With one last heave, it was free.

US winter wheat, that is, which improved sufficiently in the week to Sunday to liberate itself from the title of the worst one on record, in condition terms, for the time of year.

A 2-point improvement, to 34%, in terms of the proportion of winter wheat rated “good” or “excellent” by the US Department of Agriculture, took it 1 point ahead of the 2012 crop, which was of course seeded in a historically bad year for US drought.

This in the last call before winter, with the USDA’s weekly crop progress reports now suspended, as usual, until April.

Yield impact?

Still, the real question is how much all this matters.

The answer is, less than you might imagine, in terms of signalling what yield it might produce.

The 2012 crop, which has retained the title of showing the lowest pre-winter rating on data going back to 1995, ended up achieving a then-record yield at harvest, of 47.3 bushels per acre.

By contrast, the crop which headed into winter dormancy with the best seasonal rating of the past decade – the 2013-planted one, with a 62% number – produced a yield of only 42.6 bushels per acre, a seven-year low.

The following crop, which had a strong pre-winter rating of 60%, recorded a lower yield still, of 42.5 bushels per acre.

Ploughed in

However, yield is of course not the only determinant of final production.

Area is the other part of the equation, and there a poor start can prove more telling.

Yes, the winter wheat crop planted in 2012’s drought achieved a record yield. But that was only after nearly one-quarter of sowings were ditched.

That is an abandonment rate exceeded in recent history by the 29% scrappage recorded for the 2002 harvest, which itself had a low-ball pre-winter condition rating, of 44% good or excellent.

The lowest abandonment levels, by contrast, of 13.6% for the 1998 harvest and 13.8% for 1997, were for crops which headed into winter with good or excellent readings above 70%.

Regional bias

In other words, it looks like final yield figures for crops which establish poorly may be enhanced by a greater willingness by farmers to sacrifice underperforming fields to the plough.

What also bodes well for the overall yield result next year is that low condition ratings are concentrated in southern Plains states, such as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which grow hard red winter wheat, which is itself less productive.

The 10-year average US hard red winter wheat yield, at 40.6 bushels per acre, is well below the 66.1 bushels per acre recorded for soft red winter wheat, as grown in Midwest states such as Indiana and Ohio, where condition ratings are well above average.

This is reflected too in the expanding premium of hard red winter wheat over its soft red winter wheat which, March basis, stood at $1.05 a bushel as of Wednesday, up by 40% for this month.

Below, a table showing USDA winter wheat crop ratings as of Sunday November 27, the last reading of 2022.

For the previous week’s data, click here.

State Percent of crop rated good or excellent
Change on week
Arkansas 64 -9
California 100 0
Colorado 30 +10
Idaho 37 -1
Illinois 30 -5
Indiana 62 -1
Kansas 21 -3
Michigan 67 0
Missouri 63 +5
Montana 44 +14
Nebraska 20 -1
North Carolina 82 +1
Ohio 58 0
Oklahoma 31 +8
Oregon 70 -1
South Dakota 27 -5
Texas 21 +2
Washington 64 +4
18 States 34 +2
Source: USDA. Condition data in percent. Change on week data in percentage points