South Dakota saw a record harvest of winter wheat during past season

PIERRE -- South Dakota farmers produced winter wheat during the past growing season like never before, but much of it remains in bins because of weak price.

A farmer works a field northeast of Mt. Vernon on Wednesday morning. (Matt Gade/Republic)
A farmer works a field northeast of Mt. Vernon on Wednesday morning. (Matt Gade/Republic)

PIERRE - South Dakota farmers produced winter wheat during the past growing season like never before, but much of it remains in bins because of weak price.

With so much wheat still on hand, more land in South Dakota probably will be planted to stronger-priced soybeans for the coming season.

That summarizes key points of the discussion Monday among members of the South Dakota Wheat Commission at their meeting.

Farmers planted 1,180,000 acres to winter wheat in fall 2015. That was down 17 percent from 2014. Yet they harvested 63.8 million bushels this year, a 49 percent increase over the prior year.

The average yield of 58.0 bushels per acre set a South Dakota record for winter wheat, passing the 55 bushels mark from 2008 and 2014.


"Winter wheat, the good news was it was a record. The bad news was, it was a record," said Reid Christopherson, the wheat commission's executive director.

"It was quite exceptional," commissioner Chet Edinger, of Mitchell, said.

Spring wheat was average but was disease free and there was good milling quality, according to Christopherson.

South Dakota farmers planted 1,080,000 acres to spring wheat this year, a decrease of 19 percent. The yield averaged 45 bushels per acre, down three bushels from 2015.

The overall harvest of spring wheat totaled 47.3 million bushels for South Dakota, a 22 percent decline from 2015.

As of Sept. 30, wheat stocks stood at 129 million bushels in South Dakota, with 66 million bushels on hand on farms and 62.9 million bushels in off-farm storage.

Commissioner Tregg Cronin, of Gettysburg, said wheat prices fell so far so fast in late spring and early summer that farmers he knew, facing $1.98 per bushel, gave up.

"Everybody threw in the towel the tenth of June," he said.


Cronin said there's no price premium right now.

"Wheat is wheat on the spring wheat side," he said.

Millers are using as much high-grade winter wheat as they can, he added.

This fall's winter wheat looked to be progressing almost as good as one year ago through mid-November.

Edinger said wheat acres are down considerably in his area.

"Everybody is gaga soybeans now," he said.

Commissioner Clint Vanneman, of Ideal, said conditions had been "a little dry" for winter wheat.

Commissioner Leo Warrington, of Bristol, said he had good production of spring wheat. He said conditions in his area aren't as wet as they had been.


"Our potholes are all dry. Our sloughs are going down," Warrington said.

The commission hosted Jason Scott, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates, for a presentation on marketing and export efforts.

Scott, who farms in Maryland, said wheat prices aren't good, exports are up and the market is in a fourth year of record consumption, with a lot more competition including from the Black Sea region where wheat is selling for 50 to 75 cents less than U.S. wheat.

"We know we can beat the Black Sea on quality. We just can't beat them on price," he said.

The U.S. market share is down but the global wheat market is growing, Scott said. He explained that U.S. Wheat closed its office in Egypt because U.S. exports can't compete there. But the U.S. exports are still strong in Taiwan and Japan.

One of the new growth areas for U.S. wheat include Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to Scott. U.S. wheat exports to those four nations were up 55 percent, at 32.4 million bushels so far in the 2016/2017 marketing year through Nov. 15.

That included growth of U.S. wheat exports to Philippines from 13.1 million bushels as of last November to 20.0 million this November.

Another area of emphasis is Latin America and Caribbean countries.

Hurting U.S. wheat producers has been China's decision as a nation to set its 2017 wheat price at $9.50 per bushel for what its farmers shall be paid. Scott said that has a $653 million negative impact on U.S. farm revenue.

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