ROCKLAND, Idaho — Southeast Idaho dryland winter wheat farmers have voiced concerns about the combination of a soft market and lower-than-normal yields early into harvest but say grain quality has exceeded expectations.
The region’s dryland winter wheat growers say their harvest has started a week to 10 days ahead of normal due to hot, dry weather. Most expect their 2014 crop will lose money.
While harvesting on July 28, Rockland Valley grower Adam Permann estimated he’s averaging 30 bushels per acre on hard red winter and 40 bushels on soft white. Though his yields have been 10-15 bushels per acre below an average year, Permann acknowledged things could have been much worse. He believes timely spring rains got the crop off to a good start, and quality has been outstanding, with test weights averaging 61-62 pounds per bushel.
Wheat growers are paid based on a 60-pound bushel, regardless of the actual volume recorded on yield monitors. Growers can also be docked pay on bushels if the test weight falls below a threshold that varies by year. The current price out of Blackfoot and Pocatello for a bushel of wheat is $5.40.
Carl Hofmeister, who also farms in Rockland Valley, said his early yields have come in at 27-32 bushels per acre on both soft white and hard red wheat — slightly below his average.
“Early when we still had pretty good moisture it looked like we were join to have a few more kernels than we ended up with. As it got hotter and drier, we dropped a few kernels in the heads, but the quality was still maintained,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said his wheat plants also produced fewer shoots than normal following a cold winter with little protective snow cover.
As with most dryland farmers, an uncertain production outlook limited Hofmeister’s ability to forward contract his crop when prices were higher. He pre-sold only a quarter of his wheat.
“The price is so low now I don’t think we’ll break even this year,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister anticipates any revenue he’ll earn this year will come from safflower, which he’ll harvest in September, and royalties from a wind farm built on his land.
After harvesting his first truckload of hard red winter wheat, Bancroft, Idaho, farmer Terry Jorgensen said his yields, at 20 bushels per acre, were about a third of normal. The combination of heat and a recent hail storm took a toll on his wheat, though he has hail insurance.
Jorgensen has also been pleased by his grain quality.
“I haven’t seen many empty heads, and the proteins are good,” Jorgensen said. “I figured it would be really shriveled and hard to thrash, but the heads look full and it’s been easy to thrash.”
University of Idaho Extension economist Paul Patterson said wheat has experienced softening prices due to strong crops throughout the U.S. and the world and the expectation of a bumper corn crop.
Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobsen expects further softening of wheat prices, which are already lower than they’ve been in several years, if good weather across major production areas continues.
“There is a lot of wheat out there right now,” Jacobsen said. “Nearly all of the producing areas are reporting strong acres and good weather.”