Growers see grains of optimism

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press A grain field is irrigated July 3 near Declo, Idaho. Wheat and barley yields are expected to be up this year compared with 2009.

Wheat prices spike on global concerns as harvest nears


Capital Press

Idaho grain producers are preparing for harvest after a good growing season that has raised production estimates.

Both dryland and irrigated growers are anticipating a good-to-outstanding crop -- the result of a cool, wet spring. Winter wheat production in Idaho is projected at 64.4 million bushels, up 14 percent from last year, according to USDA estimates.

A recent rally in U.S. wheat futures has also raised the possibility of better than expected prices this year. The market has rallied sharply on crop concerns in other parts of the world.

The USDA's world supply and demand report released July 9 included lowered wheat production estimates for Russia, Kazakhstan, Canada, India and the European Union.

September spot wheat futures closed at $5.96 per bushel July 15 on the Chicago Board of Trade -- 37 cents higher than the day before.

"We're hopeful that it can stay in that $5 to $6 range," Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, said. "If it does, it would really help growers' bottom lines."

The weather has been kind to Idaho grain growers this year. Spring precipitation in most parts of the state was well above average.

The rain gauge at Bill Flory's dryland farm near Winchester has measured more than 15 inches of precipitation since April 1.

"Fall grain crops from Grangeville to Spokane will be anywhere from a little better than average to completely phenomenal," Flory said.

Some of the dryland winter wheat fields south of Lewiston look like irrigated fields, he said.

A few fields in the area could yield 140 bushels per acre, Flory predicted.

Spring wheat should also do well on the Palouse this year, Flory said. He's looking for yields in the range of 60 to 80 bushels.

Grain crops across the state got a slow start this year and harvest is expected to start a week or two later than normal. Flory, who normally starts cutting grain about the first of August, won't get started until at least Aug. 10, he said.

Southeastern Idaho hasn't gotten as much rain as North Idaho this year, but dryland crops in the area still look good, said IGPA President Scott Brown, who grows malt barley and wheat near Soda Springs.

"We had a lot of rain in the spring," Brown said. "If we could get another rain or so we would be in great shape."

Irrigated grain farms have also benefitted from the cooler-than-normal temperatures.

"We have had a pretty much ideal grain filling period here in Western Idaho," said Brad Brown, a University of Idaho Extension crop management specialist in Parma.

Grain crops in the state have also escaped widespread pest and disease problems this year.

"We do have some stripe rust that we don't normally have," Brown said. "But it's an infection that came in late and I don't think it's going to have much impact."

Statewide winter wheat yields are projected to be 87 bushels per acre based on July 1 crop conditions. That's an increase of 6 bushels per acre from 2009.

Barley yields are projected to be 95 bushels per acre, matching the record high for the state. But total barley production will be down this year, as growers planted 30,000 fewer acres.

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