On May 18th, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned of a looming global food shortage that could last for years (UN Press Release). As wheat prices skyrocket, brought on in part by the war in Eastern Europe, the recent UN alarm highlights the growing humanitarian and geopolitical threats that FBN pointed out in the days following the war’s outbreak nearly two months ago (FBN State of Ag).
Unfortunately, there is no near-term solution to curb runaway food inflation. While US farmers will begin harvesting winter wheat in the coming months, a recent report by USDA shows little optimism for a bumper crop to cushion global shortages. According to that report, USDA expects the 2022 US winter wheat crop to be 8% lower than 2021 and, if realized, this year’s constrained harvest would be the third smallest crop in the past 20 years.
Over the past 9 months, the La Niña weather phenomenon has been like a tactical missile intent on wreaking the most damage to key winter wheat areas. Heading into planting last Fall, conditions were unusually dry across stretching from Texas up to the Central Plains and west towards the Rocky Mountain front range, the breadbasket of the US which accounts for one half of all winter wheat supplies. As winter gave way to spring and farmers looked to the skies for crop saving moisture, Mother Nature proved unyielding and La Niña’s persistence brought ever worsening drought conditions.
USDA’s May 12th survey showed lower than expected production, but that may only be the start of what could be further downgrades to an already diminished crop. This week, the Wheat Quality Council conducted its annual fact finding expedition sending 80 scouts across Kansas and parts of nearby states to collect their own assessments. FBN was part of this excursion (see results for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3) and found little reason to second guess the lower benchmark of USDA.
FBN conducted its own poll simultaneously this week, querying our farmers across these 5 states about their yield expectations. The results of that poll are illustrated below in the map and tables. Farmer yield expectations conform closely to the USDA assessment, but in some cases could prove to be worse than what USDA found in the early May survey. Of the 5 states, FBN farmers expected lower yields in 4 states versus what was found by USDA. Also, there were fairly high claims of total crop losses from FBN farmers, which was also found by Wheat Tour Scouts, suggesting that more than normal acres could be abandoned.
We expect the yield and production potential for HRW wheat to be downgraded as we get into harvest. Better moisture in the Northern Plains and into Montana could help limit some of the downgrade from the southern reaches. But it will do little to stem the trend of dwindling HRW stocks in the US.
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