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Rains may harm wheat, grass seed


Wet July weather threatens to cause trouble in the Willamette Valley


By MITCH LIES


Capital Press


Willamette Valley farmers are getting nervous as July rains are backing up harvest schedules on grass seed and wheat and threatening to reduce yields and quality.


"Hopefully this crazy thing is going to get over shortly," Tangent, Ore.-area grower Dennis Glaser said about the rain July 19, "and we are going to get on with harvest."


Among other concerns, growers this week were worried that higher-than-normal July rainfall risks sprout damage to the valley's massive wheat crop.


"I'm pretty nervous about some of the early maturing varieties," said Jerry Marguth, a south valley grower.


The closer a wheat crop is to harvest, the more potential for rain to cause sprout damage, said Mike Flowers, Oregon State University Extension cereals specialist.


"We really need some nice, warm, non-humid weather," Flowers said.


"We are sitting on one of the largest wheat crops in the valley since the 1970s," said Mark Mellbye, Linn County extension agent. "We need things to get dry."


Mellbye and Flowers pegged the valley wheat crop at above 200,000 acres.


Statewide, above 1 million acres are planted to wheat.


Growers typically receive lower prices for wheat with sprout damage. Severely damaged wheat won't qualify for the flour market and is sold for feed.


Grass seed isn't as susceptible to sprout damage, but it, too, is under threat of preharvest sprout if rains continue, Mellbye said.


In cases where growers have swathed crops, seed shatter and regrowth also threaten to reduce yields.


"If things don't improve in the next few days, we could have a serious problem," said Tim Van Leeuwen, an Albany-area grower, who had tall fescue sitting in windrows for upwards of two weeks as of July 19. "The next couple of days are getting pretty critical on the grass seed."


The National Weather Service reports that three-quarters of an inch of rain fell in July through July 18 at Salem -- a third of an inch above normal -- with most of it concentrated between July 12 and July 17.


More rain was predicted to fall through July 20.



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