KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — High wheat futures prices have been around for nearly as long as the economic influence of COVID-19. Much of the new crop wheat in the Northern Hemisphere is either dormant or semi-dormant waiting for its opportunity to evolve and produce.

As of mid-February, assessing the prospects for 2023 wheat production has been a little tenuous, but it is hard to find serious problems that cannot be fixed. The next several weeks, though, will determine much about flour and bread supply for the coming year.

China is the world’s largest wheat producer. Its wheat went to bed last autumn in a mostly good environment. Weather conditions were much less severe during its autumn planting season compared to the previous year. Good stands are suspected and both soil moisture and winter precipitation should have the crop poised to perform quite well in the early weeks of spring.

China’s late winter and early spring should be marked by some infrequent, but timely precipitation events that should reinforce the crop’s potential for aggressive development this spring. New crop development is not likely to be very aggressive until April, but some greening and early season plant development will begin in March. Today’s soil moisture suggests the start to spring crop development should advance relatively well.

The European Union collectively produces another big portion of the world’s wheat. Europe weather last summer was marred by drought and the autumn planting season for wheat, barley and rye was not ideal. Timely rain did fall during the autumn and sufficient amounts occurred to establish most winter crops well enough to set the stage for a favorable start to development in March. Europe did have two areas of persistent dryness that was a concern for wheat establishment. The first area of concern was in the lower Danube River Basin, and even though that region has had some beneficial winter precipitation there are still some soil moisture shortages that must be eliminated in the next few weeks to ensure the best dryland production.

Eastern Spain had moisture shortages during much of the winter, but timely rainfall did occur often enough to support crop establishment. However, Spain and many areas nearby are usually the first in Europe to resume development and it will be important that timely rainfall resumes.

Europe’s winter weather has tended to be drier and warmer than usual this year. That has soil moisture still rated favorably, but water supply has not been fully restored from last summer’s drought and some of the deep subsoil moisture is also still a little low. That should not be a problem in Europe as long as an active weather pattern occurs this spring providing routinely occurring moisture to support the best production potential. Any bouts of warm and dry weather like that which has occurred periodically during the winter could lead to some production concerns, but as of this writing dormant winter crops are rated favorably and should start well in the spring.  The distribution of spring rainfall must be closely monitored though.

Northern Africa has not had the best autumn or winter weather this year. Southwestern Morocco is still in a multi-year drought. The lack of water supply in southwestern Morocco left most of the wheat and barley fields in the region unplanted since irrigation is the only way to produce a crop. Tunisia also has struggled with dryness this winter, although recent rain did finally bring a little relief.

North Africa’s most important weather period is late February into April, suggesting there is still plenty of time for planted areas to get timely rain this spring to support good potential yields. Southwestern Morocco is the only exception and will not recover from its cut in area planted. There is some concern, though, that northern Africa rainfall this spring will be lighter than usual, raising a little concern for production.

India’s is the world’s third largest wheat producer and its crop is normally dependent upon timely February rainfall and seasonable temperatures in both February and March to yield well. This year’s weather has not generated much moisture and that likely will cut into production somewhat. There has not been much excessive heat, but the next few weeks will be important. Timely rain and seasonable temperatures are a must for the best production potential, but current weather trends suggest weather will not be ideal and the crop size could get a little smaller.

Russia’s wheat was well established last autumn and winterkill likely has been minimal. The largest threat to Russia may be in the southwest part of the nation where the ground was saturated last autumn, but there is a huge amount of snow on the ground waiting to melt. A wet weather pattern this spring could lead to significant flooding and some of that might also impact a part of northwestern Ukraine.

Of course, Ukraine wheat production potentials are up for debate because of the war. From a weather perspective, though, the crop should have been well established in the autumn and poised to perform well this spring. The impact of war on production will have much more to say about production this year than weather, but weather is likely to be supportive of good yield potentials.

Turkey wheat production should be favorable this year based on pre-spring weather and field conditions, but other areas across the Middle East have a more varied wheat status and timely rain will be important during the spring.

In North America there is still much concern about wheat planting potentials in the drought stricken areas of Canada’s southwestern Prairies. Six years of poor precipitation has left the subsoil and long-term water supply quite limited and timely precipitation must occur in the spring to support planting.  July and August rainfall is expected to be sufficient for production in the central and east, but a part of northern Alberta may be a little dry this year. Relief from drought in the southwestern Prairies is likely, but it is debatable how that relief is going to be timed and there will be some worry this spring about dryness.

Most of the US soft wheat production areas have a well-established winter crop that is likely to develop well this year. Conditions are a little wet in the Delta and Tennessee River Basin, but seasonal warming should help reduce that concern later this month and in March.

US hard red winter wheat was drought influenced from the beginning of the planting season. Rain and snow that fell during mid-February was an omen, though. Most of the longer range forecast modeling that World Weather, Inc. does has suggested that additional moisture is forthcoming this spring to induce better root and tiller conditions that should induce better-than-expected yields later this season, but the situation “must” be closely monitored.

Overall, India seems to be the largest wheat producer in the world that may have a smaller crop without changes soon. The US crop will be small, but it is expected to get bigger relative to market expectations.  Production issues in North America will be significant for a few areas, but the impact on total world production should be small. If the assessment is correct and the outlook for weather this spring is on track there may not be much “weather-related” support for keeping futures prices as high as they have been.

Drew Lerner is senior agricultural meteorologist with World Weather, Inc. He may be reached at [email protected]. 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.