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SE Washington wheat farmers face pink snow mold

Wheat farmers in the Prescott, Wash., area are weighing whether to reseed fields after experiencing pink snow mold damage after two months of snow cover.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on April 6, 2017 10:55AM

Last changed on April 10, 2017 9:34AM

Snow mold on a wheat field. Some farmers in southeastern Washington say they are seeing pink snow mold, an unusual occurrence in that region.

Courtesy of Tim Murray/Washington State University

Snow mold on a wheat field. Some farmers in southeastern Washington say they are seeing pink snow mold, an unusual occurrence in that region.

Wheat farmers in southeastern Washington state are dealing with pink snow mold following the unusually hard winter.

Snow mold is most common in wheat crops on the northern tier of the state, said Tim Murray, Washington State University Extension plant pathologist.

The disease isn’t typical for the southeastern corner of the state, which tends to be a little warmer, he said, adding that pink snow mold is a first for the farmers in the area.

“It’s certainly uncommon to have two solid months of snow cover with no let up,” Murray said. Prolonged snow cover promotes snow mold.

Wheat varieties tended to vary in their response to the disease, Murray said. Most tended to be more susceptible.

“Up (north), the growers know this is a chronic problem and so would typically have planted a variety that’s resistant,” he said. “Whereas down in the Prescott-Waitsburg-Walla Walla area, this is not a problem that growers are thinking about. Their variety selection is based on other problems.”

Prescott has a lot of rolling hills. The fields showing the most damage were north-facing slopes, Murray said.

“In some fields there were a lot of smallish areas with damage, but collectively they add up,” he said.

Brad Tompkins, who farms in northern Walla Walla County, estimates the disease has impacted 20 percent of his fields.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen it,” he said. “Our family’s farmed in this area over 100 years, so it’s unusual.”

It wasn’t clear how much the fields would recover, Murray said. He typically advises growers to wait three to four weeks to see what regrows.

“When the snow comes off, everything looks bad,” he said.

Tompkins said his fields were not recovering.

“We’re a 70-bushel ranch, and in those places I’d be lucky to get 10 bushels,” he said. “It’s pretty devastating.”

One farmer told Murray the spots in his field were 10 percent regrown, but he was electing not to re-seed.

“With the cost of wheat at $4, he figured it wasn’t really worth it to try to till in these little spots,” Murray said. “It’s a lot easier to get in and reseed a large area than it is a small area.”

A farmer with 90 acres did plan to reseed.

Tompkins doesn’t plan to reseed, due to spring weather delaying planting. He doesn’t expect many neighbors to opt to reseed either, he said.

Crop insurance will help if Tompkins has a yield loss.

Snow is still coming off fields in some of the more usual snow mold areas farther north.

“This was a very unusual winter,” Murray said. “If we get back to a normal weather pattern, I would not expect it to be a problem again right away.”

Tompkins plans to keep in contact with Murray throughout the rest of the crop year.

“It’s hopefully a once in a lifetime thing,” he said. “From a farmer standpoint, you just add it to another bunch of problems that could potentially happen, I guess. It wasn’t on the shelf, but it is now.”


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