The US spring wheat crop has, for a second year running, got off to a historically poor start, this time thanks to drought in Montana, boding ill for the prospect of rebuilding thin supplies.

The US Department of Agriculture, in its first rating for the domestic 2022 spring wheat harvest, pegged 54% in “good” or “excellent” condition, a figure 9 points below that which investors had expected.

The reading was also the third lowest initial rating on data going back to 1995. The lowest was last year’s 45%, with 2008 opening with a 52% figure.

The poor start raises the chance of the US suffering a second successive weather-depleted harvest.

Last year’s key hard red spring wheat crop ended up with a yield of 31.7 bushels per acre – the lowest since the 27.9 bushels per acre recorded for 2002, which was itself a year with a weak opening condition rating, of 55%.

Planting challenges

Crop recoveries can occur – with the 2008 hard red spring wheat crop, for instance, belying its poor start to end with a yield of 39.9 bushels per acre, a four-year high.

However, prospects for a strong US spring wheat harvest this year had already been undermined by the outlook for low sowings by farmers faced with strong prices for a range of crops.

The USDA’s initial planting data, which will be updated in two weeks, came in at 11.20m acres for total spring wheat, a drop of 220,000 acres year on year and the lowest figure bar one (2017) in half a century.

Wet weather has prevented farmers in top growing state North Dakota, and in neighbouring Minnesota, from getting intended acres seeded within the ideal sowings window, which closed around the beginning of this month.

Even as of Sunday, North Dakota growers still had 9% of seedings to complete, and Minnesota farmers had 8% of their spring wheat unplanted.

The USDA forecasts US hard red spring wheat stocks ending this season at 112m bushels, a 14-year low and less than half the trailing five-year average level of 241m bushels.

Montana drought

The poor opening reading for the 2022 crop reflected in the main a dire start in Montana, where just 15% of the spring wheat crop was rated as good or excellent, amid long-standing drought.

As of last week, 75% of the state was in drought, official data show.

A Montana USDA briefing overnight reported 55% of Montana topsoil, and 79% of subsoil, as being “short” or “very short” of moisture.

However, wetter conditions have helped crops in other major states get off to better starts, with the initial North Dakota reading at 67%.

Last year, the North Dakota crop started with a rating of 31%, thanks to drought.