2021 HRW Wheat Crop Outlook: Tale of Long-Lasting Extremes With Heat, Drought

In 2021, the United States saw an end to the multi-year trend of hard red winter (HRW) wheat acreage reductions with a modest increase from 21.7 million acres in 2020 to 23.6 million acres this year.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) late June acreage report, total wheat planted area for 2021 is estimated at 46.7 million acres, up 5% from 2020. This represents the fourth lowest all-wheat planted area since records began in 1919.

The 2021 winter wheat planted area, at 33.7 million acres, is up 11% from last year and up 2% from the previous estimate. Of this total, about 23.6 million acres are HRW, 6.59 million acres are soft red winter (SRW), and 3.5 million acres are white winter wheat.

The USDA NASS mid-August crop production report projects winter wheat production at 1.32 billion bushels, up from 2020’s total production of 1.198 billion bushels.

As of August 1, yield is forecast at 51.8 bushels per acre (bpa), down 1.8 bushels from July but up 0.9 bushels from last year’s average yield of 50.9 bushels per acre. Area expected to be harvested for grain or seed totals 25.4 million acres, unchanged from July but up 11% from 2020.

2020 recap. Winter wheat production for 2020 totaled 1.17 billion bushels, down 11% from the 2019 total of 1.32 billion bushels. Yield, at 50.9 bpa, was down 2.7 bushels from 2019. Area harvested for grain was estimated at a record-low 23 million acres, down 6% from 2019.

Compared with 2019, harvested acreage in 2020 was down 11% in the major HRW growing states, the primary winter wheat-producing area. HRW production totaled 659 million bushels in 2020, down 22% from 2019.

2021 HRW Crop Condition

In its Aug. 27 HRW harvest summary, Plains Grains Inc. (PGI) reported that harvest had been completed in the United States.

According to PGI Executive Director Mark Hodges, the theme of the 2021 HRW harvest could be characterized as a tale of extremes – heat and drought.

Harvest began in central Texas with lots of rain just as the crop matured. That was followed by damp, overcast, cool weather, making it very difficult to get the crop out of the field. These conditions prevailed for several weeks, and when it wasn’t raining, many areas experienced abnormally cool temperatures, heavy overcast, and very high humidity.

While this weather was not unusual for the Southern Plains during harvest, the length of time it lasted was unusual. Harvest in most of the central and eastern parts of the HRW production area of the United States was delayed by almost 2 weeks due to excessive moisture and high humidity, delaying harvest start times and limiting the work to very few hours each day. The northern United States and Pacific Northwest experienced the opposite situation – exceptionally dry conditions and abnormally hot temperatures – leading to an early harvest and a short crop. Early lab results are reflective of these conditions.

Harvest Quantity by State

(Editor’s note: The following state and regional data is based on averages of individual sites. Data is not final and may be subject to change once weighting has been completed.)

Texas: Approximately 2.25 million acres of winter wheat were harvested, producing 83.25 million bushels. The average yield was 37 bpa. This compares to 2.1 million acres harvested with production topping 63 million bushels in 2020.

Oklahoma: On 2.7 million harvested acres, production this year reached 108 million bushels compared to 113.4 million bushels in 2020. Yields were 37 bpa this year, down from a record high of 42 bpa in 2020.

Kansas: Production is estimated to be 379.5 million bushels on 6.9 million acres, which is an increase from 294 million bushels on 6.4 million acres in 2020. Yield this year is 55 bpa, up from 45 bpa last year.

Colorado: Approximately 1.85 million acres of winter wheat were harvested, producing 72.15 million bushels. Average yield is 39 bpa, up from 27 bpa in 2020.

Nebraska: Winter wheat production is expected to hit 39.48 million bushels on 840,000 harvested acres this year, which is up from 34.03 million bushels on 830,000 acres in 2020. Yields were 47 bpa in 2021 (41 bpa in 2020).

Montana: Production is forecast to reach 52.7 million bushels, which is significantly lower than 75.99 million bushels in 2020, despite harvesting 1.7 million acres this year and 1.49 million acres in 2020. Average yield was 31 bpa this year and 51 bpa in 2020.

North Dakota: Production is forecast to reach 1.93 million bushels on 55,000 acres with an average yield of 35 bpa. In 2020, production was 1.62 million bushels on 33,000 acres with an average yield of 49 bpa.

South Dakota: production is estimated to hit 29.24 million bushels on 680,000 harvested acres with an average yield of 43 bpa, a decrease from last year’s level of 34.8 million bushels on 600,000 acres with an average yield of 58 bpa.

Oregon: Production is forecast at 31.97 million bushels from 695,000 acres for an average yield of 46 bpa. The state produced 46.4 million bushels in 2020 on 725,000 acres for an average yield of 64 bpa.

Idaho: Production is forecast at 52.93 million bushels from 670,000 acres, which equals an average yield of 79 bpa. Production was higher in 2020: 66.66 million bushels on 725,000 acres with an average yield of 101 bpa.

Washington: Production is estimated to be 74.36 million bushels from 1.69 million bushels for an average yield of 44 bpa. This is significantly less than in 2020’s harvest that produced 133 million bushels from 1.75 million acres.

California: Production is estimated to be 4.8 million bushels from 60,000 acres for an average yield of 80 bpa. This is a reduction from the 2020 harvest, which produced 6 million bushels from 80,000 acres.

Early Quality Notes

As of Sept. 2, 522 of an expected 525 samples were in the lab for testing. Early data shows:

• Moisture: 10.9%.

• Protein: 11.9%.

• Dockage: 0.5%.

• Thousand kernel weight (TKW): 30 grams.

• Test weight: 60.3 pounds per bushel (79.3 kilograms per hectoliters).

• Foreign material: 0.3%.

• Damage: 0.4%.

• Shrunken and broken kernels: 1%.

• Defects: 1.7%.

Additional Resources

For more information on test weight and protein levels, go to the PGI website: plainsgrains.org. Another resource is the U.S. Wheat Associates’ crop quality reports at uswheat.org/crop-quality.

Tucker Scharfenberg, managing editor

From Third Quarter 2021 Milling Journal Issue