By MATTHEW WEAVER
As he starts to harvest his wheat crop this week, Eric Orem says he is "extremely pleased" with prices, which have increased about $2 a bushel in the past month.
"I had never thought that we'd see $8 wheat" this year, he said. "After having a record crop last year for our area and then turning around a good, above-average crop this year with good prices, (that) doesn't normally happen."
Soft white winter wheat was $8.25 per bushel on the Portland market earlier this week.
Orem, a dryland wheat farmer in Lexington, Ore., and the Morrow County president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, said the cost of production ranges from $3 to $5 per bushel.
"If we can net $7 to $8, we can make some money at the end of the day," he said. "As long as it doesn't rain in the Midwest for the next couple weeks, I can see these prices holding."
Orem forward-contracted about 20 percent of his crop and plans to watch prices throughout harvest.
"It's hard to know if this is the high price," said Glen Squires, interim CEO of the Washington Grain Commission. "Could it go higher? Yeah, it could go higher. It could always drop back."
Orem began harvesting his roughly 2,500 acres of wheat the afternoon of July 10. That's about a week later than normal, due to extra spring moisture.
Temperatures in the low 90s are helping the wheat crop ripen quickly, Mike Flowers, a Oregon State University Extension cereals specialist, said. That could mean a more normal ending time to harvest for growers, compared with the delayed last year caused by cool, wet weather.
The heat wasn't causing much damage, Flowers said. He did not expect reduced yields, noting he expected to see an average crop overall.
Squires said harvest has also begun in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills and drier areas. There's been talk that harvest in the high-producing Palouse region could probably be delayed about a week to 10 days, but the heat is speeding things up to shorten the delay, he said.
Potlatch, Idaho, farmer Joe Anderson, an Idaho wheat commissioner, said the start of harvest is still about three weeks away in his area. It typically begins about Aug. 1.
"It's ripening it, but I'm not sure it's helping as far as the yield of the crop is concerned," Anderson said of the heat. "It's definitely going to take its toll on the spring-seeded crop."
Squires and Flowers said growers have controlled most of the stripe rust.
Western Oregon had more disease issues to deal with than the east side of the state, Flowers said.
"The impact is going to be that the guys had to spend more money on inputs, but I think it's going to be a relatively minimal impact for most growers as far as yield goes," he said.