More farmers are planting spring wheat in the fall in an effort to tap into higher prices, several Washington Grain Commission board members say.
More than half of the wheat in the Columbia Basin is fall-planted spring wheat, said Dana Herron, who represents Benton, Franklin, Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties and is co-owner of Tri-State Seed in Connell.
Some spring wheats have enough winter wheat parentage to allow it to be planted in the fall and survive winters, Herron said.
“We’re trying to get a winter wheat yield with a spring wheat price,” Herron said. “It’s one of the few recommendations we can make to add two dollars-plus per bushel to the guy’s bottom line. Today, that’s a big deal.”
Soft white wheat currently sells at $5.20 per bushel to $5.35 per bushel on the Portland market. Dark northern spring wheat sells at $7.02 per bushel to $8.24 per bushel, depending on the protein level.
Spring wheat typically has a 75-cent premium over winter wheat, but would also have a lower yield than winter wheat, said Damon Filan, industry representative on the commission and manager of Tri-Cities Grain. That yield lag isn’t present when spring wheat is planted in the fall, he said.
“Better yield, quicker harvest – that way they can double crop,” Filan said.
Growers are able to harvest the spring wheat in late June instead of late July and then plant timothy hay or sweet corn, he said.
Protein levels are improved with the earlier harvest, Filan said. The Basin consistently produces spring wheat with desirable proteins and test weights, he said.
“The risk is arctic blasts without snow,” Filan said.
Herron estimates he’s lost one fall-planted spring crop in eight years because it was thinned out.
“If weather is anything (other) than severe, it’ll make it,” Herron said.
Filan anticipates no more than a third of dark northern spring wheat to be planted in the fall.
“There’s more acres being planted than I’ve seen, ever, because they’ve been so successful the last couple years,” he said.
Some growers have been planting this way over the last decade, Filan said. The varieties have improved in the last 10 years, he said. Fifteen to 20 years ago, efforts weren’t very successful north of Pasco, he said.
Filan expects more farmers to consider fall planting as they talk to growers who have been successful doing it.
“It’s building on itself and it will keep doing it,” he said.
The fall-planted spring wheat is taking acres from fall-planted winter wheat, Herron said.
Whether such methods continue depends on the price spread, Herron and Filan said.
“I think some of the acres will go away, but it’s going to continue to be a good practice,” Herron said.