The good news for Texas farmers is that wheat prices are way up.
The bad news is that a lot of farmers won’t even harvest the crop they planted this year.
“Most of them will probably be totally abandoned, most meaning probably something like 70, even up to 80 percent,” said Jackie Rudd, professor of agronomy and the wheat breeding program coordinator at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Research Center at Amarillo.
Drought is a problem statewide, but particularly in the Panhandle, where most of Texas’ wheat grows. Some varieties grow better in the dry soil than others, but the effects of the current drought are inescapable.
“The drought is so bad it affects everything,” Rudd said. “There’s no miracle cure, so to speak.”
The drought in the western United States isn’t the only factor driving up prices: In the days after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, wheat prices rose about 35 percent. The two countries account for about 30 percent of global exports, but it’s unclear how much wheat either one will be able to ship out at the moment.
“The bottom line of this is: how long is that war going to go on?” said Vince Peterson, president and CEO of U.S. Wheat Associates, which supports American wheat exports. “How long is this blockage going to take place? And we don’t know that.”
To help meet demand, agricultural officials in India said in late March that they plan to export a record amount of wheat. But the pledge was short-lived: Last week, the country announced a ban on wheat exports as a record heat wave hurt its crop. The prices jumped again after that, although Indian authorities have since said that they will allow some exports.
The timing of all this isn’t bad for Texas farmers, since they typically lock in their price for next year’s crop during the preceding summer. That means they have a big incentive to grow more acres of wheat in 2023. But that will be dependent on better soil conditions and finding enough seeds following this year’s meager harvest.
Darby Campsey, communications director for the Texas Wheat Producers Board & Association, said that if farmers can’t find certified seed – seed whose quality has been independently verified – they could turn to sketchier sources.
“But then you do start to see questionable quality,” Campsey said. “You’re not really sure if there is going to be any drought tolerance, if there’s going to be any insect tolerance and especially disease tolerance – that can be a big, big issue.”