WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Jason Beechinor watched as some of his employees combined a field of hard red winter wheat.
In some places, he’s expecting yields 20 to 30 bushels above his average.
“I think this could be one of the better crops in the last five years to be harvested,” Beechinor said. “It’s yet to be determined, because it’s not in the bin yet, but it sure looks good out there.”
Beechinor began custom harvesting the field July 6 near Walla Walla, Wash. He hoped to be into his own wheat fields by the end of the week.
Beechinor raises soft white wheat, hard red winter wheat and dark northern spring wheat on dry and irrigated land.
Harvest is beginning to kick off throughout the Pacific Northwest.
According to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Northwest Regional Field Office, harvest started in the west end of Oregon’s Umatilla County.
NASS projects an average yield of 61 bushels per acre, up 22 percent from 50 bushels per acre in 2016.
“Based on grower comments, we are optimistic that our average will be higher than that,” said Blake Rowe, Oregon Wheat CEO.
Harvest will likely ramp up next week as the wheat dries, Rowe said. Much of the Columbia Plateau was still several weeks away.
NASS estimates average yields of 86 bushels per acre in Idaho, down 8.5 percent from 94 bushels per acre in 2016.
Idaho Wheat Commission executive director Blaine Jacobson confirmed one field harvested so far in Idaho, but expected more by the weekend.
“We expect good yields from our winter wheat,” Jacobson said. “Not much else is known at this point.”
Harvest started in the Walla Walla and Lind-Ritzville areas, said Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires.
NASS projects a yield of 67 bushels per acre in Washington, down 14 percent from 78 bushels per acre last year. Squires said yields could be higher.
It’s early, but Squires hadn’t heard of any falling number problems. Protein levels in soft white wheat “are down where we like to see them,” he said. Protein is desirable in red and dark northern spring wheats.
Beechinor, the Walla Walla farmer, welcomes current prices for dark northern spring wheat and the other classes, caused by heat elsewhere in the U.S. and possible drought in Australia.
“We are currently taking advantage of the higher prices,” he said. “I think this year we’ll be profitable.”
The current average soft white winter wheat price in Portland is a little higher than the last two years, putting growers closer to their cost of production, Squires said.
“That’s more in the ballpark,” he said. “If prices continue to increase, that’s certainly going to be beneficial.”
Harvest typically lasts into September.
“If it just stays hot, it’ll come off a lot quicker,” Squires said. “Last year there was a lot of cool weather that elongated things, but we anticipate this will be the more ‘normal’ year. Whatever that is, right?”