La Niña has returned for the third consecutive winter, allowing for drier-than-average conditions across America's crop belt. Some farmers told Bloomberg that conditions are so dry that "fertilizer is evaporating from the soil, and plants are struggling to emerge from the ground."
The odds are stacking up that this winter's growing season in the Midwest is going to be a bad one. The latest government data shows drought is intensifying across the western half of the US.
As for winter wheat, nearly 75% of the crop areas are in a drought, the highest level in decades.
Gary Millershaski, chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission, said farmers who typically spread chemical fertilizer on their fields in the winter to allow the soil to replenish with nutrients ahead of the spring growing season are pulling back because of the fear it will just "evaporate and disappear."
Millershaski also farms wheat and corn in the southwestern part of the state. He said he'd planted about 4,000 acres of winter wheat but only expected to harvest 1,500 because of the severe drought ... that's less than half.
"When it is this dry you don't know if will sprout and die or come up next year," he added.
The lack of moisture indicates that some plants may not even sprout until spring, jeopardizing yields.
🔥US Drought Monitor🔥— GrainStats.com 🎃 (@GrainStats) October 27, 2022
Grain Production Areas Experiencing Drought (+/- weekly change)
🌾Spring Wheat: 75% (+0%)
🌾Winter Wheat: 74% (+4%)
🌱Soybeans: 71% (+10%)
🌽Corn: 70% (+8%) pic.twitter.com/K0n2VkXdir
Mark Nelson, director of commodities at the Kansas Farm Bureau, has already warned that the rate of emerged plants is already falling behind average levels for this time of year.
Widespread extreme drought could devastate winter wheat crops but, more importantly, disrupt farmers from spreading critical fertilizers on fields ahead of the next growing season -- this could dent harvests at the end of 2023.
As a reminder, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states, "El Nino and La Nina are naturally occurring climate patterns and humans have no direct ability to influence their onset, intensity or duration."