Dust Bowl Kansas farmers set to plant winter wheat

Kansas farmers are preparing to plant winter wheat into the driest soil since 1991 as three seasons of drought causes Dust Bowl conditions in the biggest growing state and global reserves fall to a four-year low.

About 97 percent of fields in the state had too little moisture as of Aug. 19, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Kansas is having its hottest year ever, leaving all 105 counties as federal disaster areas. The worst U.S. drought since 1956 spread to wheat-growing Great Plains states after damaging corn and soybean yields in the Midwest and driving prices for both crops to a record.

The International Grains Council cut its stockpile forecast for the third time in as many months Aug. 23, and the United Nations said in July that grain prices drove the biggest monthly gain in food costs since 2009. Wheat reached a four-year high in July, boosting costs for Panera Bread Co. and Grupo Bimbo SAB, and may jump another 8.5 percent to $9.80 a bushel in three months as droughts limit output from the U.S., Russia and Ukraine, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“We just have no subsoil moisture at all,” said David LeRoy, a 56-year-old who farms 3,000 acres about 10 miles west of Great Bend, Kansas, and plans to start sowing winter wheat next month for harvesting in June. “We’re going to have to have a wet winter to raise any wheat at all. When you have a small amount of rain, like we have, nothing wants to grow.”

Crop Rallies

Futures surged 38 percent this year to $9.03 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, second only to the 46 percent advance in soybeans. Both overtook a 25 percent gain in corn among the 24 commodities tracked by the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index, which rose 3.4 percent. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities added 7.1 percent, and Treasuries returned 2.1 percent, a Bank of America Corp. Index shows.

The lack of any significant rain in Kansas through July resulted in the driest three months for the state since at least 1890, according to the Western Regional Climate Center. Temperatures from January through July averaged 59.4 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius), a record for the period, said Mary Knapp, the state climatologist in Manhattan, Kansas.

Global wheat stockpiles will drop 10 percent before next year’s harvest to 177.2 million metric tons, the lowest since 2009, the USDA said Aug. 10. Russia’s harvest may fall 24 percent, Kazakhstan’s is seen tumbling 52 percent, Ukraine may reap 32 percent less, and Australian output is forecast to drop 12 percent, the USDA said. The last time supplies were that tight, Russia imposed export restrictions that lasted 10 months.

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