PNW wheat industry eyes possible sprout, high protein

Rain forecasts have Washington State University wheat breeder Arron Carter cautioning about possible sprout damage.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on July 16, 2015 11:01AM

Eric Mortenson/Capital Press file
Rain is in the forecast this week for parts of the Northwest, spawning concerns that too much of the wet stuff could cause sprouting in this year's crop.

Eric Mortenson/Capital Press file Rain is in the forecast this week for parts of the Northwest, spawning concerns that too much of the wet stuff could cause sprouting in this year's crop.

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Rain is in the forecast for later this week in parts of the Northwest, but wheat experts say too much precipitation could cause sprouting in the region’s wheat crop.

Extreme rains could impact wheat crops close to harvest, according to Washington State University winter wheat breeder Arron Carter. WSU predicts rain later this week in areas including Pullman, Ritzville, Spokane and Colville.

“If it rains a little bit and warms up the next day, it’s probably not a problem,” Carter said. “But if we get a lot of those cool nights with misty rains, that’s a little more concerning.”

Such weather could result in a low falling number for the wheat, which can result in a docked price for wheat farmers at country elevators. Or it could mean visible sprout, another discount that could hit farmers’ wallets.

“Sometimes the grower can get hit twice,” Carter said.

Farmers have few options, other than getting the crop harvested and in storage as quickly as possible, which is something they already do, Carter said.

Sprout can be a big problem, but conditions aren’t like those in southern Idaho last year, when it rained for several weeks, said Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires.

“Unless it rains solid for a week, I don’t know that there’s a big concern,” Squires said.

Many farmers have seen their yields fall below normal and proteins increase because of the hot, dry conditions.

“The heat really is taking its toll,” Squires said.

Higher protein is a good thing in red wheat, Squires said, but for soft white wheat, key customers such as Japan require a 10.5 percent protein maximum. Reports on the crop so far are mixed, with protein ranging from 9 to 14 percent. The average is still uncertain, since proteins tend to be lower in high rainfall areas, which are harvested later, Squires said. He expects higher than average protein this year.

“There will be higher prices for those that have lower-protein soft white wheat,” he said.

Farmers won’t have a lot of opportunity for higher prices in the next month, said Dan Steiner, grain merchant for Pendleton Grain Growers in Pendleton, Ore.

“We’re going to have a lot of light test-weight, we’re going to have a lot of high protein,” he said. “The overall quality of the wheat is going to be questionable — it’s not going to be a strong crop at all.”



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