Cold, wind concern Washington wheat farmers

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press Reardan, Wash., wheat farmer Kurt Carstens stands on a winter wheat field the morning of Dec. 13. Carstens is hoping for snow cover to preserve moisture and improve plant health after recent cold weather and high winds. Washington wheat farmers won't know how their crop fared until the spring.

Spring seed stocks could be in short supply

By Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

REARDAN, Wash. — Wheat farmer Kurt Carstens knelt on the ground and pointed out black stripes on the tiny leaves of his soft white winter wheat caused by the recent cold and wind.

“It’s dehydrating the plant out and making it more vulnerable for diseases,” he said. “The wind is the worst thing. If we get a lot of wind now, it does more damage than just the cold.”

Carstens is hoping for at least 6 inches of snow cover to protect his crop.

“The biggest thing to me is we’re losing moisture,” Carstens said.

Carstens occasionally checks his fields, although there’s nothing he can do at the moment. “Just kind of looking to see if it’s a healthy plant — when it warms back up, if it stands back up, leaves unfurl and open up so they’re doing some photosynthesis,” he said.

Temperatures around the region have plunged below zero with wind chills even lower. Some areas had a little bit of a snow cover, but many didn’t.

The crop’s condition will become clearer when fields begin to green up or die, usually around March 1, said Dana Herron, a member of the Washington Grain Commission and owner of Tri-State Seed Co. in Connell, Wash..

If the affected area is large enough, 10-acre blocks or bigger, federal crop insurance would require Carstens to reseed, he said.

Herron said it would be financially impossible for a seed company to purchase and store seed stocks for a catastrophic winterkill event, although some larger cooperatives have a stash of 10,000 to 20,000 bushels for emergency use, he said.

“I’m not trying to light a fire, not trying to cause a panic,” Herron said. He doesn’t expect a winterkill event of the magnitude of winters in 1989 or 1991, but “there definitely will be a shortage of spring wheat stocks, no question in my mind.”

Ty Jessup, an industry representative on the commission, advises farmers to watch next year’s market just as they would in a normal winter, keeping their insurance values and average production in mind.

“It’s just something that bears watching,” he said. “Growers should continue to manage their risk for next year as they normally would, but it bears keeping in mind the potential for damage this year.”

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