Safflower yields shine in spite of delays

Photo submitted by Cory Kress Rockland Valley dryland grower Cory Kress harvests a record safflower crop, planted between his wheat fields.

Grower reports harvest running two weeks late

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

Southern Idaho safflower growers are reporting record yields from this fall's crop.

Accustomed to yields of between 750 and 800 pounds per acre, Southern Idaho dryland growers have harvested between 1,000 and 1,100 pounds per acre, said Bill Meadows, a seed oil buyer based in American Falls.

"We had warm but not overly warm temperatures into the first week of August," said Meadows, owner of Mountain States Oilseeds. "From July into the first week of August, we had a rainy spell. That provided enough moisture to finish the crop. We were running about two weeks late in maturity, but August and September were warm."

The safflower harvest wrapped up near the end of October, with growers reaping roughly 30 million pounds of seed in the Idaho and Utah combined growing area. Idaho's major safflower territory stretches from the Utah border north to Idaho Falls.

Kyle Matthews, who farms on dryland in the Rockland Valley west of American Falls, reported yields of 1,300 to 1,400 pounds per acre. It was Matthews' third safflower harvest.

"The last three years we've had pretty decent yields. Last year it was down a little bit, but it's back up again this year," said Matthews, who planted about 1,000 acres of safflower this year.

Prices, around 20 cents a pound, have been a little higher, too, he said.

He uses safflower as a rotation crop with winter wheat and believes it helps control annual grasses, breaks up compacted soil and spreads moisture deeper in the ground.

"Sometimes it takes a little too much moisture out of the ground," Matthews said.

He also likes that he can plant safflower on a former wheat field without tilling.

Cory Kress, also a Rockland Valley dryland farmer, has planted safflower for a decade. He estimates he harvested 25 percent more safflower this year than any prior year. He, too, planted 1,000 acres of safflower.

"The wheat didn't do nearly as well as I thought it would do, but the safflower did better," Kress said, adding wheat harvest was still above average. "(Safflower) prices are as good as they've ever been as well. Between the yield and prices, I'll double my gross. ... Just like everything else, inputs were expensive this year."

Kress said new safflower seed varieties are coming out next year, including a type that can be used both for bird feed and cooking oil. He'll decide what to plant next spring.

Meadows said acres planted were also up this year, and the Idaho and Utah growers who sold to him represented the nation's second leading safflower production area, up from 15th in 2010.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service had no current data on safflower. NASS officials said they get most of their information from Meadows.

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