SPOKANE — It’s not a good sign when wheat farmers are able to get out in their fields roughly a month earlier than normal, several Washington Grain Commission board members say.
“Typically this time of year, we are still in winter and getting winter and spring moisture, which keeps us from getting into the field,” said Brit Ausman, who represents Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla counties on the commission. “The concern is, are we going to have the rains later in the spring to carry the crop to harvest?”
“It’s never good in my area when we’re in the field in March,” said Randy Suess, the Whitman County representative on the board.
Commissioners painted a worried picture of Washington’s wheat crop during their reports at the March 11 commission meeting. Most reported that the crop had been adversely impacted by the dry, cold weather.
As the weather warms up, the crop is showing more damage than it did in early January, Suess said, Some wheat appears to have stunted — not growing despite mid-60 degree days — due to freezing temperatures at night.
“Are we going to have a completely terrible year? It’s way too early to say that,” Suess said.
Timely rains in May and June could help turn the picture around, he and Ausman said.
The lower-rainfall areas had better moisture than high-rainfall areas, thanks to shifting weather patterns, Ausman said.
The unusually warm weather raises concerns about the possibility of late-season cold snaps, which could damage the plants.
“Plants have woke up from winter and they can’t go back into dormancy,” Ausman said.
Many growers are waiting before planting their spring wheat, Suess said. Some farmers are already re-seeding areas that were damaged, including entire fields in some locations.
A cold snap is a concern across the U.S., industry representative Ty Jessup said.
“With the prices not being real robust, (farmers) don’t want to make a sale and not have the commodity deliver,” he said.
“It’s a wait-and-see game, and we have a lot of spring left to go,” he said.