KAHLOTUS, Wash. — Brian Cochrane is usually working in his wheat fields by mid-February.

This year, he doesn't expect to get a tractor into a field before April 1.

"We can't get in the fields yet, there are a few fields that are entirely snow-covered," said Cochrane, a Kahlotus, Wash., dryland wheat farmer and board member of the Washington Grain Commission.

"Everything is snow-covered," said Glen Squires, CEO of the commission. "Spring work is going to be later."

Many farmers are also anxious to see what kind of winter wheat crop is waiting for them under the snow, Squires said.

"Whether there's damage, winterkill or anything like that, I think it's too early to tell right now, for the most part," he said.

Cochrane estimates about 40% of the fields in his area are no longer snow-covered, but the  ground is still too muddy for equipment.

The delay could also mean a delay in harvest time, Cochrane said. If the weather heats up too early, before the wheat is mature, it could burn the crop up before flowering, he said.

"We really didn't have a hard freeze before the snow came down, so fortunately, I think a lot of the snowfall is going to get into the soil," he said. "The concern we have right now is if it gets hot too soon and it starts melting too fast, we'll have runoff."

Farmers in areas where planting is delayed  should expect lower yields, said Mike Pumphrey, spring wheat breeder at Washington State University. He said a general rule of thumb is a 1.0-1.5% lower yield for each day of delay.

Some lower and intermediate rainfall growing areas are already considered late, Pumphrey said.

Farther east, some growers aren't necessarily late yet, he said. 

Pumphrey recommends growers plant late-maturing spring wheat varieties first, and then plant earlier-maturing spring wheats.

What do farmers do in the meantime?

"Lots of shop work, lots of maintenance and then re-maintenance, redotting the 'I's' and crossing the 'T's,' getting ready to go when we can go," Cochrane said.

Cochrane's not sure yet how much the delay will cost his operation, if anything.

"I don't know whether we'll have an all-time bumper crop or no crop at all," he said. "It'll just depend on how hot it gets and how early it gets because our dormancy has been delayed."

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