 percent from 2016/17 and 32 percent below the 5-year average. USDA reported 24 percent of SRW acres were abandoned compared to 17 percent last year. Record high yields in six SRW producing states partially offset the lower harvested area. USDA forecast 2017/18 SRW beginning stocks at 5.85 MMT (215 million bushels), up 37 percent year over year and 47 percent greater than the 5-year average. So, total SRW supply will rise slightly year over year to 13.8 MMT (507 million bushels). USDA estimates total 2017/18 SRW planted area at 5.61 million acres (2.27 million hectares), 15 percent lower than 2016/17 and 30 percent below the 5-year average.

Soft White (SW). USDA estimates total 2017/18 SW production declined to 6.14 MMT (226 million bushels), down 11 percent from 2016/17 due to small declines in harvested area and average yields in Washington and Idaho that were down 7 and 10 percent, respectively. USDA reports white wheat planted area decreased 3 percent year over year. White wheat planted area fell to 4.02 million acres (1.63 million hectares), 2 percent below the 5-year average. USDA projected white wheat beginning stocks will increase 42 percent year over year to 3.02 MMT (105 million bushels). If realized, that would be 65 percent above the 5-year average.

Durum. U.S. durum production fell 51 percent in 2017/18 to 1.49 MMT (54.9 million bushels) from lower planted area and yields in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. USDA estimates 1.91 million acres (773,000 hectares) were planted to durum, down 11 percent from 2016/17 but still 6 percent above the 5-year average of 1.80 million acres (729,000 hectares). Abandonment also increased this year from 2 percent in 2016/17 to 8 percent in 2017/18, due to the drought. USDA projected 2017/18 durum beginning stocks to climb to 980,000 metric tons (MT) (36 million bushels), nearly double the 5-year average and 29 percent above 2016/17 levels. USDA forecast total U.S. durum supply at 2.48 MMT (91 million bushels), down 31 percent year over year.


By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

Three months into the 2017/18 marketing year (June to May), total U.S. export sales-to-date of 12.1 million metric tons (MMT) are 2 percent ahead of last year’s pace and in line with the 5-year average pace. Though hard red winter (HRW) and hard red spring (HRS) sales are currently below last year’s levels, both are ahead of the respective 5-year averages. As of Aug. 24, total sales to eight of the top 10 2016/17 U.S. export markets are higher than last year. In addition, the other three U.S. wheat classes are all ahead of last year’s pace. USDA projects 2017/18 exports will fall to 26.5 MMT, which, if realized, would be 8 percent below 2016/17, but 1 percent above the 5-year average pace.

USDA reported HRW year-to-date exports at 4.49 MMT, down 7 percent from the prior year but 10 percent ahead of the 5-year average due to competitive prices and good quality. Mexico is currently the number one HRW purchaser. As of Aug. 24, before Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic flooding closed Texas Gulf ports, HRW sales to Mexico totaled 973,000 metric tons (MT), up 72 percent from last year’s pace. Sales to Nigeria are also up 19 percent year over year at 488,000 MT. HRW purchases by Indonesia total 335,000 MT, three times greater than last year’s sales on this date. To date, HRW sales to Algeria totaling 273,000 MT are five times greater than the 2016/17 pace. It is too early to tell if Texas Gulf closures will affect total exports for 2017/18, but current reports suggest that rail and port facilities are making good progress toward resuming operations (Read more in Rail and Port Operation Recovery in Texas Gulf is Encouraging, below).

Sales of soft red winter (SRW) for 2017/18 are up 8 percent year over year at 1.19 MMT due to the excellent quality of this year’s crop. As of Aug. 24, total sales to four of the top 10 U.S. SRW export markets from 2016/17 are higher than last year. Sales to Mexico are 12 percent ahead of 2016/17 at 472,000 MT. Colombian SRW purchases total 121,000 MT, up 50 percent from last year. Sales to other Central and South American countries, including Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Brazil, Guatemala and El Salvador, are also ahead of the 2016/17 pace.

HRS sales of 3.26 MMT are down 13 percent year over year, but remain 4 percent above the 5-year average. Higher prices due to smaller 2017/18 production have slowed HRS exports thus far in 2017/18, but global demand for HRS is strong. As of Aug. 24, buyers in the Philippines held the top purchaser post with 746,000 MT, up 27 percent from 2016/17. Sales to seven of the top ten HRS customers are also ahead of last year’s pace. Sales to Japan of 475,000 MT are up 25 percent from last year’s sales on the same date, while year-to-date sales to Taiwan of 321,000 MT are up 93 percent from 2016/17.

As of Aug. 24, exports of soft white (SW) wheat are up 47 percent year over year at 2.93 MMT. That is 56 percent greater than the 5-year average. Sales to nine of the top 10 SW customers are ahead of last year’s pace. Philippine millers purchased 578,000 MT, up 19 percent compared to last year’s sales on the same date. South Korean sales are up 65 percent at 477,000 MT. Sales to Japan are up 24 percent year over year at 301,000 MT. U.S. SW sales to China, Thailand and Indonesia are also up. Year-to-date, Indonesia has purchased 266,000 MT, compared to total 2016/17 purchases of 193,000 MT. Thailand sales are up 72 percent year over year at 147,000 MT. Chinese purchases of 271,000 MT are already greater than 2016/17 total SW sales.

On average, 24 percent of U.S. total durum sales occur in first quarter of the marketing year, compared to 29 percent from September through November. Year to date durum exports total 211,000 MT, up 20 percent from the same time last year, still 14 percent below the 5-year average. Many durum buyers may be waiting for final quality reports for the Canadian crop before making purchasing decisions. To date, Nigeria, the European Union (EU), Algeria and Nigeria are the top durum buyers. A significant portion of the first quarter 2017/18 sales is designated as “sales to unknown designations.”

By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

Sharply lower U.S. wheat production pushed futures prices to 2-and 3-year highs earlier this summer. However, bearish factors have recently pushed prices down. And when wheat futures are under pressure, wheat importers have the opportunity to lock in competitive prices and maybe even find some bargains.

Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) soft red winter (SRW) wheat futures and export basis are both under pressure from a growing 2017/18 (June to May) supply, which USDA estimated at 14.2 million metric tons (MMT). The year-to-date average SRW Gulf FOB value of $196 per metric ton (MT) is $50 below the 5-year average, and this is a very good quality new crop (for more information on 2017/18 SRW quality, read “Millers and Processors Should Like the 2017/18 Soft Red Winter Crop” below).

Though U.S. hard red winter (HRW) production is forecast to shrink 30 percent in 2017/18, year-to-date Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBT) HRW wheat futures average $58 per MT below the 5-year average. This is due mainly to KCBT contract specifications and lower average protein levels in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 crops. While HRW futures trickle lower, protein premiums continue to widen. Historically, Gulf HRW protein premiums ranged between $1.50 to $4.40 per MT for each additional 0.5 percent of protein. Pacific Northwest (PNW) HRW protein premiums normally average $2.95 to $7.35 per MT. In 2017/18, that range is now $11 to $32 per MT for the Gulf and $8 to $18 per MT for the PNW.

The widening protein premiums represent the tightening global supply of higher protein wheat. Yet FOB prices for 12 percent Gulf and PNW HRW are $40 and $41 per MT below the 5-year averages, respectively (all U.S. wheat protein is based on 12% moisture). Customers who can use lower protein HRW can take advantage of FOB prices for ordinary/unspecified protein HRW, which are $73 per MT below historic levels at the Gulf and $57 per MT below the 5-year average in the PNW.  Preliminary data shows 2017/18 HRW average protein is 11.5 percent, slightly above last year’s final of 11.2 percent, but below the 5-year average of 12.6 percent.

The Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) hard red spring (HRS) wheat futures have retreated from the 3-year highs reached earlier this summer. However, U.S. and Canadian spring wheat production estimates are supportive of current price levels. StatsCan expects Canadian wheat production (excluding durum) to fall 7 percent to 22.3 MMT. MGEX HRS futures are hovering near the August 5-year average of $6.79 per bushel ($249 per MT), but HRS export basis levels are $15 to $25 per MT below normal at both PNW and Gulf export locations. With harvest still underway in the U.S. Northern Plains and Canada, customers can mitigate some of their risk by locking in these competitive basis levels.

Export pricing for soft white (SW) wheat is not tied to a wheat futures market, but as noted in the July 27 Wheat Letter, protein premiums are shrinking for SW due to the excellent quality and more normal protein distributions in recent crops. PNW FOB export prices for 10.5 max protein SW are $62 per MT below the 5-year average, while FOB prices for 9.5 max protein SW are $70 per MT lower.

Well-informed customers can take advantage of these buying opportunities and lock in lower prices for high-quality U.S. wheat in the next few weeks. Your local USW representative is ready to help answer any questions about U.S. wheat pricing or the U.S. wheat marketing system. To track U.S. wheat nearby prices, review and/or subscribe to the USW Price Report here.

Harvest Report

Reprinted with Permission from “Agweek,” August 2, 2017

[Editor’s Note: The original source for this article is the North Dakota Wheat Commission.]

The annual Wheat Quality Council (WQC) tour of the spring and durum wheat region took place the week of July 24, with the final yield result sparking questions and sharp criticism, especially in social media circles. The North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC) would like to acknowledge these concerns from producers, assess the crop tour yield estimate, and clarify some misinformation.

The wheat tour is organized by the WQC, based in Kansas City, not the NDWC. The tours are just a small part of the overall mission of the Council. Its primary focus is being a collaboration point and organization to test and evaluate new wheat varieties for end-use quality, and to ensure U.S. wheat production is meeting the quality needs of the wheat industry. It also serves to expand communication and education between wheat producers, wheat breeders, millers, bakers and other end-users.

The tour calculated an average yield of 38.1 bushels per acre for hard red spring wheat. While this is the lowest yield in about ten years for the tour, it was higher than expected by many producers, considering the severe drought conditions gripping nearly all western North Dakota. The NDWC agrees that this overall yield was higher than we anticipated based on weekly crop ratings and producer reports, and the WQC average yield needs to be looked at in its full context.

Why was the tour estimate higher than expected? Most routes covered central and eastern parts of the state, and higher yielding areas of Minnesota, with a lower than normal percent of field counts in western areas. This was not done intentionally; the tour has never taken routes into the far west portion of the state or into eastern Montana (also in severe drought). In more normal years when crop conditions are more balanced across the region, this has not been as big of an issue. However, in a drought year like this with high abandonment, it led to a lower than normal percent of field counts from western areas. The yield estimates given at the end of each day and at the end of the tour are simple averages. They are not weighted by production and there are no county yield estimates released. For durum, the average yield came in at 39.7 bushels per acre, which is well above the July USDA estimate of 27 bushels per acre for North Dakota. The tour routes did not cover the main durum producing counties in the state, which are facing the most intense drought conditions.

Accounting for abandoned acres is difficult, since yield reports are based on actual acres harvested for grain, not planted acres. It is well known that large portions of the crop are being abandoned due to the drought conditions in western growing regions, including South Dakota and Montana. Participants on the tour noted that on some routes, anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the fields had been abandoned.

These abandoned acres will certainly have a significant impact on final production for both hard red spring and durum, but may not be fully reconciled until USDA releases its final harvested acreage report for the 2017 crops. Normal abandonment rates in the spring wheat region are 2 to 3 percent. The eastern acres will likely see normal abandonment, but portions of the western drought areas could be as high a 40 percent. In 2002, North Dakota abandoned 13 percent of its wheat plantings, and the rate was 23 percent in the 1988 drought. The question of abandonment is a concern in the market and once fully understood, it will have a big impact on final production; it is something buyers, producers and all involved in the wheat industry will need to focus on.

USDA’s July production report projected an average spring wheat yield of 38 bushels for North Dakota, 61 bushels for Minnesota, 26 for Montana, and 34 for South Dakota. All the USDA data is based directly on producer surveys with no objective yield surveys taken in fields. The upcoming August and September USDA estimates will follow the same pattern for yield, but it is uncertain when major adjustments for abandoned acres will be included. In its July estimate, USDA pegged planted acres of spring wheat in Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota at 8.55 million, and harvested at 8.22 million, reflecting a 4 percent abandonment level. For durum in Montana and North Dakota, it pegged planted acres at 1.75 million, with expected harvested acres at 1.7 million, just 3 percent abandoned. If final harvested area ratios fall to levels seen in 2002 across the region, there is another 1 million acres that need to be taken out from final production equations. This is a significant number, and some producers say it will be even higher.

Emotions are high this growing season, especially for producers in the heart of the severe drought conditions. The unexpected higher yield estimate and decline in prices since the beginning of July due to several factors has intensified these emotions. The wheat tour result is just one piece of information the markets react to. Two of the three days of the tour, the market moved higher, with analysts citing other factors as well, such as technical sell points, corn and soybean weather forecasts, and the start of spring wheat harvest impacting trends. The final harvest and yield report from producers themselves, as well as a full recognition of abandoned acres, and both domestic and international demand factors, will be the final driving forces in establishing the value of the 2017 crop.

When the full extent of the drought-impacted production areas is considered, it certainly appears the tour overestimated both spring wheat and durum yield potential in 2017. For durum, it is significant since likely two-thirds of the main region was not part of the survey routes. For spring wheat, it may not be as significant because there is strong yield potential in the eastern third of [North Dakota and] into Minnesota that will offset some, but not all, of the reduction in harvested acres in the west … Tour organizers have noted the strong negative reaction from producers from the final tour yield results. And also heard from the NDWC and producers during the tour about concerns over the lack of accounting for abandoned acres and lack of field counts in western areas. It will lead to some reevaluation of routes in future tours, or recognition of the need to weight yield counts to better account for significant crop condition difference between regions.

The tour has been conducted for more than 20 years, and has provided a great opportunity to build connections between producers in this region and some of its most important customers. This year may have added some challenges, but it also provides an opportunity to expand communication along all segments of the industry. Milers and other end-users of wheat grown in our region need to have producers be successful, for them to be successful.


By Erica Oakley, USW Director of Programs

This week, the Wheat Quality Council hosted its annual hard red spring (HRS) and durum crop tour. Participants spent three days in North Dakota surveying this year’s crop and estimating yield. The tour, which surveyed a total of 496 fields, estimated weighted average HRS yield at 38.1 bushels per acre (bu/a), significantly lower than last year’s HRS average of 45.7 bu/a because of ongoing drought conditions in western areas. The durum weighted average yield was 39.7 bu/a, down from 45.4 bu/a in 2016. Results from six HRW fields showed a weighted average of 46.6 bu/a.

Participants on the tour always represent a wide range of the wheat industry, including millers, traders, media, farmers, researchers and government officials. There were 76 participants on this tour, who traveled along eight distinct routes covering most of the state’s wheat production. I joined my USW colleague Assistant Director of Policy Elizabeth Westendorf on the tour.

It was insightful to see the conditions on the ground after reading reports about the drought. It was also interesting to see the difference in field conditions along each of the routes over all three days.

On the first day, participants drove between Fargo and Bismarck, with two routes going farther into the western part of the state, and others covering western Minnesota and northern South Dakota. Conditions on the eastern side looked good, though there was evidence of drought stress. Reports from the west included evidence of much more severe conditions. The Day 1 weighted average yield was 38.8 bu/a, down from 42.9 bu/a in 2016. For HRS specifically, the yield was 37.9 bu/a, down from 43.1 bu/a in 2016. The scouts surveyed 207 fields on Day 1, of which 194 were HRS, 10 durum and three HRW.

On Day 2, the tour surveyed 225 fields, 188 of which were HRS; along with 34 durum and 3 HRW. The group moved from Bismarck to Devils Lake. The more western routes reported drought stress, though not as severe as the scouts saw in southwestern North Dakota on Day 1. Overall average for Day 2 was 35.7 bu/a, down from 46.5 in 2016. For HRS, the yield was 35.8 bu/a, down from 46.9.

The third day of the tour included a half day of crop surveying. The participants then all returned to North Dakota State University’s Northern Crops Institute in Fargo to compile the overall crop report. On Day 3, participants surveyed at total of 61 HRS fields and three durum fields. The Day 3 weighted average yield for HRS was 46.2 bu/a, down from 51.9 bu/a in 2016. The weighted average durum yield from just three fields was 46.2 bu/a, down from 52.1 bu/a in 2016.

The results reflect a snapshot of yield potential observed by the participants in the fields they scouted.

“There is still a question of abandonment because of the dryness,” said Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council. “We do not yet know how much of the crop has been hayed — how much of it has been plowed under.”

View highlights and photos from the tour by searching #wheattour17 on Facebook and Twitter. For more information and for results from previous tours, visit the Wheat Quality Council’s website at


USDA forecast U.S. 2017/18 wheat production at 47.9 million metric tons (MMT), down 24 percent year over year and 18 percent below the 5-year average. The reason: an anticipated 12 percent decline in average yield and the lowest planted acres since USDA records began in 1919. However, USDA expects 2017/18 U.S. beginning stocks to total 32.2 MMT, up 21 percent year over year and the most since 1988/89. As a result, total 2017/18 U.S. wheat supply is forecast at 80.1 MMT, down 10 percent from 2016/17 but still 1 percent above the 5-year average of 79.3 MMT. USDA expects average yield to be 46.2 bu/acre (3.10 MT/ha), which is close to the 5-year average of 46.6 bu/acre (3.13 MT/ha).

On June 30, USDA estimated total planted wheat area would fall 9 percent year over year to 45.7 million acres (18.5 million hectares). If realized, that would be 17 percent lower than the 5-year average. USDA expects 2017/18 harvested area to drop 13 percent from last year and 18 percent below the 5-year average to 38.1 million acres (15.4 million hectares).

USDA forecast 2017/18 hard red winter (HRW) production to total 20.6 MMT, down 30 percent from 2016/17 and 14 percent below the 5-year average. A smaller planted area and sharply lower harvested area led to the decline. U.S. farmers planted 23.8 million acres (9.63 million hectares) of HRW for 2017/18, down 10 percent from 2016. Due to weather and wheat streak mosaic virus, harvested area in top HRW-producers Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas is projected to fall 16 percent year over year. USDA forecast 2017/18 HRW beginning stocks at 16.1 MMT, up 33 percent year over year and 81 percent above the 5-year average. Total 2017/18 HRW supply is expected to total 36.8 MMT, down 12 percent from 2016/17.

Soft red winter (SRW) production is also expected to decline 11 percent to 8.33 MMT in 2017/18 due to fewer planted acres. USDA estimated total 2017/18 SRW area at 5.61 million acres (2.27 million hectares), 15 percent lower than 2016/17 and 30 percent below the 5-year average. In contrast to recent years, SRW harvest in the U.S. Southern Plains is progressing rapidly with good harvest conditions. On July 7, the USW Weekly Harvest report showed the average grade on 199 samples was U.S. #2 in a generally sound crop with DON levels that are significantly below the 5-year average. USDA estimates that SRW 2017/18 beginning stocks totaled 5.85 MMT, up 37 percent from 2016/17 and 47 percent above the 5-year average. The larger beginning stocks will offset reduced production, and total 2017/18 SRW supply is expected to increase by 500,000 MT year over year to 14.2 MMT.

USDA reported white wheat production will decrease 11 percent from 2016/17 to 6.91 MMT, but still 1 percent above the 5-year average, if realized. The decline is due to 3 percent fewer planted acres and slightly lower forecast yields. Idaho, Oregon and Washington have received ample moisture and winter wheat conditions there average 78 percent good to excellent. USDA estimates soft white (SW) beginning stocks increased 42 percent year over year to 2.86 MMT. The larger beginning stocks are expected to offset the lower production, leaving the 2017/18 SW supply unchanged year over year at 9.77 MMT.

Hard red spring (HRS) production is expected to plummet in 2017/18 to 10.5 MMT, down 22 percent from the prior year and the lowest since 2002/03, if realized. The average spring wheat yield is forecast at 40.3 bu/acre (2.73 MT/ha), down 15 percent from 2016/17. USDA also estimates farmers planted 10.3 million acres (4.17 million hectares) to HRS, 10 percent below 2016/17 levels. As of July 11, 55 percent of North Dakota is in a severe or extreme drought and the remainder of the state is abnormally dry or in a moderate drought. Similarly, 72 percent of South Dakota and 45 percent of Montana are in a moderate to extreme drought. As of July 10, just 35 percent of the spring crop was rated good or excellent and 39 percent was poor or very poor. In North Dakota, the largest HRS producing state, 36 percent of the crop is in good or excellent condition. USDA anticipates 2017/18 HRS beginning stocks of 6.39 MMT are 14 percent less than last year. Estimated 2017/18 HRS supply will total 16.9 MMT, down 19 percent year over year. USDA expects the HRS stocks-to-use ratio to fall to 22 percent in 2017/18, compared to 41 percent one year prior.

Smaller planted area and 30 percent lower yields are expected to reduce durum production to 1.55 MMT in 2017/18, down an estimated 45 percent from 2016/17 and 26 percent below the 5-year average. USDA expects average durum yields to sink to 30.9 bu/acre (2.08 MT/ha), compared to 44.0 bu/acre (2.96 bu/acre) in 2016/17. Durum planted area decreased this year as farmers responded to lower prices and large carry-out stocks. Spring-planted northern durum is grown primarily in North Dakota and Montana, and the Desert Durum® harvest in Arizona and California is nearly complete. USDA estimates 2017/18 durum beginning stocks at 980,000 MT, up 29 percent from the prior year and 45 percent greater than the 5-year average. Increased beginning stocks will not offset the drastically reduced 2017/18 production so USDA expects the U.S. durum supply will fall to 2.53 MMT, 29 percent below 2016/17 levels and 9 percent below the 5-year average. The U.S. durum stocks-to-use ratio will fall to 24 percent, on par with the 5-year average.

Even with reduced production for 2017/18, U.S. farmers stored significant amounts of grain last year, ensuring that customers can continue purchasing reliable, high-quality wheat. Customers are encouraged to contact their local USW representative to discuss purchasing strategies in this volatile global wheat market.


By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

Much needed rain across the U.S. Northern Plains this week gave emerging hard red spring (HRS) and durum crops a drink, but the rain was bookended by hot, windy conditions and likely did little to alleviate drought conditions.

Total rainfall for the region ran 60 to 75 percent below average for three months before this week’s storms, with Minot, ND — in the heart of the HRS growing area — recording just 1.23 inches (3 cm of rain) since March. The June 13 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 83 percent of North Dakota is in a moderate or severe drought and the remainder of the state is abnormally dry. Similarly, 79 percent of South Dakota and the eastern third of Montana are abnormally dry or in a moderate to severe drought.

The lack of rain and above normal temperatures is taking an early toll on crop conditions. On June 13, USDA reported 45 percent of spring wheat was in good to excellent condition, down 10 percentage points from the prior week and the lowest rating on record for that week. USDA noted 20 percent of the spring wheat crop was in poor or very poor condition, up from 11 percent the prior week and just 2 percent at the same time last year. Markets will be closely watching next week’s USDA crop condition report, and further deterioration of crop conditions will support Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) HRS wheat futures.

In the past two weeks, the nearby MGEX HRS wheat futures contract rallied 8 percent or 49 cents to $6.28 per bushel, the highest level since December 2014. Concern about the HRS crop and early harvest reports of low protein hard red winter (HRW) also support widening HRW protein premiums. Last June, the protein premium for 12.0 percent protein HRW (on a 12 percent moisture basis) averaged 12 cents per bushel ($4.59 per metric ton) over 11.0 percent protein HRW. This year, the same premium is 60 cents per bushel ($22 per metric ton).

With 60 percent of high protein wheat exports (13 percent protein on a 12 percent moisture basis or higher) originating from the United States and Canada, protein premiums are also widening due to Canadian crop and soil moisture conditions. In Saskatchewan, where Canadian farmers are wrapping up spring planting, topsoil moisture is rated 40 percent short or very short compared to 8 percent short or very short last year.

Farmers in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan are having the opposite problem — too much moisture. On June 6, the Alberta crop report rated topsoil moisture at 29 percent excessive in the Northeast and 40 percent excessive in the Northwest. Wet fields and harvesting 1.16 million acres (2.86 million hectares) of overwintered crops delayed spring planting progress in the province. Spring wheat planting was 95 percent complete on June 6, up from 84 percent the prior week but behind the 5-year average of 98 percent complete. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated total Canadian wheat production for 2017/18 will be 29.5 million metric tons (MMT), down 7 percent year over year due to a slight decline in planted area and a return to trendline yields.

“Conditions are variable right now with too much water in many northern areas, too little in the southern areas and probably very good conditions in between the two,” noted Robin Speer Executive Director of Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. “We think the next two weeks become very important for this crop.”

Though HRS planted area is expected to be 7 percent smaller this year and yield potential for this year’s HRS crop is still unknown, U.S. farmers will continue to have the high quality, high protein wheat the world needs. In its June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate, USDA pegged 2016/17 HRS ending stocks at 5.86 MMT, slightly more than the 5-year average of 5.28 MMT. The larger than normal ending stocks ensure the U.S. wheat store will always be open; the only unknown is how much customers will need to pay.

To read the latest USW Weekly Harvest report, click here.


By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Policy Specialist

David Clough’s career as a farmer has been a journey of constantly evolving technology and improving practices. Clough started farming in North Dakota in 1969. The first few years were difficult because as a first-generation farmer he didn’t have a farm legacy to get him started; he was on his own. Now, he has been farming for almost 50 years, and his farm is thriving. Over the years, Clough has grown HRS wheat, edible beans, sunflowers, soybeans and barley. He says sustainability is a smart business decision and helps ensure his farm’s survival in the future.

Clough is one of six U.S. wheat farmers featured in a USW series on wheat sustainability. These profiles show the differences in wheat production practices across the country and how those farming practices enhance the sustainability of U.S. agriculture.

“As farmers, we have always been conservationists,” said Clough. “The land is our livelihood. We need it, so we try to preserve it in many ways.”

Clough has made a lot of changes on his farm over the years. Now, he uses advanced GPS technology to increase efficiency and conserve resources on his farm. These features mean there are no overlaps when he applies fertilizer or crop protection products, which is good for the environment, but also good for business.

“We weren’t as sustainable when I first started farming almost 50 years ago, but we have changed and adapted and we will keep changing and adapting,” said Clough. “We’re doing it to survive here and to keep our land in good shape for future generations.”

In the years that Clough has been farming, he has had to adapt to new technology, unpredictable markets and lean years. But diversifying his business on the farm helped him weather those changes. Today he has many more crops to plant in rotation, which also helps improve soil health and control weeds. He also sells seed and previously sold farm equipment as a side business. Clough credits his success in farming to his ability to embrace new technology and new sustainable farming practices.

“You’re writing stories as you go through life. How many good stories are you going to write? I have had about 47 chances to tell my farming story. I only get one chance a year to get it right, and some years, you don’t get it completely right,” said Clough. “Each year is a different story, and the way we react cannot be the same either. That is what makes farming challenging and rewarding every year.”

Learn more about Clough and his farm at U.S. farmers, ranchers, fishermen and foresters also share their values, sustainability experiences and conservation practices at the U.S. Sustainability Alliance.