Wheat Prices on Fire, Relentless Drought Devastates Crops in Okla, Texas

Saturday, April 23, 2011
By Paul Martin

By Tom Polansek

Blame it on the lack of rain.

Wheat prices are on fire, as a relentless drought has devastated crops in Oklahoma and Texas, which saw raging wildfires after more than six dry months.

And prices are positioned to go even higher — if Kansas, typically the country’s top wheat producer, doesn’t get rain in the next two weeks.

Farmers are slashing their harvest forecasts, reminiscent of the historic drought that ravaged crops in Russia last summer. Many growerssay that Texas and Oklahoma have passed the point at which rains can help revitalize the crop. “It’s desperate,” says Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains, an Oklahoma-based wheat-marketing organization.

Concerns about damage to hard red winter wheat, grown in the central and southern Plains and used in bread, have been building since the crop was sown in dry soils last fall. And fears are only increasing as farmers look ahead to the harvest, which will begin in late May.

Federal crop ratings reflect damage from the drought. U.S. officials said 38% of winter wheat was in “poor to very poor” condition as of April 17, up from 6% a year earlier, when the country produced an average crop.

Gov. Rick Perry asked Texans to spend the Easter weekend praying for rain, yet weather forecasts don’t indicate that Perry’s prayers will be answered soon. Experts warn that the state could harvest as little as one-third of its average crop this year. Key growing regions in the Plains are expected to stay drier than normal through May, after the driest four-month period since before the 1930s Dust Bowl, according to AccuWeather.com.

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