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McMillan: Soggy spring leaves U.S. durum unsown

Wet seeding conditions in the U.S. Northern Plains have reduced durum wheat area to well below trade expectations, according to Friday’s U.S. Department of Agriculture acreage report.

In North Dakota, the largest durum-producing state, sown area dropped to 850,000 acres, similar to the record low in 2011 when saturated fields limited seeding to only 750,000 acres. Even accounting for that disastrous year, the previous five-year average had been almost 1.5 million acres in North Dakota.

Maps from the High Plains Regional Climate Center show from May 29 until June 27 the primary durum-growing area in the northwestern portion of state has received from 150 per cent to in excess of 200 per cent of normal precipitation. Temperatures have been slightly below normal over the same period.

The combination of wet cool conditions has slowed durum seeding to a snail’s pace. Although the deadline for full crop insurance coverage passed on June 5, seeding has continued, according to the U.S National Agricultural Statistics Service. NASS last Monday (June 24) reported North Dakota durum seeding had increased from 88 to 93 per cent complete.

Late seeding tends to reduce yields as the crops mature in hotter and drier conditions that limit kernel filling. In 2011 when North Dakota planting was similarly delayed, yields dropped to 26 bushels per acre, six bushels below average.

The reduction in acres was also seen in other durum growing states of Idaho, Montana and South Dakota, though the acres lost in those states are far less than in North Dakota.

For the crop that has been planted so far this season, crop conditions in North Dakota are mostly ranked good.

“Desert durum” shortfall

U.S. durum is mainly produced in two separate regions, with the Northern Plains accounting for three-quarters of the crop and remainder coming from “desert durum” production in Arizona and California. Extensive drought has limited yields and area in both states. USDA estimates desert durum production around 15 million bushels, compared to a recent average of 25 million.

Jerry Klassen, manager of Canadian operations for Swiss-based GAP SA Grains and Produits, said low U.S. durum acres “will be somewhat supportive for prices, but overall durum will get dragged down by bearish outlook for corn, wheat and cereal complex. We may see durum prices divorce themselves from spring wheat values.”

Klassen said Canadian durum farmers will be looking for some price support from this report, but values in the U.S. will likely be higher than Canadian elevator prices.

Recent durum prices in Canada have been quoted at C$7.95 per bushel. In the Northern Plains, published elevator bids averaged US$8.83 per bushel compared to an average of $7.67 for spring wheat.

“The U.S. market needs to maintain a premium over the Canadian market to stimulate Canadian imports,” he said.

Earlier in the week Statistics Canada estimated 4.9 million durum acres would be sown in 2013, an increase of 200,000 acres over the previous year.

With acreage indications clearer on both sides of the border, the focus will turn toward growing conditions.

— Stuart McMillan writes from Winnipeg on weather and agronomic issues affecting Prairie farmers.

Related story:
Fall-harvest corn plunges as USDA shocks with acres jump, June 29, 2013

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