Although a small area of winter durum wheat (about 2 million hectares) is already in the ground, the bulk of the wheat and coarse grain crops for the 1997 harvest has yet to be sown in May-June. Early indications point to a slight decrease in spring wheat area to about 10 million hectares from nearly 10.6 million hectares in 1995, due to a normal rotation of land back to oilseed production. Based on these tentative planting intentions and assuming normal growing conditions, aggregate wheat output in 1997 is expected to fall by some 2 million tons from the previous year to about 28.5 million tons. There are indications that coarse grain plantings will also decrease somewhat from the previous year, but remain well above the average of the preceding five years. However, the outcome of the spring planting campaign will depend greatly on weather conditions in the coming weeks.
UNITED STATES (13 March)
The outlook for the 1997 wheat crop is favourable. Latest official estimates put overall winter wheat plantings at 19.5 million hectares, 7 percent less than the area sown in the previous year, and the smallest area since 1978. However, although the winter wheat area has decreased from the previous year, as of early March, most of the crop was reported to be in good to excellent condition and winterkill was reported to be less than normal. This compares favourably with the previous year when crops suffered from particularly harsh winter conditions. The most advanced crops are now beginning to enter the jointing stage, somewhat ahead of normal, and soil moisture conditions are generally reported to be adequate for satisfactory development. Contrary to earlier expectations, latest indications suggest farmers may not compensate for the reduction in winter wheat plantings with spring wheat. Currently more attractive prices for other crops such as oilseeds and edible beans could prompt a shift away from spring wheat. Nevertheless, even if spring wheat plantings decrease somewhat from the 1996 level, if favourable conditions continue for the winter wheat, then aggregate wheat production could increase from the below- average crop in 1996.
Land preparation and some early planting and of the 1997 coarse grain crops is already underway in some southern areas, but the bulk of the maize crop planting in the major producing Corn Belt states takes place from late April. The USDA projects that maize plantings will increase some 2.5 percent. Most of the increase is seen in the eastern Corn Belt where farmers are expected to rotate land back to maize from soybeans which they were forced to plant last year when heavy spring rains disrupted the normal maize planting period. Assuming that farmers' planting intentions are realized, and that weather conditions are normal for the remainder of the season, an increase of about 2.5 percent could be expected in the United States aggregate coarse grains crop.