NASS: Winter wheat production down this year

Dan Wheat/Capital Press file A combine harvests wheat last year near LaMoine, Wash., in this file photo. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service predicts the overall production of winter wheat will be down this year compared to 2013.

Jeff Shawver is expecting lower winter wheat yields this year, as a lack of precipitation has dried out his fields north of the Tri-Cities.

Shawver, of Connell, Wash., estimated one of his fields will yield 25 to 30 bushels per acre. The field normally yields up to 40 bushels per acre, depending on location, he said. Another field to the south will yield only about 10 bushels per acre, he said.

He had to reseed his crop last fall, and that part of the state never received much rain after that.

“This is a pretty sad year,” he said. “Luckily, there’s crop insurance.”

Shawver is not alone. Winter wheat production across the U.S. will decrease 10 percent this year compared to 2013, according to a recent USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast. That’s in spite of a slight increase in acreage.

In the Pacific Northwest, all three states are expecting lower winter wheat production this year compared to 2013, NASS predicts.

“It’s dry everywhere,” said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission. “We’re looking for a little rain.”

In Washington, by far the region’s largest wheat producer, yields could actually wind up a little lower than the NASS forecast of 68 bushels per acre, Squires said, but the overall wheat crop, including spring wheat, could ultimately prove to be about the same size as last year’s.

Washington’s winter wheat production is forecast to decrease by 4 percent. Acreage planted to winter wheat dropped by 3.1 percent, from 1.66 million acres last year to 1.61 million this year.

“The winter wheat is down a little bit, but they have higher spring wheat acres,” Squires said. “Blend that together and it looks like right now we’re targeting a 144 million bushel crop, essentially the same as last year.”

Oregon’s winter wheat production is forecast to decrease 13 percent. Acreage decreased by 7.3 percent, from 780,000 acres last year to 725,000 acres this year.

Oregon Wheat CEO Blake Rowe said there was a reduction in wheat acres in the Willamette Valley. He suspects they have moved to grass seed production.

“The reports we have are the crop is looking like it’s going to be below average,” Rowe said, citing low moisture levels. NASS predicts Oregon’s yield will be 58 bushels per acre.

In Idaho, winter wheat production is forecast to be down 9 percent from last year. Acreage planted to winter wheat dropped from 720,000 acres last year to 660,000 acres this year, an 8.7 percent decrease.

The decrease can be attributed to lower wheat prices compared with those of other commodities, Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission, said.

When one commodity’s price decreases, farmers will often switch and plant another one they hope will bring a better return. The price of U.S. No. 1 soft white wheat was $7.11 a bushel at Portland on June 11. That’s down more than $1 a bushel from early last year.

“Wheat and sugar beets are down, and most of the rest of the crops are up,” Jacobson said. “We know corn’s up, we know barley’s up, we know alfalfa’s up, we know beans are up.”

Jacobson said Idaho’s crop received sufficient moisture in northern Idaho, and sufficient irrigation water in eastern and southern Idaho. The projected yields of 85 bushels per acre are above average, he said.

In Washington, Shawver said triticale will offset his wheat losses. The relatively new crop, a cross between wheat and rye, does well in dry conditions.  He’s also looking into planting more hard red wheat. Shawver planted 2,300 acres total, 1,000 of which are triticale and the rest wheat.

He’ll probably break even with crop insurance on the 10-bushel-an-acre wheat. He said he will fare better with the other wheat acres at the current price.

“All in all, I should be fine this year,” Shawver said. “It’s just that 10-bushel wheat is real tough.”

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