By MITCH LIES
RICKREALL, Ore. -- With grass seed harvest nearly complete, Willamette Valley wheat growers have turned their attention to wheat. While no bin busters are being reported, growers said they are pleased with what they are seeing.
"I'm pretty happy with the wheat yields," said Doug Fast, a mid-valley grower. "I had one field that was pretty wet, and it still went well over 100 (bushels to the acre)."
Fast said he's averaging about 130 bushels an acre with fields topping out at 150. That's "well above the 10-year norm," he said, and about 20 percent above last year.
Willamette Valley growers started harvesting a projected 100,000- to 125,000-acre wheat crop about Aug. 1, a week later than normal.
Acreage is down substantially from the 200,000 acres growers harvested in the valley two years ago, Oregon State University Extension cereals specialist Mike Flowers said, but is still sizable.
"When I started here (seven years ago) we were at 30,000 acres in the valley," Flowers said. "So 100,000 acres isn't a bad number to keep in rotation."
Growers harvested an estimated 150,000 acres last year.
Wheat acres fluctuate based in large part on the grass seed market. Growers substitute wheat for grass seed when those markets are oversupplied.
Also, high wheat prices can stimulate sizable wheat planting in the fall, Flowers said.
Flowers expects a big wheat crop next year, as well, as prices were high -- in the $8.60 range for truck delivery at Portland -- in early August.
"You should be able to make a profit at that price," said Washington County grower Tom Duyck, especially with good yields.
Duyck, an Oregon wheat commissioner, said early reports from north valley growers are promising.
"I would say the crop is a little above average," Duyck said. "I talked to people who are getting between 110 and 130 (bushels an acre).
"But I haven't heard of any super yields like we have some years," Duyck said.
OSU extension agent Nicole Anderson, who covers Washington and Yamhill counties, also estimated yields are averaging about 120 bushels in the north valley. But she characterized that as the region's new norm.
"Fields that are well drained can easily go 130 bushels with the varieties we have today," she said. "And I'd say the average anymore is between 115 and 125.
"The bottom line is we're getting good yields out of the varieties we have, but they are not out of the ordinary for what we have been getting the last three years," she said.
"These varieties do well in our high rainfall environment," she said. "As long as growers utilize a good fungicide program, these yields are achievable.
"Certainly late moisture can contribute to good grain fill, and we had a bit of that this spring," Anderson said. "And it turned off right when it needed to not become a problem in terms of quality issues or sprout issues."
Also, it helped that temperatures stayed mild in July.
"We never had those four or five hot days in July," Fast said.