Wheat acreage declines slightly in face of strong competition
By DAN WHEAT
GEORGE, Wash. -- As Columbia Basin farmers engage in spring planting, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service predicts more Washington dry beans, lentils and dry peas while corn acreage stays even and wheat declines.
Potatoes, not part of the NASS report, should be similar to last year on the fresh side while processed acres are unsettled because of a shortage of seed in some varieties, said Dave Long, CEO of United Fresh Potato Growers Cooperative of Washington and Oregon.
Doug and Rod Stetner, brothers and owners of Stetner Farms of Quincy, Wash., were a week into planting potatoes on April 10. They were grateful rain held off so their fields weren't too soft as they planted Umatilla, a processor variety, in a field east of George.
Potato planting started March 1 south of the Tri-Cities but not until mid-March in the northern part of the basin around George and Ephrata.
"There's a lot of Norkotah (the main fresh seed variety in the Basin). I hope it doesn't all get planted. We don't want oversupply," Long said.
Yields were low last year because of a cool, wet spring but could be higher this year and cause prices to decline, he said.
Washington's fresh potato prices are running $11 to $12 per 50-pound carton and have been steady since United Fresh began tracking acreage data four years ago, Long said.
Winter wheat planted last fall and spring wheat planted this spring will total 2.27 million acres, down 5 percent from 2011, according to a survey NASS conducted in the first two weeks of March.
Winter wheat is estimated at 1.7 million acres, which is 60,000 less than in 2011. Spring wheat planting has begun and will be about 570,000 acres, down 50,000.
The drop is due to lower prices as wheat faces strong competition from corn and other vegetables, said David Knopf, director of the Washington field office of NASS.
The average Washington price for spring wheat in March was $7.79 a bushel, down from $9.23 a year earlier, Knopf said. Winter wheat was $6.60 compared with $6.64.
"Last year, we saw a fairly large increase in spring wheat because the price situation was very favorable. It's a little less favorable this year," he said.
Washington field corn for 2012 is estimated at 195,000 acres, unchanged from 2011.
Dry beans, including garbanzos and chickpeas, are forecast for 110,000 acres, up 33,000. Large chickpeas are estimated at 60,000 acres compared with 48,000 in 2011. Small chickpeas are estimated at 18,000 acres, up 10,000.
Washington lentils are expected to total 75,000 acres, up 25 percent, while dry peas is forecast at 19,000 more acres than last year.
Chickpeas and lentil prices are up, Knopf said.
Hay acreage is forecast at 840,000, up 60,000 and oats is projected at 15,000 acres, up 5,000. Hay is up because of short supply and high prices, Knopf said.
Barley is up from 125,000 acres to 140,000 because flooding decreased North Dakota supplies, he said.