By Shelbi Knisley, Director of Trade Policy

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is a key trade negotiation tool. TPA is due to expire in the U.S. in a month, posing serious challenges for ongoing negotiations important to wheat growers.

TPA is commonly called “fast track authority” because of its provisions to speed Congressional approval of trade agreements that were negotiated and agreed to by the administration of a sitting U.S. President. It has been granted to every presidential administration since Franklin D. Roosevelt and is, in effect, a tool to instill confidence in U.S. trading partners. It is crucial to advancing negotiations because under TPA, other countries would be less hesitant to make commitments in a negotiation fearing that a final agreement could be amended by the U.S. Congress.

While there is still time for Congress to extend TPA before the current expiration on July 1, 2021, there has been little discussion of renewal and the Biden Administration has not yet asked Congress to extend the authority. In reality, TPA has already expired because any newly negotiated free trade agreements (FTA) have a 90-day notification requirement. So even if a new agreement were notified today, it would eclipse the existing TPA authority by two months.

Before the current administration took office, the United States was negotiating free trade agreements with Kenya and the United Kingdom (UK) under TPA. Agreements with both countries present opportunities to expand U.S. wheat exports.

UK Trade

Buyers in the UK import mainly hard red spring (HRS) wheat from the U.S., due to prohibitive tariffs on medium and low-protein wheat and large domestic production of soft wheat. The U.S. supplies around 20% of the UK’s wheat imports. An FTA between the U.S. and the UK could give buyers greater access to additional U.S. wheat classes. After the UK officially left the European Union customs union at the start of 2021, it is now able to negotiate its own trade agreements. Due to the strong relationship and opportunity to increase wheat options for UK millers, an FTA between these two large economies should be a major priority.

Kenya Trade

Following the resolution last year of a sanitary/phytosanitary trade issue, there is more opportunity for U.S. wheat to enter the Kenyan market. Allowing favorable trade terms for U.S. wheat into this African country would make U.S. wheat more competitive with European and Black Sea wheat. An FTA with Kenya could serve as a model for future agreements with other African countries, which is important, as the continent is growing both in population and in food demands.

TPA Benefits

Almost all U.S. free trade agreements have been concluded with TPA in place. For example, the previous renewal of TPA enabled the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now known as the U.S.- Mexico- Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the U.S.- Japan Trade Agreement. Both agreements benefited wheat producers and their offshore customers significantly.

There has also been chatter among pro-trade folks in Washington about the potential of the United States rejoining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP). Joining CPTTP would allow U.S. wheat level access to Vietnam in the Asian region and to any other country added to the bloc. Securing TPA would greatly encourage the idea of joining CPTTP and provide an effective consultation process with Congress and, eventually, a streamlined vote.

USW Supports TPA

More than 50% of U.S. wheat production is exported every year so creating new market access, secured through free trade agreements, is critical to U.S. wheat competitiveness. USW highlighted the importance of TPA in comments to the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) in 2020 and continues to support its renewal.



Originally published by Kansas Wheat. Excerpts reprinted with permission.

About 45 people from 13 U.S. states traveled on six routes across Kansas May 18 to 20, stopping at wheat fields along the routes to assess crop conditions and yield potential, as part of the 2021 Hard Winter Wheat Tour sponsored by the Wheat Quality Council.

What they found is perhaps a more productive crop than many had anticipated. The tour estimated an average yield potential of 58.1 bushels per acre, equal to 76.49 kilograms per hectoliter or 3.91 metric tons per hectare.

While an estimated 7.3 million acres of wheat were planted in the fall, the Kansas wheat crop varies in condition based on planting date and amount of moisture received. What Mother Nature has planned for the rest of the wheat crop year remains to be seen (harvest is likely 4 to 7 weeks away), but the tour captures a moment in time for the yield potential for fields across the state.

Calculating Yield in Muddy Boots

Every tour participant makes yield calculations at each stop based on three different area samplings per field. These individual estimates are averaged with the rest of their route mates and eventually added to a formula that produces a final yield estimate for the areas along the routes. The WQC held the hard winter wheat tour about 3 weeks later in May this year and more than half the fields were headed out. That allowed use of a different yield potential calculation than if the fields had not yet headed.

Recent rains across the central and southern Plains that gave tour scouts muddy boots helped improve crop conditions, especially for early seeded crops, and in northern and central Kansas that had not been stressed by dry conditions.

Day 1

On May 18, tour scouts made ­­­171 stops at wheat fields across north central, central and northwest Kansas, and into southern counties in Nebraska. The calculated yield average that day was 59.2 bushels per acre, which was 12.3 bushels higher than the yield of 46.9 bushels per acre from the same routes in 2019.

Calculating yield potential at the 2021 hard winter wheat tour

A scout in the 2021 Hard Winter Wheat Tour takes a measurement that will be used to help calculate the yield potential of this Kansas wheat field.

Day 2

The hard winter wheat tour continued May 19 with six routes covering western, southwest and south-central Kansas as well as some northern Oklahoma counties. The scouts made 164 stops in wet fields from rain received over the past several days. The wheat in southwest Kansas still looks rough, but crop conditions improved as the tour moved east.

The calculated yield from all cars this day was 56.7 bushels per acre. Tour participants remarked that those yields seemed high because the formula used to calculate yield potential does not take disease, weed nor pest pressure into consideration. Scouts saw some instances of wheat streak mosaic virus, stripe rust and Russian wheat aphid. Many of the fields with rust had been sprayed with a fungicide.

Day 3

The official hard winter wheat tour projection for total production in Kansas is 365 million bushels or 9.94 million metric tons (MMT). This number is the average of estimated predictions from tour participants who gathered information from 350 fields across the state. Based on May 1 conditions, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) predicted the Kansas crop to be 331 million bushels, with a yield of 48 bushels per acre, or 9.1 MMT. The NASS estimate is 18% more than its 2020 estimate at the same time.

The NASS estimate for the Nebraska wheat crop is 36.7 million bushels, or just under 1.0 MMT, up 8% from last year. The Colorado crop is estimated at 64.5 million bushels (1.76 MMT). Oklahoma’s production is estimated at 110.74 million bushels (3.1 MMT).

Tour participant discussions from each day of the 2021 hard winter wheat tour are posted at

Read more about the 2020 virtual tour and the 2019 tour from U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).


U.S. wheat farmers know that conservation practices that foster economic and environmental stewardship are increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. Continuing our discussion on conservation practices that help make U.S. wheat production more sustainable, the following is an article from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that appeared in the April 2021 issue of Prairie Grains magazine.

After enrolling in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), dozens of Bill Zurn’s distant relatives [contacted him] to congratulate the longtime Minnesota farmer after his conservation practices were profiled in the local paper.

“We’ve seen very positive feedback from our landlords and family members,” Zurn says. “Some of my long-lost cousins have come back and congratulated us. They were [very happy], and we really didn’t expect that.”

Zurn was an original board member during the MAWQCP’s inception, and he officially enrolled in summer 2020. He said he’s glad the program recognizes the diverse farming practices of Minnesota and factors in how weather and growing patterns differ throughout the state.

Conservation Practices from Minnesota Department of Agriculture

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect water resources in the state., earning certification for water quality. 

“From Rochester to Roseau, there’s a big difference here, and it’s important we understand that,” he says. “It varies so much across our state, and it’s important to stress that.”

Zurn farms in Becker and Mahnomen counties with his wife, Karolyn, and their sons, Eric and Nick. Together, the Zurns grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. Though they had already been practicing cover crops, pest management and conservation tillage, Zurn credits his local National Resource Conservation Service with helping improve his family’s production practices to become certified.

“They were excellent to us and showed us what we needed to do what we could change,” says Zurn, who’s also a director with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council. “They are great to work with. We as farmers have gotten a lot more out of this than we put in.”

“Farming has changed. We’re not perfect, but we’ve always tried to do the best we can – with technology and precision ag – and meet the standards.”

Farmers can contact their local Soil & Water Conservation District to apply for MAWQCP certification and then complete a series of steps with local certifiers using a 100 percent site-specific risk-assessment process. By law, all data is kept private and only by signing a formal release can a farmer’s name be released publicly.

After becoming certified, farmers like the Zurns receive a 10- year contract ensuring they will be deemed in compliance with any new water quality laws, an official MAWQCP sign to display on their farm and other benefits developed by local MAWQCP providers.

“We applaud Bill for his dedication to conservation and for continuing to promote best management practices in Minnesota,” says Brad Redlin, MAWQCP project manager. “Bill has been a champion of this program since the beginning, and we are thankful for his full-throated endorsement.”

More than 1,000 producers are currently certified in the MAWQCP, covering more than 725,000 certified acres, and implementing more than 2,075 new conservation practices. Gov. Tim Walz has set a goal of enrolling 1 million acres in the MAWQCP by 2022.

“We appreciate what they’re doing with this program,” Zurn says. “Farming has changed. We’re not perfect, but we’ve always tried to do the best we can – with technology and precision ag – and meet the standards.”

Zurn says he’s eager to spread the word about the benefits of the MAWQCP to not just family and friends, but the agriculture community – and beyond.

“For the time and effort, it’s very worthwhile,” he says. “We’re proving to the United States that we’re doing good sustainable and renewable practices here in Minnesota.”

Read more stories about what Minnesota farmers are doing to conserve water and soil.

Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

Wheat food products to illustrate Wheat Industry News

Recent news and highlights from around the U.S. wheat industry.

Speaking of Wheat. [A new genetic discovery] will make a big difference for producers, because it will result in our Wheat Improvement Team releasing varieties that are better adapted to their production system.” – Amanda de Oliveira Silva, Oklahoma State University Extension Small Grains Specialist, from an article in the Enid News & Eagle about identifying a gene that will help breeders fine-tune wheat maturity for specific uses such higher yield production.

Rabobank Released its World Grains & Oilseeds Map 2021, predicting that global grains and oilseeds trade will continue to grow, driven by rising demand from Asia and Africa and increased exports from the Americas and the Black Sea Region. “Income and population are expected to continue to drive long-term growth in trade flows, while changes in consumer dietary habits might cause further shifts in those flows,” according to Vito Martielli, Rabobank Senior Analyst, Grains & Oilseeds.

Congratulations to the 2021 Borlaug CAST Communication Award Winner, Dr. Sarah Evanega. She is a research professor in the Cornell University Department of Global Development. Dr. Evanega also serves as the founding director of the Cornell Alliance for Science. Read more from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) here.

Leading Nutrition Expert Dr. Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted of Trinidad and Tobago is named the 2021 World Food Prize Laureate for her achievements in pioneering fish-based food systems to improve nutrition, health and livelihoods for millions around the world. Read more on the World Food Prize website.

Best Wishes. Dr. Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University Extension Agronomist, made a huge positive impact on farmers and students in North Dakota and around the world. Dr. Ransom recently retired, and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) thanks him and wishes him well. Read more about Dr. Ransom’s career in the April issue of Prairie Grains magazine.

Josh Tonsager Joins House Agriculture Committee. House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott announced several staffing additions and promotions for the Democratic staff of the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, April 26. Former NAWG Vice President of Policy and Communications Josh Tonsager will serve as the Subcommittee Staff Director for the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee. Read the press release here. USW wishes Josh the best in his next endeavor!

Subscribe to USW Reports. USW publishes various reports and other content that are available for subscription, including a bi-weekly newsletter highlighting recent Wheat Letter blog posts and Wheat Industry News, the weekly Price Report and the weekly Harvest Report (available May to October). Subscribe here.

Follow USW Online. Visit our Facebook page for the latest updates, photos and discussions of what is going on in the world of wheat. Also, find breaking news on Twitter, video stories on Vimeo and more on LinkedIn.


By Ben Conner, Partner, DTB Associates

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is preparing for its 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva at the end of the year; meanwhile there is widespread concern that the organization is drifting into irrelevance. But for U.S. farmers, the rules established by the WTO are directly relevant to their work in the fields, and their customers depend on the rules to ensure access to a reliable supply.

Here is a not-at-all unrealistic scenario:

Wheat farmers gather for a meeting at the local country elevator where they sell their crop. The manager tells the farmers that the elevator will not be able to buy any wheat treated with a very effective, foliar disease control product approved for use on wheat in the United States. The reason: the government of an overseas market has announced a zero tolerance for residues of that product on imported wheat and the grain trade cannot accept that risk.

This is but one illustration of the influence that policies in one country can have on practices in another. WTO rules – agreed to by almost every country – set parameters for these policies to ensure that they do not unjustifiably restrict trade. In this scenario, the country imposing the residue restriction may be acting consistently with WTO rules (though it is more unlikely if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the treatment) but it must be able to demonstrate that it met the criteria laid out in the relevant WTO agreements.

Monthly WTO Committee Meetings

Every month, representatives from WTO member countries meet in committees to probe policy development on issues just like this. They ask things like: what is the policy’s objective? Does the scientific evidence justify that conclusion? Did you consider the trade effects of that subsidy? Why are companies complaining that they cannot get an import license from your customs agencies? When will you submit transparency notifications? This work almost never makes the news but is a critical part of the statecraft needed to reduce friction in international trade.

Image representing trade barriers and the WTO role in preventing them.

“When countries impose trade barriers even after receiving extensive pushback in the World Trade Organization (WTO) committees, there will not be a quick solution and it will disrupt trade.”

The farmers in the fungicide scenario will almost certainly not be able to rely on the WTO committee process nor the dispute settlement mechanism to fix the problem before marketing their grain. When countries impose trade barriers even after receiving extensive pushback in the WTO committees, there will not be a quick solution and it will disrupt trade. Yet the committee process itself helps limit the number of ideas that ultimately become trade barriers. Questioning trade practices helps provide clarity, draw attention to a problem that can lead to a negotiated solution, build coalitions around a particular concern, and can serve as a prelude to dispute settlement litigation.

A WTO that Works

A functioning WTO is perhaps more important for agriculture than any other sector. Global agricultural trade is particularly complicated and there is little more sensitive than the food we eat. There are reasons why agriculture is the only economic sector with its own multilateral trade agreement, though other WTO agreements on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade are arguably even more important for the sector. Because of their sensitivity, agriculture issues are sometimes impossible to resolve through negotiation and the backstop of a litigated outcome (with the possibility of retaliation) is the only way to get a government to back down from a harmful trade policy.

Farmers prefer to use the most effective tools available for their crops. When it comes to agricultural trade policy problems, the most effective tools are often found at the WTO. Regardless of what happens at MC12, limiting trade barriers will require robust engagement by governments and industry in the often invisible work of this critical institution.


By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

On March 21, 2021, Canadian Pacific (CP) Railways announced a $25 billion plan to merge with Kansas City Southern (KCS), calling it a “transformative” remake of the freight-rail industry. The proposed new railroad would be the first U.S.-Mexico-Canada-linked rail line.

To illustrate rail merger proposals

The proposed rail merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern would create a new rail system linking Canada, the United States and Mexico. Map: Canadian Pacific.

Not to be out-done, Canadian National Railway (CN) began talks with KCS in late April, saying it could yield a “superior” rail merger proposal and offering $30 billion for KCS compared to CP’s $25 billion.

Wheat is Watching

The U.S. wheat industry is closely watching both proposals but has not taken a position in support of or opposition to either proposed merger. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), along with a coalition of shippers, has asked the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which regulates U.S. rail service, to apply its most strict standard of “enhances competition” to both proposals.

Also in April, however, the STB granted a waiver to CP that exempted its proposal from that high standard established in 2001. That ruling effectively lowered CP’s burden for winning the deal. The STB defended its decision noting that because the combination of CP and KCS would be the smallest of the large North American railroads, it would “result in the fewest overlapping routes.”

A Dissent

However, one STB member, Robert Primus, dissented in part, saying, “Special treatment for this proposed merger between Class I [railroads] runs counter to the Board’s responsibility to review such major mergers and protect the public interest.”

While the STB waived CP’s proposal from that standard, it has not yet ruled on the CN proposal. However, CN’s effort to brand the merger as enhancing competition has received over 600 letters of support.

USW’s desire to see increased rail competition in these merger proposals is directly related to their potential effect on U.S. wheat export prices.

To show proposed rail routes

Alternative routes created by Canadian National’s proposed rail merger with Kansas City Southern. Map: U.S. Department of Transportation via Bloomberg.

Rail Rates Affect Sellers and Buyers

U.S. railroads are a crucial part of the most efficient grain supply system in the world. The rail system fulfills an essential logistical function that neither grain handlers nor farmers can perform on their own. Wheat must compete for limited rail capacity with other grains as well.

USW, however, has learned that since June 2014, the cost of wheat shipments has increased substantially, due at times to higher basic rates for shipping wheat and other rail pricing strategies. For Mexican wheat buyers who bring in more than 60% of their total U.S. imports directly by rail, rates have a significant, direct impact on their bottom-line costs.

As rail costs increase, grain handlers may try to recover these costs by offering higher grain prices to terminal or export elevators and, as some in the industry believe, by offering lower prices to farmers. As basis increases, overseas buyers must pay more for all classes of wheat, and that affects demand.

While it is unlikely these proposed rail mergers would make Canada more competitive in Mexico due to long shipping distances, Canada’s history of nationalism in rail policies is concerning as it favors only some shippers. It is also possible a merger would increase Canada’s competitiveness in the U.S. domestic market, while the Canadian industry continues benefitting from an archaic, government mandated variety registration system that helps minimize any large-scale U.S. wheat imports north.

Next Steps

The KCS’s board of directors must next decide if they want to accept one of the rail merger proposals. In the meantime, the STB will review the proposed mergers.

In response to the impacts of increasing rail rates on our export competitiveness, USW formed a Wheat Transportation Working group in 2018. The group is currently working with researchers on scenarios that will help identify potentially positive or negative outcomes that could result from a merger. The STB is likely to seek public comments on the final rail merger proposals later in 2021 and the Wheat Transportation Working Group will weigh in on behalf of U.S. wheat farmers.

For more information:


The new U.S. winter wheat crop is rapidly developing and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) will publish its first “Harvest Report” for marketing year 2021/22 on Friday, May 14.

USW Harvest Reports are published every Friday afternoon, Eastern Daylight Time, throughout the season with updates and comments on harvest progress, crop conditions and current crop quality for hard red winter (HRW), soft red winter (SRW), hard red spring (HRS), soft white (SW) and durum wheat.

Anyone may subscribe to an email version of the “Harvest Report” at this link. USW includes links in the email to additional wheat condition and grading information, including the U.S. Drought Monitor, USDA/NASS Crop Progress and National Wheat Statistics, the official FGIS wheat grade standards and USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report. Harvest Reports are also posted online on the USW website here.

The weekly Harvest Report is a key component of USW’s international technical and marketing programs. It is a resource that helps customers understand how the crop situation may affect basis values and export prices.

USW’s overseas offices share the report with their market contacts and use it as a key resource for answering inquiries and meeting with customers. Several USW offices publish the reports in the local language. Additional links to Harvest Report are available on USW’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages.

USW wants to thank and acknowledge the organizations that make “Harvest Reports” possible, including:


U.S. wheat farmers know that improving economic and environmental stewardship is increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. In addition to precision agricultural technology, soil and water conservation practices are expanding. Following are excerpts from an article on sustainability and conservation by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Conservation practices encouraged by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are used to improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and provide other natural resource benefits.

To maintain basic soil health, NRCS calls on farmers to keep the soil covered, disturb the soil minimally, keep a living cover that feeds the soil throughout the year, diversify crop systems on the soil through crop rotations and cover crops and incorporate livestock into the cropping system. Many of these practices contribute to carbon sequestration, as well as nutrient reduction and water quality/water quantity improvements.

Cover Crops

Cover crops like grasses, legumes and other plants can provide conservation cover if planted before grain crops are harvested or immediately after harvest. Depending on the cover crop mix planted, cover crops can reduce soil erosion and trap and sequester nutrients, like carbon, in the soil. Cover crops have also been used to improve soil biology, reduce weed competition, improve water infiltration and increase organic matter in soil. Cover crops are especially helpful when incorporating livestock grazing into a cropping system, providing an added nutrition source.

Photo shows roots from a cover crop conservation practices

Roots and organic matter from cover crops planted and growing before a new commercial crop like wheat is planted help improve soil health and reduce erosion. Cover crops are a growing conservation practice in the United States. Photo credit: Edwin Remsberg and USDA-SARE.

Crop Rotation

Beyond the market incentives, reasons for planting different crops each year include improved soil health and enhanced biological diversity. In addition, crop rotation can reduce soil erosion and reduce pesticide costs, while also improving water quality. If a farmer incorporates a rotation of alfalfa and other legumes, there are fertilizer reduction benefits, as well.

No-till/ Strip-till/Conservation Tillage

Soil compaction is a constant challenge for farmers but limiting disturbances to the soil improves carbon retention and minimizes carbon emissions from soils. Avoiding full-width tillage, regardless of the depth or timing, if done long-term, can add organic matter to the soil as it decomposes and help to reduce soil compaction. Avoiding full-width tillage reduces soil erosion and protects water quality and can help keep water available for plants into the growing season after planting.

Nutrient Management

Precisely managing the source, rate, timing and placement of nutrients like nitrogen or animal manure as fertilizer can reduce the potential for waste or runoff of plant nutrients, which can improve soil conditions and overall crop production, prevent excess nitrogen runoff and reduce input costs.

Buffer Strips

These strips of grass, mixed grasses and legumes run along the contour of a farmed field to create a “buffer.” Buffer strips made up of native plants and grasses remove sediment, nutrients and crop protection products as they pass through, all while helping reduce soil erosion. Buffer strips can also provide habitats for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Adoption of Conservation Practices

Taken only once every five years, the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture is a survey-based count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The survey provides the most recent data regarding land use practices by the number of farms and the number of acres. In 2017, 41% of U.S. farmland involved conservation practices, an increase of 3% from 2012.

Figure 1 displays the percent of cropland acres utilizing each of the surveyed land-use conservation practices.

A chart of data showing % of land using conservation practices

When compared to 2012 when the Census of Agriculture was previously published, the land-use practices aligned with the NRCS conservation practices increased in adoption. Figure 2 shows the percent change of U.S. cropland acres utilizing certain land-use practices from 2012 to 2017.

This is a chart to show the % change in conservation practices on U.S. farm land.

The most recent data shows the pace in which farms have adopted conservation practices has increased, indicating many farms have been able to implement some version of conservation on their acres.

Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability


Recent news and highlights from around the U.S. wheat industry.

 Speaking of Wheat.
“Well over half the nation’s wheat production occurs in states that are experiencing some form of drought now in the spring of 2021 … I suspect we will still see rough correlation between corn prices and hard red winter wheat prices this summer.” — Elaine Kub, South Dakota author of “Mastering the Grain Markets: How Profits are Really Made,” from an article in Progressive Farmer/DTN.

U.S. Wheat Condition Ratings Decline. This week, USDA reported U.S. winter wheat in good to excellent condition declined by 4 percentage points overall to 49% from the previous week. Oklahoma and Texas showed declines, respectively, of 9 points to 61% and 10 points to 18%. Later in May, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) will issue its first Harvest Report on the 2021/22 U.S. wheat crop.

Dr. Senay Simsek to Head of Purdue University’s Food Science Department. As the Bert L. D’Appolonia Cereal Science and Technology of Wheat Endowed Professor at North Dakota State University, Dr. Simsek has been a valued USW-sponsored consultant to wheat food processors around the world. USW congratulates Dr. Simsek on her new appointment. Read more about her career and new position here.

Congratulations to Oklahoma Wheat Farmer Tom Stephens on induction into the Oklahoma Agriculture Hall of Fame. Tom is a long-serving USW director representing the Oklahoma Wheat Commission (OWC). He and his wife Phyllis live in Guymon, Okla. Read more in OWC’s Oklahoma Wheat Brief.

It’s A Boy! Congratulations to USW/Mexico City Assistant Regional Director Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann and her husband Andrew on the birth of their first child, Stielf Xavier Bryant Erdmann, born April 26, 2021. Stephanie and baby are both doing well.

World Food Prize to Announce 2021 Laureate and hold a “Digital Dialogue: Live with the Laureate” on May 11, 2021, at 8:00 a.m. Central Daylight Time. Invited speakers include U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, and UN Nutrition Chair Naoko Yamamoto. Learn more about the event and register online at

NAWG Hires New Director of Communications and Partnerships. The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) recently named Mariah Wollweber as Director of Communications and Partnerships. Wollweber is a fifth-generation wheat farmer from Washington State. She has worked as a journalist and in the communications and marketing industry.

Subscribe to USW Reports. USW publishes various reports and content that are available to subscribe to, including a bi-weekly newsletter highlighting recent Wheat Letter blog posts, the weekly Price Report and the weekly Harvest Report (available May to October). Subscribe here.

Follow USW Online. Visit our Facebook page for the latest updates, photos and discussions of what is going on in the world of wheat. Also, find breaking news on Twitter, video stories on Vimeo and more on LinkedIn.


By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

As the world’s economies begin picking up pace, the increasing demand for raw materials is pushing up ocean freight rates worldwide. A less volatile freight market is possible but there are factors that suggest rates will remain higher for some time.

Aristides Pittas, CEO of EuroDry, noted recently that dry bulk rates in January were the highest in a decade.

“The period from 2000-2010 was an extraordinarily good decade for dry bulk. In 2010-2020, it was an extraordinary bad decade,” he added. However, as another industry insider noted, “a lethargic decade for the [ocean freight] industry is behind us.” Rates for Panamax and Supramax vessels are double what they were at the same time last year, ahead of the global shutdowns brought on by the spread of COVID-19.

Why Freight Rates are Increasing

Dry bulk demand is overwhelmingly driven by China’s buying spree, which accounted for 48.5% of all dry bulk-ton miles in 2020, reported BIMCO. Unlike many countries last year, China’s economy grew by 2.3%. China’s growth translated directly to demand for grains, coal, iron ore, and other commodities delivered in dry bulk vessels.

Another cause is a diplomatic dispute between China and Australia that has left 70 bulkers carrying coal anchored off northern China. China is looking elsewhere for coal while Australia is finding other export markets, leading to longer shipping times and tying up the vessel supply on longer shipping routes.

News of President Biden’s plans to push a significant U.S. infrastructure plan could also affect demand. Martyn Wade, CEO of Grindrod Shipping, said shipping demand could be “through the roof” if deliveries of building materials like steel and cement tie up smaller ship sizes. In fact, Chinese steel exports in March were 40% above January and February, respectively. That is a four-year high according to Marine Strategies International (MSI).

Can the Market Stabilize?

Rates for Panamax and Supramax vessels have steadily increased in the first quarter of 2021 and remain very strong. Rates have been steady in April. Today’s Panamax rate is $22,949, or about $600 more than on April 1. Forward freight agreement (FFA) derivatives indicate continued strength. The Baltic Index is up 39% in April.

Proving ocean freight rates are rising.

Ocean Freight Rates Comparison, April 2020 to April 2021.  This chart gives a snapshot of freight price trends for routes from the U.S. Pacific Northwest to Northeast Asia, the U.S. Gulf to Northeast Asia, and the Black Sea to Northeast Asia. The chart shows the trend of shipping rates over the course of one year (April 2020 to 2021). The Y-axis represents the percent change over the course of a year with 0% representing the benchmark. Source: “AgriCensus.”

New ship orders can increase the worldwide supply of dry bulk carriers, but new orders are not keeping pace with demand. New build orders for container ships in comparison are triple the dry bulk ratio, reported “American Shipper.”

In addition, COVID-19 protocols in many countries have slowed vessel discharge time. Australia, for example, requires ships to hold at sea for 14 days before calling at ports. This protocol has had a major impact on the Capesize route between China and Australia, said Nick Ristic, lead dry cargo analyst at Braemar ACM Shipbroking.

Strength in Freight Market to Persist

It looks like the market is at a turning point for the shipping industry. As the year progresses, rates remain strong. Global economic growth and momentum in the equities markets point to an optimistic outlook for the year. Limits on vessel supply cannot be met quickly.

For those contracting for shipping, these factors are likely to sustain the higher dry bulk carrier rates.

For additional information on freight and other trade service needs, please contact your local USW Office.