Capital Press File
Washington wheat farmers are planting 35,000 more acres of spring wheat this year than they did last year.
A good portion of those acres may be devoted to dark northern spring wheat, said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, although he doesn’t have firm numbers or an estimate of how much.
But it makes sense, Squires said.
Dark northern spring wheat prices range from $7.21 per bushel to $8.19 per bushel, depending on protein percentage.
Prices for soft white wheat range from $5.75 per bushel to $5.90 per bushel, below the cost of production.
Soft white wheat is used in “weak-gluten” products, such as sponge cakes or crackers. DNS is for high-protein breads and rolls, “strong gluten” products. High protein is not desirable in soft white wheat.
Squires expects interest from growers who feel confident that they can reach a higher protein.
With the price spread, most spring wheat will likely be DNS, said Dana Herron, co-owner of Tri-State Seed in Connell. Some farmers in the areas north of Highway 2 are likely to remain with soft white wheat, he said.
“In the southern part of the state, though, down here, it’s 100 percent red,” he said.
DNS and hard red spring are the same class, Herron said.
In some areas where winter conditions aren’t as severe, farmers plant DNS in the fall and harvest it in the spring. That’s not a new practice, Squires said, although it may be increasing with the higher prices.
Doing so can lead to a higher yield and increased moisture, Squires said. It gives the wheat a bit of a head start over spring wheat.
Herron said the yield boost is at least 10 percent to 15 percent, the same differential between a winter wheat yield and a spring wheat yield.
“The winter wheat is more well-established and has a greater, bigger root system,” he said. “There’s always about a 20 to 25 bushel advantage.”
The wheat class typically yields about 115 to 120 bushels per acre for spring wheat, Herron said.
“Last year’s spring-planted DNS surprised us all and did very well, in the neighborhood of 140 bushels per acre,” he said.
Most farmers likely have already secured their dark northern spring wheat seed, Herron said.
“There’s no shortage of soft white, but DNS is getting awfully tight,” he said.
For farmers who haven’t already gotten their seed?
“I have two words — good luck,” Herron said.
Herron shipped in several loads of DNS wheat from Montana and Idaho just to keep up with demand.
Herron said he lost 60 acres out of roughly 20,000 to 25,000 acres of fall-planted dark northern spring wheat to flooding.
Last year, chickpeas replaced some spring wheat acres, Squires said.
In 2018, Washington is projected to have 530,000 spring wheat acres, up 7 percent from 495,000 acres from last year. In 2016, 540,000 spring wheat acres were planted, he said.
“We went down, and now we’re back up,” he said.