NW wheat harvest

Wheat harvest is just beginning in parts of the Pacific Northwest. Farmers are expecting good yields this year.

Wheat harvest time has arrived, and farmers across much of the Pacific Northwest are beginning to get their equipment into the fields.

The first field was harvested in the Lewiston, Idaho, area on July 11, said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission.

The USDA says farmers have planted about 4.18 million acres of wheat, with 2.22 million in Washington, 1.22 million in Idaho and 740,000 in Oregon.

More growers were expected to start harvesting around Lewiston on July 15 or 16, Jacobson said.

Harvest is still a week to 10 days away in southern or eastern Idaho.

The crop looks good statewide, Jacobson said. Yields are probably 10% below average due to a late spring. 

"We had a late cool spring but since then weather has been ideal for growing wheat," Jacobson said. "No water issues and no triple-digit days yet, although we may get some this weekend."

He does not expect any starch damage that would be reflected in falling number tests.

"Up until the last few weeks or a month ago, we thought we would be delayed," said Blake Rowe, Oregon Wheat CEO.

A recent "skiff" of rain might have delayed some growers as they waited for their fields to dry. 

"I think we're probably very close to on schedule," Rowe said. "Maybe some areas will still be a week behind, but we're not that out of the ordinary here, I don't think."

He's heard reports that a few farmers have started harvesting. 

Stripe rust has been spotted in a few vulnerable spots, but nothing extensive. Yields could be average to above average, Rowe predicted.

"In a couple of weeks, I think we'll know how that prediction might be coming out," he said.

Oregon's total crop could be around 50 million bushels, or a little more, Rowe said.

In Washington, "harvest is just starting," said Glen Squires, CEO of the state's Grain Commission.

Harvest is a week or more late due to the late winter, he said.

Squires said sub-soil moisture is good.

Spring wheat this year is 89% headed , down from 95% headed last year.

USDA estimates the average yield in Washington will be 69 bushels per acre for winter wheat, slightly down from 76 bushels per acre last year.

"Of course, last year was the second-highest in history," Squires said. "So it's down from that."

The record yield, 78 bushels per acre, was in 2016.

"Things are just getting started," Squires said.

Wheat prices, which are trade-dependent, remain a concern. Soft white wheat, which is mainly grown for export in the Northwest, is $5.75 to $6.15 per bushel on the Portland market.

"Who knows if that's going to go up or down?" Squires said. "There's just a lot of wheat in the world, so there's not a lot of incentive for the price to go up, unless harvest in Russia comes in worse than they're anticipating."

"I don't think I heard anybody say they were afraid they were going to drop further, but I also didn't hear anybody pounding the table that they expected prices to shoot up," Rowe said. 

There's not much on the horizon to indicate any changes, he said. 

"I'd love to say a trade deal might drive prices up ... but I have no idea when we'll get something like that that might take some of the uncertainty out of the market," he said.

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