world wheat map
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — Spain, France, Morocco and northwestern Algeria are struggling for moisture this season, and some of the longer range computer forecast models have suggested some of this dryness will continue through the balance of autumn, raising question about 2018 production. There is a tendency for La Niña-like years similar to one to experience less rain than usual in southwestern Europe and especially northern Africa, and that can restrict wheat and barley yields. However, is the problem enough to shorten world grain supply and awaken the futures markets?

La Niña years, like this one, can maintain a low rainfall frequency and intensity rate in northern Africa and sometimes across the Iberian Peninsula, as well. The lack of a full blown La Niña event so far this year leaves room for other weather patterns to influence Europe and the rest of the world. This may help wheat production in places like the Mediterranean region and Middle East, where dryness is normally an issue in La Niña years. It could also help U.S. hard red winter wheat perform better.

A quick assessment of global wheat conditions reveals very few areas of seriously adverse weather are present today, which is quite accurately reflected in the commodity trade with futures prices notably subdued. Much of Europe outside of the southwest has mostly favorable wheat, barley and rye establishment. The same is true for most of Russia and central and western Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine and areas east to Kazakhstan and southward into Russia’s Southern Region to Turkey and parts of the Middle East are running drier than usual and will need to be closely monitored over the next few weeks.

China’s wheat is well established for a second year in a row and is poised to see 2018 production potentials equally high as long as weather conditions do not deteriorate much during the winter. China does have some potential to experience bitter cold conditions this year, and if wheat is not adequately buried in snow when that evolves, there could be some impact on production.

Weather map of Europe's topsoil
India’s wheat planting is advancing, but there is need for rain. India’s winter crops are in a constant need for rain in any year, but the situation in 2017 has not yet reached a critical point. Timely rain will be imperative for India’s production in December and January. Some La Niña events of the past have supported better-than-usual rainfall across India, but this event could be a little different, and caution is advised about making sweeping generalizations about India production this year. With that said, there is a good chance for a couple of notably cold shots of air that will reach India this winter. The cold likely would bring a chance for rain initially, but it might also induce some frost and freezes. The timing of the rain and cold will dictate much about 2018 production.

Rain is needed in India during December and especially January and February. Freeze conditions would be fine in December and early January, but a serious problem would possibly result if such conditions occurred in late January and especially February if crops were moving toward reproduction at the time of the frost and freeze. No specific forecast for critical temperatures can be made this far in advance, but the situation will be closely monitored, especially if rainfall does not evolve in time to induce the best pre-reproductive growth and development.

U.S. wheat conditions vary greatly, but most are rated favorably. Abundant September rainfall in the central and southwestern Plains led to aggressive planting in late September and early October. Rainfall since that time has not been abundant, and a growing concern for late planted unirrigated fields is evolving due to well-below-average precipitation since the beginning of October.

Weather map of US topsoil
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U.S. Central Plains wheat is mostly planted, and much of it has emerged, but emergence does not mean well established. Some areas in southwestern Kansas and eastern Colorado have reported well-below-average precipitation in recent weeks, and temperatures periodically have been well above average depleting soil moisture and leaving some of the dryland crop a little underdeveloped. The crop is suspected of being well enough established to make it through an average winter, but if weather conditions are more harsh than usual, there will be a need for snow cover to protect the under-developed dryland crops. It is important to note that most of the U.S. Plains wheat crop is poised to perform well in 2018, but this is a La Niña year.

Typically, La Niña events that are present in the autumn and winter, but dissipate in the spring, leave central U.S. Plains wheat on a worry list. But as soon as La Niña loses its grip on the region in the spring there is often a boost in rainfall. The problem years are those in which La Niña does not diminish in the spring. If this year’s La Niña remains significant in the early spring and/or intensifies, there would be some production threats to hard red winter wheat country. Early indications suggest La Niña-like conditions will prevail in the spring, but a full blown event is not very likely, and that should help to allow some timely rain to evolve, but it is not a guarantee.

Soft wheat in the U.S. Midwest has dealt with moisture abundances recently, and some areas have been a little too wet this autumn. That may also leave a few of those production areas running a little higher on winterkill threats, but it has been proven over and over that it takes some truly extreme weather conditions to do serious harm to wheat. The odds are low that the crop will suffer any great losses.

Soft wheat production areas in the U.S. lower Mississippi River Basin and southeastern states have been experiencing better weather in recent weeks after being battered by tropical cyclones, excessive rain, flooding and then colder biased temperatures for a while. The crop is getting into the ground and is establishing about as well as possible under the circumstances.

U.S. wheat in the Pacific Northwest has been experiencing improved soil moisture and better winter crop establishment. These trends will continue into late November. However, La Niña years do tend to cloud the production potential in the region because of a tendency for drier and cooler-than-usual weather to prevail across the area.

Significant moisture deficits are still prevailing in the northern U.S. Plains and Canada’s Prairies. The ongoing drought has reduced winter crop plantings in some areas, and producers in the region are hoping for a favorable start to 2018 spring weather so that the drought is further relieved rather than reinforced with more dryness. World Weather, Inc. expects a slow start to the rainy season, but plenty of moisture eventually will come along, and that will bring spring crop planting prospects back into a favorable position.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia is in the midst of its harvest after significant dryness slashed production in many areas. As long as rainfall is kept low during the harvest there will be no further losses.

Argentina has a good crop coming, but frost and freeze threats in the second half of November could bring at least a threat of lower production in the far south.