USDA’s first look at planted winter wheat acreage gave mixed reports for the different winter wheat classes (HRW, SRW and white wheat), but farmers coast to coast caution that the crop remains vulnerable until harvest.
USDA upped its estimate for total winter wheat seeded area to 41.9 million acres for 2012 in its Jan. 12. Winter Wheat Seedings  report. The increase is 3 percent above 2011 and 12 percent above 2010, which USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service  attributed to higher prices and an acreage rebound in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
HRW acreage up
For Kansas, the largest HRW producing state, USDA reported winter wheat acres increased 8 percent to 9.5 million acres. Like many farmers in western Kansas last year, Dighton farmer Ron Suppes had a failed wheat crop. He reports that he planted more HRW this year to take advantage of the fertilizer he applied to last year’s crop.
Bill Spiegel, director of communications for Kansas Wheat, added that many farmers with failed corn, soybean and sorghum crops planted those fields to wheat, further incentivized by the relatively high federal crop insurance target price at the time.
Across the state in Muscotah, Kan., farmer Jay Armstrong explained that his wheat acres were up slightly only because of the size of fields planted this year compared to last, noting that farmers in northeast Kansas do not plant much wheat.
For Texas, USDA increased winter wheat acreage 11 percent to 5.9 million acres, putting planted acres back on track with the historical average according to Steelee Fischbacher, communications director at the Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association. She explained that moisture remains a critical factor in translating planted acres to harvested acres.
Precipitation has helped
“Winter precipitation in key wheat-growing regions helped ease drought conditions, but it is still too dry,” she said. “It is going to take significant rainfall throughout the growing season to make an average crop.”
Overall, USDA increased seeding estimates of HRW 6 percent to 30.1 million acres, despite limited planting in South Dakota due to dry fall conditions and record low seedings in Nebraska, where USDA estimated an 8 percent drop in seedings to 1.4 million acres.
Larry Flohr, who farms near Chappell, Neb., said farmers there were switching from wheat to corn. He said, “With dryland corn moving west into the Wheat Belt, we’re losing some rotational acres that are being taken out of wheat fallow and put into corn.”
Total SRW acreage down
In contrast to the bump in HRW planted acres, USDA dropped total seeding estimates of SRW wheat 2 percent to 8.37 million acres as a late row crop harvest delayed plantings in the Corn Belt and Northeast.
For Ohio, USDA reported that the wet soil conditions in the fall of 2011 resulted in a record low 580,000 acres planted to wheat.
“Recognizing the tremendously wet fall we had in Ohio, it was a serious challenge to get into our wet fields to harvest fall crops and plant winter wheat,” Jack Irvin, director of research and community affairs at the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, said.
Paulding farmer Doug Goyings planted 17 percent less SRW wheat than last year and explained that with poor stands from very wet conditions, growers may plow up more wheat fields come spring.
To the east in Maryland, USDA bumped winter wheat acreage up 12 percent to 290,000 acres. Jason Scott, who farms on the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland near Stevensville, reported that he planted close to the same amount of SRW that he did last year. He said with good weather, area farmers were able to plant most of the wheat they had intended.
White wheat acreage lowered slightly
USDA also dropped planted acreage of white winter wheat 3 percent to 3.49 million acres.
USDA reported winter wheat acreage in Washington dropped 2 percent to 1.72 million acres, mostly due to regular crop rotation. Like other farmers in his area, Randy Suess, who farms near Colfax, Wash., has limited rotation options and reports that he planted his traditional acreage of soft white (SW) wheat this year.
USDA also reported winter wheat acreage down 2 percent in Oregon to 810,000 acres. Bob Newston farms in northeastern Oregon near Helix and reports his acreage was down, but mostly due to crop rotation with canola and spring barley.
For Idaho, USDA estimated winter wheat acreage down 5 percent to 780,000 acres.
Ririe farmer Gordon Gallup had a late fall that prevented him from planting before the crop insurance deadline. He reported that the high contract price of malt barley and demand for contract potatoes and sugar beets in his area have some farmers talking about plowing up their winter wheat come spring.
Overall, USDA reports the winter wheat crop is in good condition. At the end of November, USDA rated the winter wheat crop at 52 percent good to excellent, compared with 47 percent the previous year. However, Nat Webb, who farms near Walla Walla, Wash., warned that there is still a lot of time until harvest.
“We still have time to receive additional precipitation, so things could look better before harvest,” he said. “Then again, things could also deteriorate and look worse later in the year.”