The Agriculture Department released its latest assessment on America’s winter wheat crop this week and the numbers weren’t pretty.
Nationally, only 34 percent of the crop is rated in good-to-excellent condition. A year ago at this time 58 percent of America’s winter wheat garnered those ratings.
Not to be outdone, private analytical firm Informa Economics released its first estimates on winter wheat production , calling for U.S. growers to harvest 1.63 billion bushels. That’s down about 8 percent from last year. According to Informa, about 20 percent of total winter wheat plantings will be abandoned leading to a 14-million-bushel decline in production.
Much of wheat country, of course, is still gripped in the worst drought in decades. But even as growers contend with dry, dusty conditions, the residents of Fargo, North Dakota – once again – are preparing for a flood.
The annual rite of spring is underway in Fargo, North Dakota – volunteers filling sandbags --- a task this week aided by junior high students.
Bruce Grubb, Sandbag Central Coordinator, Fargo, ND: "We have three sandbag machines operating in here. Each of them have the ability to produce about 6000 sandbags an hour."
Three machines are working at breakneck pace to help hold the Red River at bay. The goal is one million sandbags over a ten-day period.
Heavy snow cover remains in the Red’s watershed as evidenced in this map from Intellicast and WSI. As much as eight inches remain on the ground, but the snow pack has melted significantly in the last few weeks. The area receives on average, 50 inches of snow annually, and this year was no exception.
A major flood this spring would be the fourth in five years for the region. But the landscape around the river has changed as some homes previously damaged by flooding have been removed. Miles of concrete flood walls and earthen levees have been put in place to brace for what’s to come.
The National Weather Service says there’s a 50 percent chance of the river going 20 feet above flood stage, which would be the fifth highest level on record.
Ironically, much of the same region is still, technically, in drought. This week’s Drought Monitor from the University of Nebraska reveals a continued dry trend with 66.7 percent of the contiguous U.S. in some form of drought, up nearly two points from last week.
However, weather patterns are changing from a year ago.
Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist: “So if you look at the major row crops in the Midwest, which includes corn and soybeans, we do have a fairly favorable moisture situation at least in the top soil moisture levels heading into Spring. The overall picture is certainly better than we were this time last year, especially for the Midwest. We still have a lot of concerns from California to the central and southern plains however.”
Some improvement is happening in the eastern Corn Belt, but soil temperatures are barely above freezing in many locations according to USDA. Cooler-than-normal weather blanketed much of the region, with temperatures hovering more than 10 degrees below average.
Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist: “Parts of the eastern Corn Belt have now had enough moisture that we may actually experience some planting delays early in the Spring. And certainly across the lower Southeast particularly from the central gulf coast into Georgia, parts of the Carolinas and even northern Florida it has been extremely wet.”