Winter wheat seedings rebound from year ago

Farmers responded to additional economic incentive and an adequate weather window last fall by planting more winter wheat.

USDA’s first estimate of the 2021 crop, released Tuesday, estimates winter wheat seedings at 31.9 million acres nationwide.

That’s up 5% from the previous year. But, if realized, it still represents the fourth-lowest U.S. acreage on record.

“Planting and emergence progress was ahead of the five-year average pace throughout the season,” USDA noted in its report. “Seedings were mostly complete by Nov. 15.”

The breakdown of winter wheat planted last fall includes 22.3 million acres of hard red, 6.23 million acres of soft red (including Illinois), and 3.48 million acres of white winter wheat.

In Illinois, farmers planted 630,000 acres of wheat in the fall of 2020, up 11% from the previous year, and within 20,000 acres of the recent highwater mark of 650,000 acres planted for the 2019 crop.

“The weather cooperated extremely well, which is not always the case,” Danny Rubin, Illinois Wheat Association president from Fayette County, previously told FarmWeek. “It was dry when we planted, but we got enough rain for emergence after that.”

The largest increases of soft red wheat plantings occurred last fall in Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin, with Illinois not far behind. Acres declined in some states, including Georgia, Maryland and Ohio, USDA reported.

The wheat yield averaged 68 bushels per acre in Illinois last year, up 1 bushel from the 2019 season. But statewide production slipped from 36.85 million bushels in 2019 to 35.36 million bushels in 2020 due to the acreage decline.

This season, a price rally for wheat and soybeans prompted some farmers to plant more wheat as part of a double-crop rotation, particularly in parts of southern Illinois.

USDA raised its season-average price estimate for wheat by 15 cents Tuesday to $4.85 per bushel while soybean prices shot up 60 cents to an average of $11.15.

However, wheat condition ratings in Illinois slipped from 79% good to excellent as of Nov. 30 to 50% good to excellent as of Jan. 3.

In other crop news, USDA pegged sorghum production at 373 million bushels for 2020, up 9% from the previous year. Sorghum acres increased 12% to 5.8 million last year while the national yield averaged 73.2 bushels per acre, up .2 of a bushel compared to 2019.