After an “awful” year due to drought, Washington State University’s dryland research station is rebounding.
But station director Bill Schillinger said the drought isn’t over.
“We need a lot more rain,” he said. “We need predictions for a wet winter to come true.”
Despite recent rains, soil moisture has not caught up yet, Schillinger said.
How much rain or snow is needed?
“Above normal would be good,” Schillinger said.
Little early-season wheat was planted because of the drought.
Recent rains mean most wheat farmers have an established stand out in their fields, Schillinger said.
“It could be a lot worse,” he said. “There’s been years where we’re just now seeing wheat. ... I think everybody’s been very pleasantly surprised so far this crop year.”
In October, the station, in Lind, Wash., received 1.17 inches of precipitation, more than the October average of 0.87 inches.
So far, the average precipitation for the crop year is 1.81 inches, above its historic crop year average of 1.36 inches for September to October. The crop year begins Sept. 1.
“Crop year precipitation is above normal, which is very positive,” Schillinger said.
Precipitation is also above-average for November, Schillinger said. The station received an “incredible” 0.63 inch Nov. 18-19.
“It’s looking really good,” he said. “Are we out of a drought? No. This is an excellent first step for the crop year.”
In October, the average minimum temperature was 37.7 degrees, above the station’s historical average of 37.2 degrees for the month. Average maximum temperature in October was 62.7 degrees. The historical average in October is 63.5 degrees.
Farmers report more cheatgrass this year. That makes sense with the late-planted wheat and the weed emerging right along with it, Schillinger said.
Ordinarily, farmers plant wheat earlier so it can become established and compete with weeds.
Cheatgrass can stay dormant for more than five years, Schillinger said. It generally begins emerging in the fall when it begins to cool off, in wetter weather.
“That’s right when the farmers were planting wheat this year,” Schillinger said. “We’re even seeing it in fields that didn’t have a lot of cheatgrass before, but I’ve seen that before, too.”