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US Farmers Concerned about Winter Wheat Crops

FILE - Gary Millershaski, a farmer and scout on the Wheat Quality Council's Kansas wheat tour, inspects winter wheat stunted by drought near Syracuse, Kansas, U.S., May 18, 2022. ( REUTERS/Julie Ingwersen/File Photo)
US Farmers Concerned about Winter Wheat Crops
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The planting for hard red winter wheat in the United States is already halfway completed. But experts say next year’s crop is already being limited by too little water in the middle of the country.

Planting plans may be cut back in the U.S. even with historically high prices for wheat crops at this time of year. The high prices are a result of rising worldwide demand and limited wheat supplies. And the U.S. is among the top five wheat exporters worldwide.

In the states of Kansas and Oklahoma, the drought threatens crops already in the ground from developing properly. It also discourages farmers from trying to plant more.

Kent Winter is a farmer in Andale, Kansas. Winter described the situation as “grim,” meaning unpleasant or bad to think about. He said he normally plants seeds by mid-October but has yet to plant any wheat this year.

About two-thirds of wheat in the U.S. is grown as a winter crop rather than as a spring crop. Without water, wheat plants may fail to come out from the ground. Even a delayed appearance would threaten yield possibilities by narrowing the window for plants to develop a strong root system and push out more stems, known as tillers, before winter.

Mark Hodges is an agriculture expert with Plains Grains Inc, an Oklahoma-based group that tests wheat for quality. Hodges said, "If you don't have the tillers in the fall, it's really hard to make up that number in the spring."

While wheat farmers would like to get high market prices, the dry weather may discourage them from purchasing and using supplies of high-priced seeds and fertilizer.

Justin Gilpin of the Kansas Wheat Commission expects the number of Kansas wheat acres planted for harvest in 2023 to remain the same as the 7.3 million acres seeded for 2022.

Winter agreed. "With the price of wheat, a lot of operators were planning to at least match or even up their acres for this coming year. But this drought is having a huge” effect “on plans," he said.

Poor plant growth could have a longer-term cost as well. Wheat helps keep soil in place, protecting it from wind damage. "No farmer wants to see his ground blowing. So you go ahead and plant wheat, and hope ... you get it up before winter comes," said Martin Kerschen, who farms in Garden Plain, Kansas.

Wheat is a famously strong crop that can come back from difficult weather conditions. But weather predictions suggest the drought will likely continue in Kansas and surrounding wheat-producing states through December.

In Kansas, 27 percent of the state is in "exceptional drought," the most extreme kind of drought. Almost the entire state is unusually dry, said the latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report prepared by a group of climate experts.

An important reason for the drought is the La Nina weather pattern, which often favors warm and dry conditions in the middle of the country. The current La Nina is in its third year.

I’m John Russell.

Julie Ingwersen reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

drought – n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain

discourage – v. to make (someone) less determined, hopeful, or confident; to make (something) less likely to happen

yield -- n. the amount of something that is produced by a plant, farm, etc.

acre – n. a measure of land area in the U.S. and Britain that equals 4,840 square yards (about 4,047 square meters)