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‘Outstanding’ Idaho wheat harvest nears halfway point

The quality of the crop looks good, Idaho Wheat Commission executive director Blaine Jacobson said.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on August 3, 2017 9:19AM

Last changed on August 3, 2017 10:12AM

Hard red winter wheat is harvested on Joe Anderson’s farm near Lewiston, Idaho. Farmers are reporting generally high quality and good yields as harvest approaches the halfway point.

Courtesy of Genesee Joe Anderson

Hard red winter wheat is harvested on Joe Anderson’s farm near Lewiston, Idaho. Farmers are reporting generally high quality and good yields as harvest approaches the halfway point.

Idaho’s wheat harvest will likely pass the halfway point by the end of next week, state leaders say, with the warm weather allowing farmers to catch up after a late spring.

“It’s amazing how quickly everything is catching up,” said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission. “We ran behind for a good part of the season because of the late spring and trying to get the heat units. But once it dried out and we started getting these temperatures, if anything we’re probably running a little bit ahead of schedule.”

Some hard white wheat was harvested Aug. 1, the earliest Jacobson can recall.

“It shows you how quickly these temperatures have ripened the crop,” he said.

Some growers expected the harvest to last through Labor Day, but Jacobson now expects it to be done by the third week of August.

If harvest is done early, farmers will move onto other crops, such as potatoes, sugar beets or alfalfa, or into their other fall work, Jacobson said.

Wheat commissioner Joe Anderson, who farms near Genesee and Lewiston, said he’s crossed the halfway point for his harvest. He started in Lewiston right at the average time, July 20, and expects to begin harvest in Genesee shortly. He anticipates finishing in seven or eight weeks, then may have a brief timeout while waiting for his chickpeas to ripen.

Anderson’s winter wheat yield is 10 bushels above average. His 10-year average is about 85 bushels per acre.

“We got the desirable low protein on our soft white wheat, but our hard red winter is also low-protein, and that’s not so desirable,” he said.

Overall, protein levels are good across the wheat classes, and yields are down a little from last year, Jacobson said. Quality is good.

“There’s not a hint of any falling number issue anywhere in the state,” Jacobson said. “With this hot, dry weather we’ve had, we’re getting falling number scores in the high 300s pretty consistently, from north to south to east Idaho.”

The industry standard to meet the needs of key overseas customers is 300. Farmers receive a reduced price when their wheat falls below 300 in the test, which measures starch damage affecting the quality of baked goods and noodles.

Anderson said his falling numbers are in the 370-400 range.

Jacobson doesn’t think further development of low falling numbers is likely.

“I think we’re beyond the danger point now,” he said. Passing rain showers aren’t a problem, but sustained rain that doesn’t allow wheat heads to dry could lead to sprout damage.

Anderson also reports less insect activity than usual this summer, perhaps due to the wet spring.

“I can tell the difference; we haven’t seen near the insect pressure this year,” he said.

Soft white wheat prices range from $4.96 to $5.27 per bushel at Portland. Hard red winter wheat is $4.50 to $4.80 per bushel. Dark northern spring wheat is $7.50 to $9.06 per bushel, depending on the protein content.

“There’s a modest profit opportunity right now,” Anderson said. “Really the last month put some sunshine in the deal for a lot of people, us included. We’ll get closer to $6 Portland, and that’ll work for us.”

High temperatures could pose possible risks for farmers, Jacobson said, including the possibility of combines overheating and starting fires. Ninety- and 100-degree days also can lead to thunderstorms and hail, which can shatter wheat heads, he said.

“Don’t let those things overshadow the quality of the crop,” Jacobson said. “It’s an outstanding year so far.”


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