By Joanna Newman

US wheat prices have continued to inch higher this week, amid lingering concerns over planting delays for spring wheat and interruptions to the winter wheat harvest due to heavy rain.

The Chicago July futures contract has gained ground, closing on Tuesday (15 June) at 259.0¢/bushel, compared with 255.3¢ the previous week.

Since last week, farmers have finally managed to plant almost all their remaining spring wheat crop.

A total 97% is now in the ground, compared with 92% last week. Usually spring wheat planting has been completed by early June and any remaining acres are now unlikely to be put into wheat.

There are mild concerns over both the quality and quantity of winter wheat, as harvest gets underway.

Hampered by wet conditions, farmers have managed to gather only a tenth of their crop so far, somewhat behind average for the time of year.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects total winter wheat output to drop 14% from the 1998/99 season to 1.61 billion bushels, according to the latest estimates.

The protein content of the hard red winter wheat crop is likely to be poor and this is also helping to drive up wheat values.

Short-term weather glitches are lending some support to the US wheat market, but the longer-term outlook remains extremely bearish.

On the demand front, wheat is struggling to compete with maize as a feedgrain.

According to figures released last week, the USDA expects livestock producers in the USA to feed only 275 million bushels of wheat to animals this year, down from 350 million in the 1998/99 season.

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