Winter wheat seedings sink to second lowest on record

Winter wheat pops through the soil last October on the farm of Danny Rubin, president of the Illinois Wheat Association from Shobonier (Fayette County). Cold, wet conditions last fall, which delayed corn and soybean harvest, made it difficult for farmers to plant wheat at many locations. (Photo by Daniel Grant)

Historic harvest delays of row crops, widespread rain and early-season snow wreaked havoc on winter wheat planting last fall.

And it showed as USDA’s first survey-based winter wheat seedings estimate for the 2020 crop came in at just 30.8 million acres nationwide, down 1% from last year and 5% from 2018.

If realized, current winter wheat seedings represent the second lowest acreage on record in the U.S. The current all-time low remains 29.16 million acres of wheat planted in 1909.

“Everyone was thinking we’d see a lot lower acreage, which we did,” Ami Heesch of CHS Hedging said during a teleconference hosted by the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

Farmers encountered numerous obstacles last fall that delayed or even changed wheat seeding intentions. Along with slow harvest of corn and soybeans, wet weather further complicated the situation.

Precipitation in Illinois averaged 5.21 inches in October, 2 inches above normal, according to the Illinois State Water Survey. This included a major snowstorm that pummeled much of the state on Halloween.

“This fall (of 2019) ended up a lot like last fall (2018),” said Danny Rubin, a Fayette County farmer and president of the Illinois Wheat Association. “It was cold and wet. There wasn’t much time (to work ground or plant wheat).”

Wheat plantings in Illinois for this year’s crop total just 490,000 acres, down 25% from last year, USDA reported.

Illinois farmers planted 650,000 acres of winter wheat in the fall of 2018 and harvested 550,000 acres last summer with an average yield of 67 bushels per acre, up 1 bushel from 2018 but well below the record of 76 bushels per acre notched in 2017.

Looking ahead to this year’s harvest, Rubin expressed concern about limited growth of wheat prior to winter, due to late planting and harsh weather late last fall.

“The wheat is pretty small,” he said. “But I think the stands are OK.”

The condition of the wheat crop in Illinois rated 48% good to excellent, 36% fair and 16% poor or very poor as of Jan. 2.