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Spring rains benefiting region’s wheat crops

Sat., July 24, 2010

A cool and moist late spring may have posed problems for some Washington crops, but it looks to be a boon to dryland wheat farmers.

“Summer’s finally here, the grain is growing and the quality looks good,” said Brett Blankenship, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, who farms in the Washtucna area. “The yields look to be 10 percent to 20 percent higher than normal.”

Yields of Washington winter wheat are predicted this year to reach about 65 bushels per acre, up from 59 bushels in 2009, while the spring wheat harvest is projected at a record 56 bushels per acre, according to a forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Total wheat production in Washington, Idaho and Oregon is projected at 310.2 million bushels, which would be a 10-year high, said Glen Squires, vice president of the Washington Grain Alliance.

“It looks like it certainly will be a good crop,” Squires said.

Yields of Washington winter wheat alone are forecast to be 111.8 million bushels, up from 96.7 million bushels in 2009, according to the USDA. The bulk of the state’s wheat is exported, with Japan the largest customer. Soft white wheat is used in making sponge breads and confectionary items in Japan.

The expected higher yields are the result of persistent late spring rains, which particularly benefited farmers in drier locations. The rain also helped replenish soils that are in fallow now and will be planted in wheat in the fall, Blankenship said.

In the arid Ritzville area west of Spokane, rainfall was 130 percent of normal, according to precipitation surveys. “That has just made for some incredible crops this year,” said Scott Yates, spokesman for the Washington Grain Commission.

And farmers in the region are earning decent prices for their wheat. Bids on Friday for soft white wheat were about $4.45 a bushel through AgVentures NW LLC, which manages the Odessa Union Warehouse Cooperative and Reardan Grain Growers.

Prices regionally are benefiting from a harsh drought hindering production in the Black Sea region, a major competitor for the export market.

The USDA has estimated world production of wheat in 2010-’11 to be 661 million metric tons, down 3 percent from 2009-’10 but still the third-largest crop on record.

The wet spring did cause Washington wheat growers one headache: the emergence of stripe rust, a fungal disease that is controlled by aerial spraying at a cost of $20 an acre.

Harvest has started in parts of Walla Walla and Franklin counties and is expected to begin within a week in others.


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