Spring wheat futures gained, and oats soared, after data revealed farmers in the key northern US growing region still struggling with wet fields, even as growers further south made strong progress in corn and soybean plantings.

Minneapolis spring wheat futures for July gained 1.6% to $13.19 ½ a bushel in early deals on Wednesday, ahead of a 1.3% rise to $12.05 ¾ a bushel in Chicago soft red winter wheat, and a 1.1% increase to $12.90 ¾ a bushel in the July hard red winter wheat lot.

On new crop contracts, spring wheat outperformed too, driving the spring wheat premium over lower-protein soft red winter wheat back above $1.00 a bushel, December basis.

The widening in the premiums followed data overnight showing that growers in parts of the northern US, where the likes of spring wheat, barley and oats are mainly grown, still struggling to sow crops, in contrast to the improved conditions being enjoyed by growers further south.

Double trouble

Growers had seeded 49% of their spring wheat as of Sunday – up 10 points week on week but extending to 34 points the lag behind the typical pace, US Department of Agriculture statistics revealed.

The lag was focused in two states, Minnesota and North Dakota, which between them are typically responsible for 60% or more of total US spring wheat output.

In top producer North Dakota, where growers have typically seeded 80% of their spring wheat, farmers had seeded just 27% as of Sunday.

In Minnesota, where progress has usually reached 90% by now, farmers have just 11% of their crop in the ground, the data showed.

‘Storms and heavy rainfall’

Growers in the two states have been slowed by wetness which has left many fields too muddy for fieldwork, with one-third of North Dakota topsoil rated as holding surplus moisture.

In Minnesota, where the proportion of topsoil seen as holding surplus moisture rose by 9 points to 35% week on week, USDA officials reported that “storms and heavy rainfall limited farmers” in their fieldwork.

The conditions have been reflected too in below-average progress in sowings of crops such as barley and oats, of which the two states are large producers too.

The USDA also revealed in its first US oat crop rating of the season a condition score of 45% “good” or “excellent”, the weakest initial reading in years. In the previous five years, the initial rating averaged 59%, on GrainPriceNews calculations.

Chicago oat futures for July leaped 6.8% to $6.72 ¼ a bushel in early trading.

‘Farmers gained ground’

The concerns over the slow pace of seedings are enhanced by the looming crop insurance deadlines, with the last-plant dates for spring wheat in North Dakota standing at May 31 for the southern half, and June 5 further north, beyond which cover tapers, so discouraging further sowings.

However, in the Corn Belt, improved weather allowed growers to make a second successive week of strong plantings progress.

In Illinois, the second-ranked corn producing state, farmers seeded 63% of their corn over the two weeks, to catch up with the typical rate of progress.

In top producer Iowa, growers planted 72% of their corn in the fortnight, to reduce to just 3 points the lag to the usual pace.

“Weather conditions allowed farmers to gain ground,” the USDA’s Iowa bureau said.

New crop December corn futures stood 0.5% lower at $7.35 ¼ a bushel in Chicago, where soybeans for November stood unchanged at $15.18 ¾ a bushel.