‘Challenging’ wheat harvest seen for Southern Idaho

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Wheat has sustained heavy damage throughout Idaho due to continuous rain storms in August.

Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobsen estimates it will take at least five weeks to ascertain the full scope of damage an abnormally wet August has caused Southern Idaho wheat, but said it’s already shaping to be “one of the most challenging crops in a generation.”

Jacobsen said continuous August storms have caused significant sprout damage, lowered test weights and hurt protein levels in much of Southern Idaho, especially near Twin Falls and Bingham County. Such quality issues can lead to price penalties or rejection.

Jacobsen is advising growers not to mix fall and spring soft white wheat as sprout damage may be elevated in earlier maturing fall wheat. Grain elevators also suggest growers separate grain into bins by quality, using appropriate airflow to prevent more sprouting, and harvest standing grain, which tends to have less sprout damage, separately from fallen grain.

“I’ve talked with growers who have been farming for 25 to 30 years, and they’re saying this is the most severe (moisture damage) they’ve had over the course of their careers,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen said grain elevators are processing samples and communicating with millers and bakers to determine what they’ll accept. He’s heard no reports of widespread sprout damage in other regions of the country, making it more feasible for Idaho wheat to be blended with other wheat to meet minimum quality standards.

Furthermore, he emphasized Northern Idaho’s harvest was complete and USDA estimates 70 percent of the statewide winter wheat crop was in before the rains came, though he suspects the estimate is slightly inflated.

Jacobsen anticipates damage-driven shortages will eventually drive up local milling prices, and depressed feeder wheat prices should also recover as a glut of grain is moved.

Jacobsen has reminded buyers that Idaho’s consistent quality helps them cope with quality issues from other states in most years.

Sprout damage triggers production of starch-degrading enzymes that spread into healthy wheat and affect dough quality. The industry measures sprout damage with a test called “falling numbers.” Prior to the rain, wheat was scoring suitably high, in the 400-500 range. Jacobsen said wet weather has reduced scores by roughly 150 points, though most shipments remain above 300 — a critical threshold for millers.

“Bingham County may be as rough as it’s been anywhere, and 5 to 10 percent of Bingham County trucks are coming in below 300,” Jacobsen said.

Idaho Falls grower Brett Jensen said damage has been more severe in his malt barley, bred to germinate easily as part of the malting process, but he’s still seen 3-4 percent sprout damage in wheat. Normally, he mixes grain by class, but he’s storing each field separately this season.

Castleford soft white wheat farmer Roger Wells didn’t have much grain harvested prior to the storms and sustained about 10 percent sprout damage. Wells said his heaviest damage has surfaced in fallen wheat.

“Our buyer said, ‘Keep sending your wheat. I still need wheat, and we’ll figure out something,’” Wells said, adding some may still go to feeder channels.

Soda Springs dryland farmer Dwight Lakey said he’s avoided significant sprout and protein damage, and the rains should help his fall wheat crop germinate on summer-fallow ground.


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