By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho farmers are expected to plant slightly more wheat acres this season than they did in 2012, giving industry leaders confidence that last year's sharp reduction in production wasn't the start of a trend.
Idaho growers planted 1.313 million acres of wheat during the 2012 season, a significant reduction from the 1.47 million acres they planted during the 2011 season and well below the 1.4 million total in 2010.
Overall, production decreased 16 percent last year compared with the 2011 season.
According to USDA estimates, Idaho farmers expect to plant 1.318 million acres of wheat this season. Winter wheat seedings, at 780,000 acres, were unchanged from last year and spring wheat seedings are expected to total 530,000 acres, up 2 percent from last year.
Durum wheat seedings are expected to total 8,000 acres, down 5,000 from last year.
While wheat acres this year will still be well below the 2012 and 2011 seasons, this year's total will be above the 10-year average of 1.3 million acres but below the five-year average of 1.38 million acres.
Idaho farmers planted 1.31 million acres of wheat in 2009 and 1.4 million acres in 2008.
"We're back to where we were in 2009. We're certainly within the range of where we have been," said Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson. "There's nothing concerning in our wheat acres."
Jacobson said the reduction in wheat acres the past two seasons is simply a matter of Idaho farmers having several high-priced commodities from which to choose.
"Crop prices across the board have been wonderful," he said. "It's something good and something better that they're making the choice between."
As prices of other commodities soared before last season, Idaho growers planted significantly more acres of malt barley, sugar beets, potatoes, canola and dry beans in 2012.
Last year's big drop in wheat acres was significant, "but we feel it was a response to relatively good prices across a lot of commodities Idaho producers can grow," said Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones.
Jones also believes the reduction in acres is part of the natural ebb and flow of farming.
"I don't feel it's a trend that's going to continue," he said. "It's one of those market correction situations. Any time there are price changes in agricultural commodities, farmers are going to react."
As the 2012 season progressed, wheat prices continued to rise, averaging $7.50 a bushel in Idaho during 2012. As a result, the Idaho wheat crop brought in a record $796 million last year despite the sharp reduction in production compared with the previous season.