Uncertain futures baffle wheat industry

Wheat is harvested in Washington state’s Palouse. The National Agricultural Statistics Service is updating small grain harvest data. Some harvests were delayed because of late planting.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service will re-survey farmers who had unharvested small grains in time for the agency’s crop report in November.

The agency will verify what it heard from growers in September and record any difference in yield, said Chris Mertz, Northwest regional director for NASS, based in Olympia, Wash.

He oversees the agency’s offices in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

“We want to go back and re-interview those producers that had unharvested small grains to make sure they did get it harvested,” Mertz said.

Some harvests were delayed due to late plantings, Mertz said.

As of Sept. 1, the reference date for the report, 55% of spring wheat in the country had been harvested, 23% below the five-year average.

Some farmers may still be trying to finish harvest, he said.

“Farmers are typically busy and we have a pretty persistent crew,” Mertz said. “We’ll do whatever we can to go out and get ahold of these producers again.”

Estimates may be updated based on the data the agency collects, he said. If there’s enough difference to warrant a change, the new data will be released Nov. 8.

NASS last re-surveyed growers in the Northwest in 2014.

It happens periodically, Mertz said based on how well harvest is progressing.

According to NASS, when the small grains growers were first surveyed there was significant unharvested acreage of barley in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota; of oats in Idaho, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota; of durum wheat in Idaho, Montana and North Dakota; and a large proportion of other spring wheat acreage not yet harvested in Idaho, Washington, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The unharvested area and expected production were included in the totals released on Sept. 30.

NASS wants to ensure its state and county-level estimates are correct, Mertz said.

“We want to make sure it’s right, because everybody wants to know what the production is, accurately, for the growing season and future data uses of that report,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s as accurate as possible.”

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