CropProphet forecasts for 2017-2018 U.S. winter wheat are now available and are being updated daily with the latest weather, satellite, and crop health information. CropProphet uses the historical relationships between crop yield and a diverse set of predictors to forecast the end-of-season yield and production that is most likely to occur at the county, state, and national levels. A rigorous historical cross-validation approach allows users to explore the accuracy of the forecasts in previous years (see the “Historical Performance” tab), and realistic confidence intervals are provided as an integral component of CropProphet.

As the 2018 growing season begins, it is clear that drought in the southern Plains has taken a severe toll on prospects for the winter wheat harvest. Six months ago there was essentially no drought in the wheat growing areas of the southern Plains, but the April 10 information from the U.S. Drought Monitor now shows extreme to exceptional drought (i.e. the two worst categories) in some of the most heavily cultivated areas of Kansas, western Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle (see figure below). According to CropProphet historical data, the production-weighted November-March precipitation was the lowest on record (1979-present) for an area encompassing Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Based on longer term climate division data, only 1955-56 and 1966-67 were drier for the state of Kansas in November through March.

According to CropProphet, the most likely value for overall U.S. yield is currently 45.3 bushels per acre (bpa), which would represent a 5 bpa drop from last year. The USDA’s crop condition rating for winter wheat is the worst for the time of year since 1996, and CropProphet’s weather and satellite predictors also point to a very poor outlook.

From the standpoint of wheat production, the impact of the yield shortfall is compounded by very low planted acreage again this year, and consequently CropProphet’s U.S. production forecast is a remarkably low 1.14 billion bushels. If this forecast is correct, it will be 17% below trend and 10% below last year’s very low level, and the U.S. crop will be the smallest since 2002.

The maps below show the spatial distribution of likely yield departures from trend, based on weather and satellite data through April 14. The greatest yield shortfalls are found in the area of most severe drought, but CropProphet also indicates that below-trend yields are likely in all of the Plains states from Texas to South Dakota. There is also a notable absence of compensating positive yield anomalies in the Pacific Northwest, where yields are typically inversely correlated with yields in the southern Plains.

Looking ahead to expected trends in the next two weeks, CropProphet indicates that the weather forecast is positive for winter wheat. Significant rainfall is expected in the central and southern Plains, and if the forecast is correct then Kansas winter wheat should regain more than 1 bpa in the next two weeks, with locally much larger improvements (see figure below).