An Expanding Drought Across the Plains

Posted by David Widmar on April 6, 2015

While the majority of the drought attention has focused on the dire and lingering situation in California, drought conditions on the Plains have also been persistent and expanding. The most recent release of the U.S. Drought Monitor revealed an expansion of the drought conditions across the entire county. This got us wondering just how much of the U.S. winter wheat crop is currently affected by current dry conditions.


In figure 1, the U.S. Drought Monitor data is combined with wheat production estimates for 2015. Each dot represents 500,000 bushels of production and was estimated using historic planting and yield data reported by the USDA’s NASS. The heavy wheat producing areas of the Southern Plains are facing dry and drought conditions.

Drought.WinterWheat.3.31.15. Winter Wheat. Drought. 2015. Agricultural Economic Insights. US Drought Monitor

Figure 1. U.S. Drought Map and Estimated Average Winter Wheat Production. Data Sources: U.S. Drought Monitor and USDA NASS.

Deteriorating Conditions

Considering county-level drought conditions and USDA crop data, table 1 shows the percentage of estimated wheat acres and average production (bushels) affected by drought. Currently, 64% of the wheat bushels and 70% of wheat acres are affected by dry and drought conditions. The most severe drought conditions (D3 – D4) are affecting 12% of the estimated wheat bushels and 17% of estimate wheat acres.

Comparing current conditions to those reported at the beginning of March, more bushels and acres of wheat face dry and drought conditions. The most sever drought conditions, D4 – D4, saw an expansion of both estimated average bushels (from 9% to 12%) and acres (from 13% to 17%) affected.

When comparing current conditions to those in 2014, a couple key observations. First, the total acres in dry and drought conditions are almost similar to current conditions.  However, the most exceptional drought conditions (D3 – D4) were more prevalent in 2014.  Conversely, the less sever conditions (D0 – D2) are more prevalent this year. In other words, the dry and drought conditions in 2015 are similar in scope to what was experienced in 2014, but the magnitude of current drought conditions is not as severe as in 2014.

Table 1 Drought Condition in US Winter Wheat Crop

MarchWheatDrought.Table. Winter Wheat. Drought Conditions. 2015. Agricultural Economic Insights

Wrapping it up

Conditions in 2015 have been deteriorating as wheat enters it critical growth and yield-setting period. On the surface, the scope of current conditions are similar to last year, but when considering the magnitude, a smaller percentage of current acres and bushels are being affected by the most severe drought measures.

It is important to notice that, while the data were not available, the hard wheat producing regions of the county are those most affect. Outside of the Plains, where soft wheat is more prevalent, the drought conditions are less sever.

These conditions will be important to watch unfold over the next several weeks. Additionally, it will be important to monitor the dry conditions developing on the High Plain and Northern Corn Belt. Dry conditions will likely create favorable field working and planting conditions for corn and soybeans, but any lingering or intensifying of dry conditions could leave soils short on moisture leading into the summer.

We will continue to observe these trends and keep providing the data, charts, and insights. For those interested in learning more, follow the Agricultural Economic Insights’ Blog by clicking here to sign-up for email updates. Also, you can follow AEI on Twitter and Facebook.

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Photo source: Flickr/Rae Allen

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