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By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director, West Coast Office

This week and next, USW is conducting a top-level Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) of U.S. wheat breeders taking face-to-face meetings with Asian milling and baking quality control managers to discuss end-use quality and functionality.

The breeders will hear first-hand what quality characteristics customers in overseas markets need so they can apply that knowledge in their work on new wheat varieties.

This team includes both public and private wheat breeders from the PNW focused on bringing the very best genetic technology to U.S. wheat farmers. Team members include:

  • Mike Pumphrey, Associate Professor and the Orville Vogel Endowed Chair of spring wheat breeding and genetics at Washington State University, Pullman, where he has worked since 2010. He was previously a research geneticist employed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Kansas State University, Manhattan. Dr. Pumphrey’s participation is sponsored by the Washington Grain Commission (WGC).
  • Phil L. Bruckner, a winter wheat breeder and Professor in the Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology Department at Montana State University, Bozeman. Dr. Bruckner obtained bachelors and master’s degrees at Montana State and a Ph.D. in 1985 from North Dakota State University, Fargo.
  • Robert Talley, Plant Scientist and Head of the Hybrid Wheat Development team at AgriPro/Syngenta. Talley earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, in Soil and Crop Sciences. Prior to his current position, he was with Busch Agricultural Resources where he worked on the International Barley Research and Germplasm Exchange. Talley’s participation is also sponsored by the WGC.

The team will have the chance to interact with customers that are participating in a USW wheat quality analysis program at the United Flour Mill (UFM) Baking and Cooking Center in Bangkok, Thailand, as another team of wheat breeders did two years ago. Each breeder will make a presentation on how they are contributing to continuous quality and yield improvement of U.S. SW and HRS wheat, and, in Talley’s case, the potential for hybrid wheat varieties now in development. The breeders end their trip early next week in similar meetings with millers and wheat food processors in Taiwan.

Following their activity, the WQIT members will consider how to incorporate what they hear from customers into their breeding programs and communicate their activity to U.S. wheat farmers through the Wheat Quality Council and public as well as private breeding programs.

USW will post photos and other information from the 2017 WQIT on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/uswheat.

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By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

Over the past decade, U.S. wheat planted area peaked in 2008/09 at 63.2 million acres (25.6 million hectares). Since then, U.S. wheat planted area has fallen 27 percent to a projected 46.1 million acres (18.7 million hectares) in 2017/18 according to the March 31 USDA Prospective Plantings report. If realized, it will be 16 percent below the 5-year average of 55.0 million acres (22.3 million hectares) — making it the lowest planted wheat area since 1919 when USDA records began.

This report actually increased winter wheat planted area by 360,000 acres (146,000 hectares) from USDA’s January 2017 estimate to 32.7 million acres (13.23 million hectares). However, the new estimate is still 9 percent down from 2016/17 planted area. The increase came from hard red winter (HRW) area, estimated at 23.8 million acres (9.63 million hectares), up 2 percent from the previous projection. Still, HRW planted area will be down 10 percent from 26.5 million acres (10.7 million hectares) planted for 2016/17.

Soft red winter (SRW) planted area decreased from the previous estimate to 5.53 million acres (2.24 million hectares). The biggest declines occurred in Midwest states where SRW faces strong competition for acres from corn and, particularly this year, from soybeans.

USDA expects white wheat acres — planted in both winter and spring — to reach 4.12 million acres (1.67 million hectares) for 2017/18, down slightly from 2016/17, but in line with the 5-year average. For the first time in three years, the Drought Monitor shows adequate soil moisture in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) following a rather wet winter.

Given the drop in planted area, crop conditions become crucial to any look out at potential production for 2017/18. For HRW, the April 6 Drought Monitor also shows that 45 percent of Kansas and 66 percent of Oklahoma were abnormally dry or experiencing moderate drought, even though the region received 1 to 4 inches (2.5 to 10 cm) of rain last week. Fifteen percent of Oklahoma remains in severe or extreme drought. In 2016, these states grew nearly half of the total U.S. HRW crop.

Last week’s beneficial moisture improved U.S. winter wheat condition in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, but the crop is still in worse condition than last year at this time. As of April 3, USDA rated the winter wheat crop at 51 percent good to excellent, compared to 59 percent on the same date in 2016. USDA rated 14 percent of the crop as poor or very poor, up from 7 percent last year.

The U.S. Northern Plains received abundant precipitation this winter, providing good soil moisture for HRS and durum planting. The past two years, farmers in North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota began HRS planting 7 to 14 days ahead of normal due to early springs. This year, planting dates will be closer to normal as farmers are now waiting for fields to dry out.

According to USDA, U.S. total spring-planted area will decline to an estimated 11.3 million acres (4.57 million hectares), 3 percent less than in 2016/17. The estimate includes 10.6 million acres (4.3 million hectares) of hard red spring (HRS), down 7 percent from 2016, if realized.

USDA expects U.S. durum planted area to total 2.00 million acres (809,000 hectares), down 17 percent from 2016/17. If realized, this would further constrict the global durum supply discussed in the March 23 Wheat Letter.

Continuing to drive the decline in U.S. wheat planted area is a net farmer return on wheat that dropped 18 percent between 2015/16 and 2016/17, while input costs declined only one percent in the same time period. USDA expects this trend to continue in 2017/18, with returns falling another 6 percent from already unprofitable 2016/17 levels.

There is a long way to go before the final count is in. However, with less planted area and an expected return to trend line yields, the International Grains Council (IGC) pegged 2017/18 U.S. wheat production at 50.2 MMT, down 20 percent from 2016/17.

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By Jay O’Neil, Senior Agricultural Economist, IGP Institute

For dry-bulk vessel owners and their customers, the first quarter of calendar 2017 has revealed rather dramatic changes in freight rates and vessel values and points to additional volatility ahead.

From 2009 through 2015, owners made what I consider an unreasonable and uncontrolled expansion of the dry-bulk fleet. As global economic factors turned against them, owners saw the Baltic Panamax Dry-Bulk index sink to just 287 points by February 2016. Dry-bulk Panamax shipping rates from the U.S. Gulf to Asia hit a low of $22.50 per MT and rates from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to Asia were $12.50 per MT. Some ships were hiring out simply for the cost of voyage fuel and every vessel owner was losing piles of money. Numerous bankruptcies resulted.

The severe financial hardships of this past period finally motivated the shipping industry to all but stop ordering new vessel builds and, in turn, the expansion of the fleet.

As a result, dry-bulk freight rates and vessel values have slowly but steadily risen from those dark depths. In the past 13 months, Panamax vessel daily hire rates are up from less than $2,000 per day to more than $10,000 per day. Dry-bulk Panamax shipping rates from the U.S. Gulf to Asia are now sitting at $37.00 per MT and rates from the PNW to Asia are close to $20.50 per MT.

At such levels, ship owners and operators can cover operating costs and make a small profit if they manage things right.

The big question now is: can vessel owners keep their hands in their pockets and not scratch the itch to invest in additional tonnage because they believe better times are ahead? If not, they will certainly end up back in dangerous financial waters. Global GDP is only growing at close to 2.5 to 2.7 percent, not enough to absorb further fleet expansion for some years to come.

On a separate note, I am hearing a lot of market talk about Mexico possibly looking to other origins to source their commodities. Russia just extended an offer to purchase Mexican beef in exchange for purchase of Russian wheat. International traders have recently requested quotes on Handymax vessel freight from Brazil and Argentina to Veracruz, Mexico. Those quotes came in at $22.00 per MT and 27.00 per MT respectfully verses freight from the U.S. Gulf to Veracruz at $15.00/MT.

Can Mexico purchase corn, sorghum, wheat and soybeans from other countries? The simple answer is yes, if its private importers can afford to pay more relative to imports from its U.S. neighbors.

And, we do not yet know what effects crop weather conditions and production prospects will have for the 2017/18 marketing year. So, as they say, hold on to your hats, it could be an interesting, and bumpy, ride through the balance of 2017.

Jay O’Neil can be contacted at joneil@ksu.edu.

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By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

Global durum prices remain under pressure from a large 2016/17 crop. Per International Grains Council (IGC) data, global durum production increased 3 percent year over year to 40.2 million metric tons (MMT), 9 percent above the 5-year average and the largest since 2009/10.

As reported in the USW Price Report, U.S. free-on-board (FOB) Great Lakes durum prices have slipped 4 percent since the beginning of marketing year 2016/17 to a range from $303 to $309 per metric ton (MT) on March 17. Over the same time, Canadian FOB St. Lawrence durum prices declined 10 percent year over year based on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) data.

Despite lower prices, global durum trade is expected to decline 7 percent to 8.0 MMT in 2016/17. But while trade volumes are expected to decrease, consumption of durum is expected to increase 5 percent year over year to 38.7 MMT. Global human durum consumption remains steady at roughly 30 MMT. Seed and residual usage is projected to increase 10 percent in 2016/17 to 5.4 MMT, but the largest change is expected in global durum feeding. IGC anticipates durum feed usage to reach 3.2 MMT in 2016/17, up 68 percent year over year, if realized. Canadian animal feed usage is expected to double to 1.4 MMT in 2016/17 due to lower prices and lower quality supplies. Animal feed usage in the European Union (EU) is also expected to more than double in 2016/17 to 700,000 MT.

International Grains Council Feb. 23 2017 Grain Market Report

While there are eight major exporters of common wheat, there are just four major exporters of durum — Canada, the European Union (EU), Mexico and the United States — all of which are in the Northern Hemisphere and benefited from the wet spring and mild summer that boosted 2016/17 yields and supplies. These four exporters account for an average 95 percent of total global durum exports each year. Year over year, durum supply in the major exporting countries increased 19 percent to 49.3 MMT. IGC expects global durum ending stocks to total 10.7 MMT, 41 percent above the 5-year average.

Against this backdrop, farmers are making plans and, in some places, are beginning to sow durum in the Northern Hemisphere. Spring weather affects planting decisions, but early projections expect significantly lower durum planted area in 2017/18. Stratégie Grains expects reduced planted area and more normal yields will cut 2017/18 EU durum production by 9 percent year over year to 8.9 MMT. AAFC pegged Canadian durum production at 5.5 MMT, which would be down 29 percent year over year if realized. The reduction is based on an expected 20 percent decline in planted durum area and a projected 15 percent decrease in yield. Stratégie Grains forecasts 2017/18 Mexican durum production at 2.0 MMT, down an estimated 20 percent from 2016/17, if realized.

As discussed in the March 9 Wheat Letter, USDA pegged U.S. spring and durum planted area at 13.6 million acres (5.51 million hectares) at its annual Agricultural Outlook Forum and forecasted total U.S. wheat production to fall 20 percent year over year. USDA will release detailed acreage projections in the Prospective Plantings Report on March 31.

In the United States, durum farmers have a saying, “plant durum every year and sell every third year.” The soaring yields seen in marketing year 2016/17 put plenty of durum in storage, but provided little incentive to farmers to sell it. U.S. farmers see this as a time to wait for prices to rise, ensuring that regardless of final 2017/18 production volume, the U.S. store will remain open and able to supply the world market with high quality durum.

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By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

The USDA held its annual Agricultural Outlook Forum Feb. 23 to 24 where the 2017 Grain and Oilseeds outlook was presented. USDA currently estimates 2016/17 (June to May) wheat acreage at 46.0 million acres (18.6 million hectares), a nine percent decrease from last year.

USDA reported that winter wheat plantings are down 10 percent with the HRW crop having the largest decrease. HRW plantings fell by 12 percent to 23.3 million acres (9.43 million hectares). Soft red winter (SRW) plantings decreased by 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) to 5.7 million acres (2.3 million hectares). USDA anticipates a 3 percent reduction in spring wheat plantings due to more favorable returns for other commodities. Currently, USDA’s spring wheat and durum acreage projection stands at 13.6 million acres (5.51 million hectares).

Due to the expected reductions in planted area and a return to trend line yields, production will decrease to a projected 50.0 MMT. If realized, that would be down 20 percent year-over-year. Based on trend yields, USDA expects the national average yield to fall to 47.1 bushels per acre (31.6 MT per hectare). USDA projects the wheat harvested-to-planted ratio will be 0.85, on par with 2016/17 and the 5-year average.

Though winter wheat planted area is at its lowest level in 108 years, growing conditions can greatly impact production levels as demonstrated in 2016/17. In February, winter wheat ratings declined in Illinois, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the monthly USDA Crop Progress report. The biggest change was noted in Montana, where USDA rated 5 percent of winter wheat in good to excellent condition compared to 70 percent in January. The percentage of Oklahoma wheat rated good to excellent increased to 43 percent, up from 33 percent in January. USDA reported 15 percent of Oklahoma wheat in poor or very poor condition, down from 17 percent in January, but significantly higher than the 1 percent poor or very poor on the same date last year. USDA resumes weekly crop progress reporting on April 3.

Large carryover stocks will partially offset the projected lower production, yet the forecast expects total U.S. supplies to decrease in 2017/18. USDA forecasts 2017/18 U.S. supplies at 84.3 MMT, down 9 percent from 2016/17, still 1 percent more than the 5-year average, if realized. Demand in the United States will decline in 2017/18, due to decreased feed usage. USDA anticipates a 2 percent decrease in domestic use, from 33.9 MMT to 33.1 MMT.

Smaller U.S. supplies and competition from other origins are expected to constrain U.S. wheat exports. USDA expects U.S. exports to decline slightly to 26.5 MMT, down 5 percent from the forecasted 2016/17 U.S. wheat export level of 27.9 MMT. U.S. ending stocks are forecast to decrease to 24.6 MMT, down 21 percent year-over-year but still 8 percent above the 5-year average.

To read more from the USDA Outlook Forum or to download presentations, please visit https://www.usda.gov/oce/forum/.

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By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

Since Jan. 1, the nearby wheat futures contract for hard red winter (HRW) on the Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBT) rallied 13 percent or 54 cents per bushel ($20 per metric ton) returning to price levels like those seen in June 2016. The rally is drawing support from both demand and supply factors. On the demand side, year to date U.S. 2016/17 HRW export sales total 10.1 million metric tons (MMT), up 95 percent from 2015/16 and 30 percent ahead of the 5-year average. Savvy buyers are also securing supplies for the next marketing season. To date, HRW export sales for marketing year 2017/18 total 182,000 metric tons (MT), up 8 percent from last year.

Robust demand for HRW is supported in part by low prices, but also by a change in the dynamic of the U.S. dollar. A strong U.S. dollar generally makes U.S. exports more expensive relative to other origins. However, while the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen against most currencies, it weakened against key competitor currencies. Year-over-year, the U.S. dollar weakened 3 percent against the Australian dollar, 11 percent against the Kazakhstani tenge and 20 percent against the Russian ruble. This shift is driving demand back to U.S. wheat in areas where the United States has a logistical advantage because it decreases the ability of buyers to offset increased shipping costs with lower priced wheat from competing origins.

The same low prices supporting HRW demand caused U.S. farmers to decrease HRW planted area by 12 percent last fall to 23.3 million acres (9.43 million hectares), which will likely result in smaller 2017/18 HRW production. Last year, record high yields offset lower planted area, but U.S. HRW planted area for 2017/18 is 20 percent less than five years ago. As discussed in the Feb. 23 Wheat Letter, farmers across the U.S. plains expect yields to return to the trend line this year given the current soil moisture and crop conditions.

Reduced HRW supplies are expected to be part of a smaller total world wheat crop in 2017/18 following last year’s record-large production. Production is expected to return to more normal trend lines around the world resulting in smaller crops for most of the world’s wheat exporting countries. The notable exception is the European Union (EU), where wheat production is expected to rebound after excessive rain cut yields last year. The European Commission forecast 2017/18 EU common wheat production at 143 MMT, up 7 percent from 2016/17 with better yields offsetting a slight reduction in planted area. EU 2017/18 durum production is expected to fall 2 percent from last year to 8.8 MMT, due to a reduction in planted area.

On Mar. 6, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Research and Sciences (ABARES) projected Australian wheat planted area will decrease 1 percent to 31.6 million acres (12.8 million hectares) citing increased competition for area from canola, pulses and sheep. With the assumption of average growing season conditions and a return to trend line yields, ABARES forecast Australian 2017/18 wheat production at 24.0 MMT, down 11 MMT from 2016/17 and 5 percent below the 5-year average, if realized.

In February, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) estimated 2017/18 Canadian wheat planted area will fall by 3 percent to 22.6 million acres (9.15 million hectares). A projected 29 percent decrease in durum acres and 12 percent decrease in winter wheat acres more than offset the expected 5 percent increase in spring wheat acres. Excessive rains last fall hurt quality and delayed harvest and subsequent fall planting across Canada. With decreased planted area and an expected return to trend line yields, AAFC expects Canadian wheat production to decrease in 2017/18 to 28.6 MMT. If realized, that would be a 10 percent decline from the prior year and 3 percent below the 5-year average.

Last fall, Russian farmers planted winter wheat on 36.5 million acres (14.8 million hectares), up 4 percent from the prior year. The Russian Ministry of Agriculture expects spring wheat planted area will decline slightly to 33.6 million acres (13.6 million hectares) due to increased competition for area from corn. Strategie Grains (SG) expects Russian 2017/18 wheat production to total 67.2 MMT, down 14 percent from last year’s record production due to a return to trend line yields that more than offset the increase in planted area.

SG expects Kazakhstan 2017/18 wheat production to fall 18 percent year-over-year to 13.8 MMT due to reductions in planted area and yield. Ukrainian farmers are also expected to produce less wheat in 2017/18. SG projects Ukraine wheat production will total 23.9 MMT. If realized that would be down 8 percent from 2016/17, but 7 percent above the 5-year average of 22.5 MMT.

The world is poised to produce a smaller wheat crop for the first time in four years, and the recent wheat futures rally indicate farmers, traders and customers alike are all taking notice, especially in light of record consumption. Before spring fully arrives with its typically volatile weather, customers should consider joining those who are securing supplies of high-quality U.S. wheat at what remain very attractive prices.

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By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director

This winter the Pacific Northwest (PNW) has seen snowstorms and record rainfall that reduced vessel loading and inbound rail service. A slowing of rail service for just a few weeks manifested itself into long vessel lineups and loading delays of up to three to four weeks. Normally there are 12 to 15 vessels in the Columbia River waiting to load. However, the Daily Grain Bulletin, published by the Portland Grain Exchange, reported 38 grain vessels waiting to load a few days ago.

Almost every sort of natural disaster imaginable has interrupted rail service to the PNW. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad applied additional resources to restore full service as soon as humanly possible. Last week there was a break in the weather, which allowed the rail service to partially recuperate. This marginal improvement raised train velocities and increased the number of unit-trains arriving in Portland daily.

Export elevators are also struggling with the weather because they cannot load when it is raining. Reports are that vessel loading efficiency is down 25 percent due to the heavy rainfall. Portland set a record in the month of February when over 10 inches of rain fell in 28 days, the most precipitation since 1996. When it rains this hard, exporters must close the hatches to protect the grain from excess moisture. Some facilities have special hatch covers where some grain can be blown through a small hole, but the loading speed is dramatically reduced.

Further complicating the weather delays are the planned repairs of the Columbia Snake River System. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers closed the river system on Dec. 12 for necessary long-term maintenance, putting additional pressure on the rail system, now the sole mode of transportation to move grain to market. An ice storm in the Columbia River gorge stopped construction for several days, delaying repairs with possible impact on the planned reopening date of March 20. The Army Corp of Engineers is doing everything in its power which includes working on the weekends and adding labor to complete the repairs on time, but there is only so much they can do when fighting mother nature.

The grain trade is working its way out of this backlog and all expectations are that by April the Columbia River will be back to normal. Currently vessels entering the river are waiting two to three weeks to load. Loading delays and higher basis levels will potentially crowd out spot market demand limiting sales for the next year. However, most wheat buyers heeded the advice of USW early last year, when told to purchase wheat ahead of the river closure. Wheat sales and shipments are ahead of last year’s pace, a clear indication that buyers responded to USW’s recommendations. Grain (wheat, corn and soybean) exports are as much as 21 percent higher this year, the best year in the last 10 on a calendar year basis.

With a healthy dose of perseverance, the grain trade, railroads, barge lines, growers and overseas buyers will work through these logistical challenges and overcome the delays. Traditional U.S. folk lore says March weather “comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” There are hundreds of people here in the PNW, and among many of our customers, we are waiting anxiously for the lamb to arrive!

Harvest Report

Dave Green, a familiar face to many who have participated in the Wheat Quality Council (WQC) Hard Red Winter Wheat Tour and Hard Spring Wheat Tour over the years, took the reins of the organization from the incomparable Ben Handcock at the conclusion of the WQC annual meeting this week in Kansas City, MO.

Everyone who has ever met Ben Hancock, who ran WQC for 25 years, will miss working with him. His gruff, pointed manner belied his dedication and love for the work and the people associated with the organization. When Handcock’s retirement was announced last year, Ag Journal reported that “he has spent a lifetime following the highs and lows of the annual wheat crop. He grew up on a 15,000-acre wheat farm in South Dakota, and farmed and ran cows for 15 years following his college graduation. He then ran the South Dakota Wheat Commission for 10 years before moving on to head the WQC in 1992.”

His colleages at USW send hearty thanks to Ben for everything he has done for the wheat farmers we represent and the experiences almost everyone at USW has had on WQC tours. We wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement.

Dave Green has been at Ben’s side organizing the WQC wheat tours in recent years. He is retired from his most recent position at ADM Milling Co. as director of quality control and laboratory services, where his responsibilities included crop surveys, wheat blends, customer correspondence and specifications. Before joining ADM, Green was a crop scout flour miller and mill technician with International Multifoods Corp. He is a past chairman of the Kansas City section of the American Association of Cereal Chemists International (AACCI), former chairman of the board of directors for the Wheat Foods Council and a 25-year member of the American Society of Baking. He also served as WQC past chairman and on several of its technical committees. A native of Akron, Ohio, he holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University.

The new WQC executive director may be reached at PO Box 19539, Lenexa KS 66285, +1-913-634-0248, and via email at dave.green.wqc@gmail.com.

WQC’s 2017 Hard Red Winter Wheat Tour is scheduled for May 1 to 4, and its Hard Spring Wheat Tour is scheduled for July 4 to 27. A registration form is posted online at www.wheatqualitycouncil.org, or click here.

Harvest Report

By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

USDA reported state planted area statistics for hard red winter (HRW), soft red winter (SRW) and soft white (SW) winter wheat in its Jan. 12 Winter Wheat and Canola Seeding Report. At this week’s Wheat Quality Council and Plains Grains Inc. board meetings in Kansas City, MO, however, HRW producers shared state updates of crop conditions, soil moisture conditions and planted area. A summary of what we learned from the producers supplemented with current USDA data by state follows.

Colorado. Colorado farmers planted 891,000 hectares (2.20 million acres) of wheat in the fall of 2016, down 6 percent from 2015. Farmers reported that southeast Colorado planting conditions were very dry, but the rest of the state had ample moisture. According to USDA data, topsoil moisture is short or very short for 35 percent of the state, compared to just 22 percent short or very short at the same time last year. Subsoil moisture is 42 percent short or very short across the state compared to 23 percent last year. Farmers noted warm weather has pushed the crop 7 to 10 days ahead of normal across the state, which makes it more vulnerable to late frost damage. On Jan. 30, USDA rated 36 percent of Colorado winter wheat in good to excellent condition compared to 47 percent good to excellent when the wheat went into dormancy last fall.Kansas. Farmers reported western Kansas is very dry. Subsoil moisture is rated at 41 percent short or very short, compared to 22 percent last year. USDA rated 37 percent of topsoil moisture as short or very short, compared to 19 percent in 2016. Early planted wheat established good stands last fall, but later planted wheat condition is more uncertain. On Jan. 30, USDA rated 45 percent of winter wheat as good to excellent compared to 52 percent good to excellent reported on Nov. 28. Last fall, Kansas planted 3.00 million hectares (7.40 million acres), down 13 percent year over year and the lowest planted area in 60 years.

Montana. Last fall, wet field conditions prevented some wheat planting in Montana. With a poor outlook for winter wheat prices, strong competition from peas and lentils shifted more acres in Montana. They planted 770,000 hectares (1.90 million acres) of wheat in 2016, down 16 percent from 2015. Farmers noted normal crop development and sufficient soil moisture, though some areas had below normal snow cover that increased the risk of winterkill. USDA rated topsoil moisture supplies at 13 percent short or very short, 77 percent adequate and 10 percent surplus, compared to 17 percent short or very short, 79 percent adequate and 4 percent surplus last year on the same date. On Jan. 30, USDA rated 70 percent of Montana winter wheat in good to excellent condition compared to 77 percent good to excellent when the wheat went into dormancy last fall.

Nebraska. Farmers reported good stands last fall, but western Nebraska is dry. The last measurable precipitation for that region occurred on Christmas day. USDA rated subsoil moisture supplies at 31 percent short or very short, compared to 19 percent on the same date last year. Topsoil moisture supplies are 23 percent short or very short, compared to 14 percent last year. With wheat now 5 to 7 days ahead of normal, the Nebraska crop is also more vulnerable to late frost damage. USDA rated 47 percent of Nebraska winter wheat in good to excellent condition on Jan. 30, compared to 53 percent good to excellent last November prior to dormancy. Nebraska farmers planted 441,000 hectares (1.09 million acres) of wheat in 2016, down 20 percent from 2015 and the lowest planted area on record for Nebraska.

Oklahoma. Most of Oklahoma received precipitation over the last few weeks that prevented further depletion of soil moisture, but it was insufficient to alleviate drought conditions. USDA rated topsoil moisture supplies at 38 percent short or very short compared to 60 percent short or very short last year. Subsoil moisture supplies are 56 percent short or very short, compared to 70 percent one year prior. Farmers noted wheat development is 12 days ahead of normal making it more vulnerable to late frost damage. Oklahoma farmers planted 1.82 million hectares (4.50 million acres) of wheat in 2016, down 10 percent from the prior year because late-season rain prevented some wheat planting. USDA rated 33 percent of Oklahoma winter wheat in good to excellent condition on Jan. 30, compared to 53 percent good to excellent when the wheat went into dormancy last fall.

South Dakota. Beneficial moisture last fall allowed for good stand establishment in South Dakota. Abundant snow cover is protecting the wheat and limiting winterkill risk. Topsoil moisture supplies rated 84 percent adequate, compared to 79 percent adequate last year. Subsoil moisture supplies rated 23 percent short to very short, 76 percent adequate and 1 percent surplus compared to 26 percent short or very short, 72 percent adequate and 2 percent surplus in 2016. USDA rated 62 percent of South Dakota winter wheat in good to excellent condition compared to 51 percent good to excellent when the wheat went into dormancy last fall. South Dakota farmers planted 364,000 hectares (900,000 acres) of winter wheat, down 24 percent year over year.

Texas. Last fall, Texas farmers planted 1.82 million hectares (4.50 million acres) of wheat, down 10 percent from the prior year in very dry field conditions. In the past two years, Texas planted wheat area has dropped by 20 percent. Early planted wheat emerged last fall, but the later planted wheat did not emerge until after beneficial precipitation fell in December. Farmers estimate the earlier planted wheat is 7 days ahead of normal development, while the later planted wheat is still emerging. USDA reported 93 percent of winter wheat had emerged by Jan. 30. On Jan. 30, USDA rated 29 percent of Texas winter wheat in good to excellent condition compared to 41 percent good to excellent when the wheat went into dormancy last fall.

USDA will release its next crop progress update Feb. 28 and will resume weekly crop condition reporting April 3.

Harvest Report

By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

The sharp inverse in export basis between March delivery and April delivery for U.S. wheat at both Gulf and Pacific Northwest (PNW) ports indicates that exporters have faced logistical challenges during a brutally cold and snowy winter. It also provides a savings opportunity for those customers who can wait for delivery until April or May.

USDA data shows that in January, U.S. grain export inspections increased 18 percent year over year and are on par with the 5-year average. The bad winter weather began slowing rail and barge arrivals at both Gulf and PNW ports in December. Those delays worsened as January brought frigid temperatures and snow to the U.S. Northern Plains, Midwest and, unusually so, to PNW ports. This year’s snowfall is the largest in Portland, OR, since 1995.

Railcar supply tightened in December and January, as the bad weather slowed train movement across the Northern Plains. In severe cold, railroads must decrease the number of cars pulled by each locomotive for safety reasons. During January, the U.S. rail system round trip rate slowed according to Surface Transportation Board data. In turn, the higher demand for rail freight pushed secondary rail freight rates dramatically higher.

In calendar 2016, barges delivered 43.2 million metric tone (MMT) of grain to U.S. Gulf ports, the largest volume recorded since USDA began tracking in 2003. This year, demand for barge space continued into January rather than tapering off after fall harvest. Year to date in 2017, barges moved 2.81 MMT of grain on the Mississippi River, up 18 percent year over year and 21 percent above the 5-year average.

While U.S. export facilities have some storage on-site, a consistent flow of grain from the interior is needed to keep up with vessel loading. Since 2010, PNW export terminal storage capacity has increased 27 percent to 1.08 MMT, yet PNW export terminals turn their inventory about every 12 days. Gulf export terminals have roughly 2.2 MMT of capacity and on average turn over their inventory about every 10 days.

With the delays in grain delivery, vessels waiting to load have increased significantly. In its Feb. 2 Grain Transportation Report, USDA said 65 vessels were at port in the U.S. Gulf, compared to the 2016 weekly average of 43 vessels. Throughout January, the U.S. Gulf had an average 58 vessels either loading or waiting, up 14 percent from January 2016 and 25 percent above the 5-year average. As of Feb. 2, there were 37 vessels at port in the PNW, up 85 percent from the same time last year.

Looking ahead, exporters believe they can work through the backlog by the end of March barring any additional severe weather events. In January, an average 43 vessels per week loaded in the Gulf, compared to an average 40 vessels per week in 2016. Though PNW vessel loading slowed to an average 10 vessels per week for the first three weeks of 2017, Federal Grain Inspection data showed 31 vessels were loaded between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2.

As exporters continue to load vessels, U.S. wheat customers are likely very aware of demurrage and dispatch clauses in their contracts. All types of export contracts include incentives for exporters to load as quickly as possible to avoid incurring demurrage. U.S. law ensures customers’ contracts will be fulfilled as soon as physically possible because it is in the exporter’s financial interest to do so. According to traders, demurrage on current charters in the PNW and Gulf are averaging $12,000 per vessel per day.

This year’s weather has certainly been worse than normal, but the issues that come with such challenges are well-known. That is partly why U.S. railroads, ports and waterway associations continually invest in infrastructure to improve the flow of grain from U.S. farmers to overseas customers.

Customers who have adequate supplies can save between $6 to $20 per metric ton at current export basis levels depending on the class and port of origin by pushing new wheat business deliveries out to April or May. As always, the U.S. wheat store remains open and transparent. And, as always, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representatives are available to answer any questions customers may have about U.S. export logistics and how they can continue to get the best value possible from U.S. wheat.