COLUMBUS, Ohio—With wheat prices already hitting a 14-year high this year, more Ohio farmers are now planning to plant more of the grain. The war in Ukraine and its impact on wheat exports is driving wheat to record prices, leading more farmers statewide to consider planting more wheat as a result.
That’s according to Laura Lindsey, a field crops expert with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). Lindsey, a soybean and small grains specialist with Ohio State University Extension, CFAES’ outreach arm, said she’s already fielded numerous calls, emails, and Twitter messages from farmers statewide wanting to know the feasibility of planting wheat this year and what they can do to take advantage of the record prices for the grain.
The main question Ohio farmers have, Lindsey said, is whether they can get wheat planted this spring to harvest this year and take advantage of the high wheat prices now or if they must wait for fall-planted varieties, which won’t harvest until next year.
Most of the wheat Ohio farmers grow is soft red winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and harvested the next spring. This is the kind of wheat that is typically used in pastries, cakes, cereal, crackers, and cookies.
However, while spring wheat can be planted in Ohio, Lindsey said, it doesn’t grow as well as winter wheat.
“Is spring wheat an option for Ohio farmers?” she asked. “Yes, we can grow spring wheat in Ohio, but spring wheat yield will be significantly lower than winter wheat yield.
“While in Ohio we usually plant winter wheat, with the commodities market the way it is, more farmers are saying they want to try and capitalize on the record prices. However, although wheat prices are high, spring wheat is probably not the best option in 2022 due to the low yields, high input costs, and uncertainty surrounding selling the grain and its quality.”
Wheat prices are surging globally in the wake of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, prompting farmers nationwide to consider planting more wheat. About 14% of the global wheat supply is produced in Ukraine and Russia, according to Gro Intelligence. The two countries supply nearly 30% of all wheat exports, according to the agricultural data analytics firm.
Wheat prices are surging even higher as the conflict is raising significant questions about the ability of Russia and Ukraine to continue exporting, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wheat Outlook for March.
The current price of wheat as of April 11 is $10.81 per bushel. Wheat prices reached a 14-year high last month, at $12.09 a bushel.
“U.S. prices have been particularly underpinned by this development, with quotes for hard red winter (wheat) and soft red winter (wheat) commanding the largest price increases—up more than 80% from last year—as these classes are the most directly in competition with Russian and Ukrainian wheat,” the USDA said in a written statement.
With Russia blockading ports on the Black Sea, 16 million tons of grain are currently stranded in Ukraine, according to a brief written by Ian Sheldon, a CFAES professor and the Andersons Endowed Chair in Agricultural Marketing, Trade, and Policy, and Chris Zoller, a CFAES associate professor and an OSU Extension agriculture and natural resources educator.
“The USDA is forecasting Ukrainian-Russian wheat exports to fall by 7 million tons in 2021–22, with Australian and Indian exports only partially filling the gap,” Sheldon and Zoller wrote. “In the short run, the expectation is that there are real limitations on the ability of the United States to meet the shortfall: Winter wheat is already in the ground, stocks are low, drought conditions are likely to impact yields in states such as Kansas, and farmers face an input price squeeze.”
As it stands now, Ohio farmers are on track to harvest 610,000 acres of winter wheat this year, up 5% from the previous year, according to Cheryl Turner, state statistician with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Ohio Field Office. Nationally, all wheat planted for 2022 is estimated at 47.4 million acres, up 1% from 2021.
Despite the potential for lower yields, some farmers may still be interested in planting spring wheat, Lindsey said.
“Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe, but due to the ongoing conflict with Russia and the instability in the region, farmers are interested in capturing some of that market,” she said. “What I’ve been telling farmers is if they are interested in wheat, wait until the fall to plant winter wheat.
Lindsey said to prepare for that now, farmers can plant early-maturing soybeans in early to mid-May, which are then harvested in late September to early October. At that point, they can then plant winter wheat.
“This growing season will be a mixed bag,” she said. “Corn, soybeans, and wheat prices are high across the board. But input prices—including nitrogen, herbicides, and fungicides—are high (due to the invasion, which created further uncertainty for fertilizer costs) and there likely will be shortages in supplies of these inputs, all of which are needed for farmers to produce good crops with strong yields.”
Also, you never know what the spring weather will be, Lindsey said.
“Ohio can be very wet in spring, so there could be challenges there, too,” she said. “However, I think there will still be strong interest in growing those small grains, for sure.”