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America’s farmers, millers and bakers are already bracing for a sharply reduced spring wheat harvest due to the driest conditions in decades. But Gro expects abandoned acres of hard red spring (HRS) wheat to be much higher than current USDA estimates, which could put more strain on the crop.

In its September WASDE, the USDA estimated HRS production at 305 million bushels, down 42% from last year and the smallest crop since 1988. Total spring wheat yield is expected to drop 37% year-over-year to 30.6 bushels per acre. Gro has warned since late March that dry conditions in the United States and Canada could reduce spring wheat production.

Gro predicts that production could decline further due to higher abandonment rates. In years gone by with similar drought conditions, farmers left 8% of the total spring wheat area unharvested in 2017, 15% in 2002 and over 20% in 1988. Currently, USDA is forecasting a 3% crop loss. estimates in its September 30 summary on small grains.

Area abandonment rates comparable to previous drought years would reduce total U.S. spring wheat production this year by 25 to 60 million bushels, further tightening the U.S. balance sheet and supporting prices which are at their highest level since 2012.

HRS accounts for about 20% of US wheat production and is grown primarily in the North Plains (North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and South Dakota). HRS wheat is valued for its high protein content, making it suitable for specialty breads and blending with low protein wheat.

Farmers give up acres when the crops are no longer profitable to harvest, for example due to low yields. About 3% of the nation’s spring wheat acreage is abandoned each year, based on a 10-year average, according to an analysis by Gro.

Spring wheat is a high-value crop, earning more dollars per bushel than other competing crops. Farmers try to harvest anything that will at least pay for the cost of the harvest, so the cases of abandonment are usually very low compared to other grains. With closing stocks of HRS wheat at their lowest level since 2008, any further production losses will be hit hard by food companies and other end users.

This insight was powered by the Gro platform, which enables better and faster decisions to be made about factors affecting the entire global agricultural ecosystem. Gro organizes over 40,000 datasets from sources around the world into a unified ontology, allowing users to derive valuable information like this. You can explore the data available on Gro with a free account, or contact us if you want to learn more about a specific culture, region or business issue.

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