Oregon farmers kick off wheat harvest

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Wheat harvest began in the Pendleton, Ore., area this week, but Pendleton Grain Growers grain merchandiser Dan Steiner says dry conditions and heat stress will keep wheat yields lower than last year.

Farmers in northeastern Oregon kicked off their wheat harvest this week, but dry conditions will hurt yields, a regional wheat marketer says.

Harvest could have begun last week, but some “harassing showers” provided enough moisture to slow things down, said Dan Steiner, senior grain merchandiser at Pendleton Grain Growers in Pendleton, Ore.

Many farmers are expected to begin harvest, take July 4 off, and then shift into high gear by early next week, Steiner said.

Harvest typically begins around July 4.

“We’re a little bit early, but not extreme,” Steiner said.

Early heat stress will cause most yields across Oregon to be down by 10 to 15 percent, he said. Irrigated acres will be fine, Steiner said. Some fields will be average and an occasional field will even be above average.

“The overall quality of the crop is going to be fine, there’s just not going to be a lot of it,” Steiner said. “It was just so hot and dry early on we never got any beneficial rain for a long time.”

Farms in Morrow County may not even run a combine on some patchy fields, he said. Patchy fields will be found going north into Central Washington, he said.

Jerry Marguth, president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, said northeastern Oregon has had problems with a lack of moisture.

Growers predicted at a recent statewide meeting that this year’s overall yield would be about 85 percent of what was harvested last year, Marguth said.

Early this week, soft white winter wheat was selling for roughly $7.14 per bushel on the Portland market, according to Pendleton Grain Growers. Steiner expects the price to drop a little lower before harvest ends. Once harvest is done, prices could begin to increase.

“I don’t think the market fully appreciates how low the production might be in the PNW on the soft white crop,” Steiner said.

The price is OK on the world market for soft white wheat, Steiner said.

“Low-protein soft white wheat is going to be in demand,” he said. “Probably not immediately, but certainly by next spring, I would expect there to be a pretty good premium on it because the crop is so short.”

Only rains in the next few weeks could create quality problems, Steiner said. There is no pest pressure and very little disease pressure.

“Most farmers would actually prefer to see rust,” he said. “That means that it’s raining. Everything looks good right now, other than it would have been nice if it rained this spring.”

In the Willamette Valley, the crop is looking “excellent,” Marguth said, with light instances of stripe rust.

Acreage is down significantly in the valley, with many farmers turning to grass seed and other crops, Steiner said.

The reduced acreage boosts the premium for soft white wheat but hurts the Oregon Wheat Commission and Oregon Wheat Growers League and the funding they provide to Oregon State University research, Steiner said.

Marguth farms in the southern Willamette Valley. He expects to harvest at the end of July and said his wheat fields look average or above average right now.

“We’ve got some water to cross before we get there,” he said of getting the crop harvested.


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