KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — Summer in the Northern Hemisphere is quickly drawing to a close. After much speculation over drought in North America in 2022, the winner of the most adverse weather award in the Northern Hemisphere goes to Europe due to its summer drought and heat problems. 

Nearly three years of La Niña contributed to Europe’s dry weather this year and it also contributed to dryness in the US Plains and Russia’s dry finish to its warm season. September marks the beginning of meteorological autumn for the Northern Hemisphere and winter wheat and other small grain production areas may head the list of areas to watch until greater rain occurs.

Summer will end with huge moisture deficits and water supply shortages in Western Europe and many of the winter wheat and rye production areas in western Russia. India is quite wet but is still many weeks away from the wheat planting season. North Africa is still in a multi-year drought as is the US Pacific Northwest and a part of southwestern Canada’s Prairies. Argentina also is coming into the Southern Hemisphere spring season with dryness and some concern over production potential. In the meantime, both Australia and South Africa are expecting a good start to their spring growing season. 

Wheat concerns may rise for a while due to lingering dryness in parts of the Northern Hemisphere and the prospects for too much rain in Australia.

Wheat concerns may rise for a while due to lingering dryness in parts of the Northern Hemisphere and the prospects for too much rain in Australia. India and China’s planting seasons for winter wheat should advance well and Brazil is expected to see a good-sized winter crop. 

The biggest concerns over winter crop planting conditions are expected in parts of western Russia and Europe due to dryness. Drought in Europe has been declared the worst in 500 years; however, such a statement cannot be substantiated because of a limited weather data network that long ago. From a Vegetative Health Index perspective, this year’s drought in Europe might not have been the worst in 500 years. It may not have been as serious as that of the 2003 drought. Past vegetative health satellite images dating back to 1982 show 2003 as being the only year in which mid- to late-August weather was as bad or worse than that of this year. 

From a water supply perspective, though, river, stream and water reservoir levels in Western Europe have not been as low as reported this summer at any time in the recorded past, especially in France. However, it is important to remember that water supply is a function of consumption and usage. Today’s water supply worldwide is much more challenged than that of decades past because of the much larger human population present now. The higher human count results in greater water consumption and greater irrigation and manufacturing usage depleting water supply much faster than in years past, making the drought environment appear many times worse.

Europe is coming into the autumn wheat, barley and rye planting season in a state of moisture distress in relation to its water storage and soil moisture. Winter wheat and rye planting usually begins in northeastern Europe in the last days of August and early September. That part of Europe is not nearly as dry as western areas are, and the west will not plant winter crops until late September and more likely October, leaving sufficient time for improved precipitation and water supply. 

Russia, on the other hand, is planting its winter wheat and rye crop now, and that process has been underway for a few weeks and will peak in September before ending in early October. Soil conditions in Russia’s winter crop region have slipped to dry in recent weeks and relief will have to evolve in September to provide adequate winter crop emergence and establishment before temperatures turn too cold to establish crops. 

There is plenty of time to get this year’s wheat and rye into the ground, but winter this year is expected to be cold and snow cover may be restricted at times, raising the potential for winterkill. If winter crops are not well-established this autumn, the potential crop damage during the coldest weeks of winter may be greater than usual. 

Prospects good in Australia

Australia’s wheat, barley and canola prospects are looking good. Autumn and winter precipitation this year was more than sufficient to support winter crop emergence and establishment. Crops are poised to perform very well in the spring with early season aggressive crop development beginning in early September for Queensland and northern Western Australia. 

Australia’s favorable start to spring could end up with too much rain. The combination of lingering La Niña and the negative phase of Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) from September through October and possibly into November should translate into greater-than-usual rainfall frequency and intensity in Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales. Queensland also could be wetter biased because of La Niña. Too much rain during reproduction, especially during filling, maturation and harvesting, could take a huge crop of high quality and reduce it to a much smaller crop of lower quality. Australia will need to be closely monitored because of this potential issue. 

Argentina may already have lost some of its winter crop production potential due to dryness during the planting and establishment season. However, timely rain this spring could still turn the crop around and it will be closely monitored. 

Dryness in the US Plains has been recently relieved in Texas and Oklahoma, but portions of Kansas and Nebraska are dry and may trend drier during the autumn. That could lead to poor establishment of winter wheat for a third year in a row. But with La Niña easing or dissipating during the winter of 2023, the odds are favorable for better soil moisture and crop establishment by the start of spring growth. 

Canada’s central and southwestern Prairies recently have fallen back into a drought pattern and will need rain soon to support winter crop establishment and to ensure sufficient moisture in the early spring to spur on a normal planting season.

Both China and India should have favorable planting moisture for their wheat crops this autumn while North Africa reaches its planting season in November quite dry. The good news for North Africa is that La Niña’s dissipation in December and January should translate into improved rainfall and better production potentials. 

Each season brings with it an assortment of questionable weather and worry over production. This autumn will be no different and the situation needs to be closely monitored for a possible impact on world wheat supply.  

Drew Lerner is senior agricultural meteorologist with World Weather, Inc. He may be reached at worldweather@bizkc.rr.com. World Weather, Inc. forecasts and comments pertaining to present, past and future weather conditions included in this report constitute the corporation’s judgment as of the date of this report and are subject to change without notice.