Three of the country's top producing states are experiencing extreme drought conditions.
Wheat may not be as glamorous as “fun” crops like avocados or wine grapes, but as a staple of many diets (the gluten-free crowd aside), a wheat shortage probably has broader implications. So it’s unfortunate news that three of America’s four top wheat producing states in 2016 – North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota – are currently in droughts so bad that their wheat harvests this year will be significantly below normal.
The latest US Drought Monitor map shows large swaths of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota as currently being in “Extreme Drought” conditions with some patches in Montana and North Dakota listed as “Exceptional Drought” conditions, the highest level of intensity on the drought scale. The federal government has had to step in, declaring parts of all three states as disaster areas and allowing for haying and grazing on conservation land to help ease the problem, according to the Associated Press. But Northern Plain farmers are still expected to lose about 64 million bushels of wheat this year. Granted, that not a huge percentage of America’s total annual wheat production, which during last year’s banner year was over 2.3 billion bushels. However, if you look at the three drought-affected states alone, in 2016, they produced 657 million bushels – meaning this year they are set to lose nearly 10 percent of their annual crop.
Additionally, not all wheat is created equal. According to Modern Farmer, approximately seven out of ten wheat farmers in these areas are expected not to bring their wheat to full harvest, instead choosing to bale it early for sale as hay. As a result, less wheat will be available to be turned into flour, a problem that could trickle down to average shoppers. “It’s going to affect bread at the grocery store counter,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring told Insurance Journal. Meanwhile, Wall Street is already having a field day: Some wheat futures have jumped as much as 40 percent.