Taking stock: Crop outlook and durum forum held

The 2013 Crop Outlook and International Durum Forum gave members of the agricultural community a chance to see what happened with the wheat and durum crops this year.

Held at the Holiday Inn-Riverside, the crop outlook and durum forum was put on jointly by the North Dakota Wheat Commission and U.S. Durum Growers Association.

Before the presentations began, Jackie Velk, who works in the Minot office of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., read a letter from the senator to the assembled crowd. Velk said Hoeven is in Washington, D.C., hopefully hammering out the final details of the farm bill.

“He’s pretty optimistic that we will get one before January,” Velk said.

In the letter, Hoeven said he is currently serving on the farm bill conference committee tasked with coming up with a final agreement.

“Enhanced crop insurance remains the cornerstone of the legislation, and I remain committed to passing a strong, bipartisan bill that will offer producers the confidence and tools needed to plan for next year’s growing season by providing a market-based safety net to deal with volatile markets and weather,” Velk said as she read from the letter.

Erica Olson, marketing specialist for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, gave an overview on the wheat crop for 2013. She started off with a look at hard red spring wheat across the nation.

She said planting was delayed due to persistent wet, cool conditions, and that some acreage went unplanted. This resulted in acreage being down 6 percent, to 11.6 million acres of hard red spring wheat throughout the United States.

“However, we kind of got lucky and had near-ideal growing conditions this summer. Obviously plentiful moisture conditions in most areas, too much moisture in a lot of areas,” Olson said. “(There was) limited disease pressure. Of course there were pockets where we did have some disease issues, but for the most part we ended up with some dry conditions during flowering, which limited the disease.”

Another plus was a record yielding crop of 47.1 bushels per acre, which is unusual considering how late it was planted. Because of the lowered acreage, however, production was down 6 percent to 490 million bushels.

Most of the harvest took place during September, with the last part occurring during the first week of October. It was made difficult due to short days and more wet conditions.

“Overall, a very good grading crop – very big kernels, high test weight, low damage. The big issue, of course, is the below-average protein,” Olson said.

Getting into the quality of the hard red spring wheat harvest across the country, 90 percent of the crop made a No. 1 grade. However, due to some of the lower vitreous kernel counts the subclass fell to No. 1 northern spring, compared to a superior dark northern spring.

“Average protein, though, is about 1 percent lower than last year at 13.5 percent. I think that’s actually the second-lowest regional average,” she said.

On the positive side of things, there were higher test weights and thousand kernel weights, as well as very low damage. Unfortunately, there were a few isolated areas with elevated levels of deoxynivalenol, or DON, which is commonly referred to as vomitoxin.

In terms of performance, milling extraction levels were a bit lower than last year, with testing indicating a weaker, more extensible performing crop. While baking absorption was notably higher, loaf volumes were slightly lower.

Jim Peterson, marketing director for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, then took his turn to discuss the durum crop. Taking a step back, Peterson spoke about the world durum situation.

“The big challenge for us was the world durum crop was actually higher this year by about 6 percent (compared to 2012) and we had a huge crop in Canada,” Peterson said. “So those are kind of a couple big factors impacting prices.”

World trade is projected to be up 3 percent from 2012, which will help, but Peterson said it has been starting slow so far, which has dragged down the market some.

In the U.S., the big challenge was the planting season. Acres were down about 30 percent from 2012, primarily in North Dakota, due to a wet, delayed spring planting and low durum prices during planting.

U.S. demand is projected by the United States Department of Agriculture to be lower, with less feed use and lower exports. Durum prices in the U.S. are also at a premium compared to the world market.

“I know for a lot of producers it’s been frustrating because with the low acres, tight supplies, I think there’s a lot of anticipation prices would be much higher by now,” Peterson said. “But we’re at a pretty good premium to world values right now and that’s kind of keeping our prices in check.”

Milling durum was holding near $7 in Montana and North Dakota, but there was only a 25-cent to 40-cent premium to 14 percent protein hard red spring wheat.

“Durum growers will tell you they typically need about $1 to $1.50 premium to grow durum,” Peterson said.

As to the quality of the durum harvest, the crop averages a No. 1 hard amber durum, with 80 percent making that grade but the other 20 percent is low grade or amber durum.

“The thing I’ll point out is we kind of have two crops this year,” Peterson said. “We have some very good stuff and then we have some stuff that certainly got weathered, went through some struggles.”

Peterson noted they wanted to collect 195 durum samples but were only able to get 170 because of how strung out harvest was this year due to the wet conditions.

There were very good test weights with large kernels, but as with spring wheat, protein was below average. As a result of the lower protein, vitreous counts were also lower.

Damage levels are lower than last year, but Peterson said there are definitely pockets with high damage. DON levels were also elevated in portions of the crop.

On the processing side, semolina extraction was higher compared to last year, while gluten strength, cooking properties and color were all lower.

“(That’s) probably attributed to the lower protein and some of the weather impacts on the crop,” Peterson said.