By MATTHEW WEAVER
ALBION, Wash. -- Wheat farmers across the Northwest have taken to their fields amid concerns that drier-than-normal weather would reduce yields and prices would slip lower.
Farmer Mark Clark and his brother Asa were in their eastern Washington fields this week. Mark farms near Albion, Wash., and Asa is based near Pullman, Wash. Harvest for them began around July 30, a little earlier than it has during the last few years, Asa Clark said. They expect to finish in early to mid-September.
They were anticipating yields of 95-100 bushels and acre, about average for the area.
"So far, I think we've been pleasantly surprised, at least on the winter wheat," Asa Clark said. "It seems to have hung in there and on the stuff we've harvested so far, it's been decent."
The word "average" is mentioned often when describing 2013's harvest.
Oregon Wheat CEO Blake Rowe estimated his state's harvest is roughly 75 percent complete and farmers are seeing average yields.
"We'll be fortunate if we have an average crop, (we will) probably be a little under average," he said. "A lot of areas are showing the impacts of the dry winter and early spring."
Quality overall looks fine, Rowe said.
Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission, expected harvest to reach the halfway point by the end of the week.
Irrigated areas have fared well, but dry farms in eastern Idaho and the Lewiston area experienced some difficulties, he said.
"Typically the wheat that gets harvested first are those areas that were the most stressed out," Jacobson said. "Some of the first wheat that came in, the yields were low and the protein was high due to lack of water. Now things have settled down and we're starting to see more of the real picture."
Yields and test weights are up slightly over last year and look good, Jacobson said.
Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, estimated the state's harvest is more than halfway done, although some farmers could still be harvesting into September.
Yields are a little below average in earlier-seeded areas or drier areas, but elsewhere farmers are seeing yields equal to or above the five-year average.
Squires expects good average protein levels and test weights, for an average crop overall.
"Prices could always be higher, but they've often been lower," he said.
With good supplies of corn and wheat, Idaho's Jacobson expects downward price pressure to continue, slowly drifting down a little more.
Soft white wheat for August delivery in the United States ranged in the $7.20-$7.25 per bushel range in Portland, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Market News report for Aug. 7.
Wheat prices are constantly slipping and input costs are increasing, Asa Clark said, adding that the cost of trucking and some other expenses reduce the prices farmers receive to about $6 per bushel, and he'd hate to see it go much lower.