Latest estimates put the 1997 wheat crop at 24.3 million tonnes, about 20 percent down from the previous year and below the average of the past five years. The reduction is mostly due to a rotation from wheat to oilseeds but also average yields were lower. A small area of winter durum wheat has already been planted but the bulk of the wheat for the 1998 harvest will not be sown until May-June. Early indications point to the likelihood of a further reduction in wheat area in 1998 as relatively poor returns expected for wheat are likely to encourage farmers to switch to higher prices oilseed crops. In addition, farmers may be forced to leave more land fallow as below normal precipitation this winter is expected to result in unfavourable planting conditions in parts. Aggregate output of coarse grains in 1997 is estimated at some 25 million tonnes, about 11 percent down from the previous year, but still above the average of the past 5 years.
UNITED STATES (20 February)
In the United States, the final official estimate of the 1997 wheat crop is 68.8 million tonnes, some 10 percent up from 1996 and above the average of the past five years. Prospects for the 1998 wheat crop are satisfactory. Weather conditions have been generally favourable for the dormant winter crop and moisture supplies are reported to be adequate in most areas. Contrary to earlier expectations of no change, or a modest increase, in winter wheat area for 1998, the USDA in January estimated a planted area of 18.9 million hectares, 4 percent down from the previous year and the lowest since 1973. This reduction most likely indicates that farmers are shifting land out of wheat this year because they expect less attractive prices compared to several other crops. Early indications already point to a reduction in spring wheat plantings also. The final official estimate of the 1997 coarse grains crop in the United States is 265.6 million tonnes, almost unchanged from last year’s crop and above the average of the past five years. Of the total, maize is estimated to account for 238 million tonnes. As regards the 1998 maize crop to be sown this spring, plantings are tentatively expected to increase due to more favourable market indications for feed grains than for wheat.