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[SEPT. 19, 2006]  URBANA -- The generally high level of 2007 crop wheat futures suggests that wheat producers may be motivated to increase acreage this year, said a University of Illinois Extension marketing specialist.

"Cash bids for harvest delivery of soft red winter wheat, however, reflect a very weak basis and lower cash prices than historically implied by futures prices at current levels," said Darrel Good. "Will soft red winter wheat producers increase acreage in response to relatively high futures prices? Or, will acreage be limited by relatively low cash bids for the new crop?

"The answer has important implications in an environment where a significant increase in corn acreage appears to be needed in 2007."

Good's comments came as he reviewed planted acreage of wheat, which has declined steadily since the early 1980s.

Planted acreage of all classes of wheat in the United States reached a peak of 88.3 million acres in 1981-82, with harvested acreage exceeding 80.6 million.

"A combination of increasing foreign wheat production, competition for acreage from other crops, and expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program resulted in a decline in planted acreage to 65.5 million by 1988-89," said Good. "High prices in 1988-89 and 1989-90 pushed acreage up to 77 million by 1990-91.

"Acreage has generally declined since then, with occasional annual increases resulting from high prices, particularly in 1995-96. For the current marketing year, planted acreage totaled only 57.1 million acres, with harvested acreage totaling only 47.1 million."

The U.S. average farm price of wheat (all classes) averaged near $3.40 for the three marketing years from 2003-04 through 2005-06. For the current year, the USDA projects the average farm price in a range of $3.95 to $4.45. If the average is near the midpoint of $4.20, it would be the highest in 10 years but still 35 cents below the high of 1995-96.

"The higher prices of wheat are being generated by a small U.S. crop, resulting from reduced acreage and a four-year low average yield of 38.3 bushels; smaller crops in Australia, Canada, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine; and an expected sharp drawdown in world wheat inventories," said Good.

"World wheat production is pegged at 596.1 million tons, 3.6 percent smaller than last year's crop and 5.2 percent smaller than the record crop of two years ago. On the other hand, world wheat consumption is expected to total 615.8 million tons, resulting in the lowest year-ending stocks-to-use ratio on record. The previous record low was in 1972-73."

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Wheat prices started moving higher in December 2005, with December 2006 futures at Chicago moving from about $3.50 to a high just over $4.60 in May 2006. That contract settled at $3.925 on Sept. 15. The July 2007 futures contract at Chicago reached a high near $4.80 in May 2006 and settled at $4.27 on Sept. 15.

Futures prices at Kansas City for hard red winter wheat and at Minneapolis for hard red spring what have been higher than prices at Chicago for soft red winter wheat. July 2007 futures settled at $4.4175 and $4.655 at Kansas City and Minneapolis, respectively, on Sept. 15.

"While the U.S. and world wheat situation is characterized by a small crop and declining stocks, that is not the case for U.S. soft red winter wheat," said Good. "The 2006 soft red winter wheat crop was estimated at 380 million bushels, 71 million larger than the 2005 harvest. Production of other classes of wheat is down sharply, particularly hard red winter and durum.

"Consumption of U.S. soft red winter wheat during the current year is projected to be 76 million bushels -- 24 percent -- larger than consumption last year, but year-ending stocks are expected to grow modestly. Consumption of all other classes of wheat is expected to decline by 190 million bushels -- 10 percent -- and year-ending stocks are expected to decline by 145 million bushels."

Good said that the abundance of soft red winter wheat in an environment of smaller U.S. and world supplies has resulted in very weak basis levels and lower cash prices for that class of wheat.

"In the month of July, for example, the average cash price received by Illinois wheat producers was estimated at $3.35, $1.18 below the average price received by Kansas producers," he said. "On Sept. 15, the average price in southwest Illinois was 68 cents under December 2006 futures.

"The basis at the same time last year was about minus 33 cents. The weak basis for soft red winter wheat suggests that futures prices at Chicago have been supported at higher levels than warranted by the fundamentals of that crop. A generally weak basis for that class of wheat may persist until the overall U.S. and world wheat supply increases enough to push futures prices lower."

[University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences news release]

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