Buy your flour now while you can! Western Kansas wheat crops are failing just when the world needs them most
This time of year, the wheat growing in this part of western Kansas should be thigh-high and lush green. But as a months-long drought continues to parch the region, many fields tell a different story.
“There’s nothing out there. It’s dead,” farmer Vance Ehmke said, surveying a wheat field near his land in Lane County. “It’s just ankle-high straw.”
Across western Kansas, many fields planted with wheat months ago now look like barren wastelands. The gaping spaces between rows of brown, shriveled plants reveal hardened dirt that’s scarred with deep cracks from baking in the sun.
Of all the years for drought to hit western Kansas wheat farmers, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Even with wheat selling for near-record-high prices as the war in Ukraine disrupts the world’s food supplies, a lot of farmers in western Kansas won’t have any to sell.
And those who made it through the drought with enough crop to harvest will likely end up with far fewer bushels than they had last year, a downturn that limits the state’s ability to help ease the global food crisis.
Projections estimate that more than one of every ten wheat fields in Kansas will be abandoned this season due to the drought.
Wheat prices have bounced between $10 and $12 per bushel since setting an all-time record north of $13 in March. So it might stand to reason that farmers should be able to make up for poor harvests by selling the wheat they do have for more money.
But it’s not that simple.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates that wheat fields statewide will average roughly 39 bushels per acre this year, down sharply from 52 bushels per acre last year. But many farms in the western half of the state will produce far less than that.
USDA projections for Lane County say wheat farmers here will end up harvesting an average of 27 bushels per acre — less than half of what the county’s farmers averaged last year.
At $11 per bushel, each acre of that average Lane County farmer’s land would bring in just under $300 this season. In order to recoup the costs of doing business, Ehmke said farmers here need to gross closer to $325 per acre.