Due to delays to autumn planting and dry conditions in the southern U.S. Plains, the hard red winter crop is left vulnerable to freeze damage. A possible freeze could further tighten supplies of high-protein wheat.
As the temperatures drop, a cold spell hit the U.S., leading grain producer, and any freeze in the upcoming months could cause an outsize threat to supply considering there is already a shortage of high-protein wheat. U.S. data in January is expected to show farmers have planted even less winter wheat than a year ago, when U.S. acreage fell to the lowest level since 1909. Global supplies of lower-quality wheat are in abundance, but high-protein wheat is tight. Low protein levels in the last two U.S. HRW wheat harvests have sent millers and bakers scrambling to find enough supplies of top-quality grain.
In Kansas, the biggest U.S. wheat producer, virtually the entire state is abnormally dry and one-fifth of the state is in moderate drought, according to the latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, which is compiled by a consortium of climatologists.
“With dry topsoil, we are definitely more exposed to any sharp drop in temperatures,” Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University extension wheat specialist, said of the dormant 2018 crop, noting that dry soil cools more quickly than moist soil. The winter months are typically the driest of the year in the region, and moisture will not help dormant plants to grow much. However, snowfall can act as a blanket, protecting the crop from frigid air.
A cold spell is expected in the Plains in the last week of December, said David Streit, an agricultural meteorologist with the Commodity Weather Group. While it is too early to say how cold it will get, a few forecasting models projected temperatures falling below zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius), Streit said to Reuters.