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‘Timely rains’ key for Northwest wheat crop

Matthew Weaver
Pacific Northwest wheat officials are optimistic about the state of the crop with moisture and relatively good prices. St. John, Wash., farmer Jeremy Smith says timely rains will help make for a good year of production.

ST. JOHN, Wash. — Jeremy Smith is keeping an eye on the sky this growing season.

“I know people were saying it was going to be an above-average rainfall spring, and to be honest, I really haven’t seen it,” the St. John, Wash., wheat farmer said.

Below average precipitation marked the winter across much of the Pacific Northwest, and wheat farmers say a wet spring would help their crops get on track.

“If we keep getting these timely rains, I think we’re going to be OK,” he said.

Smith recently finished planting 1,425 acres of dark northern spring wheat in addition to his 790 acres of winter wheat.

The winter wheat crop looks good compared to some areas to the west of him that got “hammered” by winterkill, Smith said.

“For the most part, we dodged a bullet,” he said. “All of our wheat, from what we can see right now, shows no damage.”

Smith farms no-till with his father, Read. They typically see yields of 85-89 bushels per acre in the 11- to 13-inch rainfall zone.

Recent rains have helped reduce farmers’ fears about a lack of moisture, but Washington is still well behind precipitation levels for this time of year, said Scott Yates, director of communications for the Washington Grain Commission.

“Given last December’s cold temperatures and wind, a few farmers lost their entire (crops),” Yates said. “Overall, the crop looks good, although some farmers have been patching spring wheat into their damaged winter wheat fields.”

Recent rains have helped those farmers who have seeded their spring wheat, Yates said.

“We’re still waiting to see how the moisture plays out in the next month or so,” said Oregon Wheat CEO Blake Rowe.

Precipitation in some areas is improved, but it’s still dry in the Klamath area, and the Ontario, Ore., area is still watching irrigation water supplies, Rowe said.

Irrigation concerns have lessened in Idaho. Two-thirds of Idaho’s crop is irrigated. Earlier in the winter reservoirs were not filling and some irrigation curtailments were projected.

Early spring rains helped the state’s winter wheat crop and filled reservoirs, said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission.

“We now believe we have enough irrigation water to last the season,” Jacobson said.

Dryland farms in northeastern Idaho could still use more moisture, Jacobson said. That area grows about 5 percent of the state’s crop.

About 79 percent of Idaho’s spring wheat crop had been planted by the beginning of the week, Jacobson said.

Jacobson expects a higher than average yield this year.

Yates said a price bump could be in store moving into the summer, with the Russia-Ukraine political turmoil and Kansas and Oklahoma reporting poor crop conditions.

Prices have generally been up for the spring, Rowe and Jacobson said. On Tuesday, U.S. No. 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland was $7.48 a bushel.

“Certainly it’s still a very attractive market price,” Jacobson said. “If you were to look at the last 10 years, it’s still a strong price, even though it may not reach what we had two or three years ago.”

Smith said he soon expects to spray his fall wheat for weeds and rust, adding a little nitrogen, and then start spraying chemical fallow land for seeding in September.

“I’m going to stay hopeful,” Smith said.



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