The number of acres of wheat planted in 2019 once again declined in Kansas from the previous year, and that will probably be the case the coming year, too.

Kansas in 2019 planted 6.9 million acres of wheat, said Peter Oppett, economist in Manhattan for the Kansas State Department of Agriculture, citing figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“That is one of the lowest-ever wheat acre plantings in the 100 years they’ve been collecting the information,” said Oppett.

Kansas in 2018 planted 7.1 million acres, he said.

The downhill slide will continue, according to Kansas Wheat Commission Chairman Michael McClellan, who farms in Rooks County with his father, Bob McClellan.

“We know that number will be less this year,” McClellan said.

“There has been an increase in efficiency, yield has gone up, and wheat’s just become less profitable,” Oppett said. “Farmers are getting away from wheat because there’s not a lot of profit in it.”

Corn, soybeans and grain sorghum are replacing wheat acres, said McClellan.

Unofficial surveys in recent weeks by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, field surveys, as well as major grain companies and others, are indicating a similar decline for planted acres in 2020, said ag marketing consultant Travis Brunner, owner and CEO of Sunrise AgriBusiness, of Hays.

“Wheat acres have been down about five percent year-on-year since 2015,” Brunner said.

“It's the lowest number of wheat acres we’ve planted in Kansas in the last 100 years,” McClellan said, echoing Oppett.

Just almost 30 years ago, in 1991, Kansas farmers planted 11.8 million acres of wheat, Brunner said. The peak was in 1993, however, when wheat acres were almost double what they are now, at 12.1 million.

Despite the decline, however, the total number of bushels harvested hasn’t really dropped.

Kansas harvested 338 million bushels in 2019, compared to 277.4 million in 2018, and 333.6 million in 2017.

“Overall, we’ve definitely seen an increase in production,” Oppett said. “The yield has definitely increased.”

Average yield in 2019 for Kansas was 52 bushels an acre, said Brunner.

In 1909, Kansas farmers averaged 13 bushels an acre, Oppett said.

“When you’re able to get more efficient, you don’t need as many acres,” he said.

While Kansas farmers are planting less and getting bigger yields, the sale price is weaker because there’s also more competition from overseas growers, said McClellan.

“Everybody else in the world is doing a lot better job of growing wheat, specifically Ukraine and Russia,” McClellan said. “Russia and Ukraine have both gone from importing wheat to exporting it.”

Because the U.S. and Kansas are losing a lot of the Asian market to Ukraine and Russia, the focus now is on exporting to Latin America, Brunner said.

To get an idea of U.S. excess supply, Brunner keeps an eye on the “stocks-to-use-ratio,” which is basically how much wheat is carried over for a year divided by the amount of wheat used, times 100. Brunner said the ratio continues to be well above 50%.

“When you take the total supply that’s produced, and then basically the demand, it’ll give you the ending stocks,” Brunner said. “Back in 1991, the ending stock-to-use ratio was 13 percent. In 2001, it was 34 percent, in 2011 it was 45 percent, in 2019 it was 64 percent.”

The greater the ending stock, the lower the price of wheat, historically, according to USDA charts from Brunner.

“We’re just swimming in wheat,” McClellan said. “That’s pretty telling right there.”

“That means we’re not going to run out anytime soon,” Brunner said. “Even though we have declining acres, our yield, our farmers are doing a better job of growing wheat with the technology and farming practices.”