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Promising Wheat Crop Falls Short

by Scott Yates
Capital Press, August 11, 2006

Farmers blame heat, cold, dry and wet for spotty results

Close, but no cigar. That could wind up being the epithet for the 2006 Oregon and Washington wheat crop, which, even in locations where it exceeded the average, never exceeded expectations.

There are exceptions. Kevin Whitehall, manager of Central Washington Grain Growers, said farmers in Lincoln and Grant counties fared well.

"It's a darn good crop," he said. "I've heard several farmers say this is the best crop they have ever had," in the vicinity of 80 to 90 bushels an acre.

But even in CWGG's draw, there is another side to the story. Douglas County, where the cooperative is based, is shaping up to have a so-so year.

"It is fair. It is OK, but we aren't seeing the yields we had earlier hoped for," Whitehall said.

There are a number of suspects to explain why the crop didn't live up to expectations, including heat, cold and seeding date. Around Douglas County, there is another one - snow, which lingered on the winter wheat this spring a little too long.

In another part of the region, near Rufus in Sherman County, Ore., farmer Don Coates said he believes his crop's downfall was the result of poor seeding conditions last fall. Farmers who were able to get their seed in the ground early profited handsomely in terms of yield. He was not one of them.

As a result, he felt the lash of lower-than-average yields. The president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League said he's off his average by 10 percent.

Jerry Snyder, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, rated the harvest at average to a little above. He was optimistic about better yields this year, but now wonders whether he ignored the writing on the wall.

What with last fall's extremely dry conditions making it difficult to get stands established and then the hot weather in May, "I think we are fortunate to have what we have."

Mary Corp, Oregon State University Extension agent for cereal crops, based in Pendleton, said at best the wheat harvest in her area could be considered average, with exceptions on either end.

"Some of the heat got to us in the end. And we had a slow start last fall, so we didn't have the tiller count to catch up," she said.

Even irrigated wheat growers were surprised by the crop's performance. Damon Filan, manager of Tri Cities Grain, said yields were off 20 to 30 bushels an acre.

"The stands were good. They looked like they were cutting 130-bushel straw, but the heads didn't fill out. It surprised everybody," he said, suggesting a trifecta of reasons for the lower-than-expected yield: cold spring, hot May and some disease pressure.

John Burns, agronomist at Washington State University, said he's not so sure the explanation is that simple. He said 2006 will go down as one of his career's most puzzling wheat crops.

"I'm just like everybody else, trying to figure out what happened. This is one of the most difficult years I've had trying to explain the crop," he said.

He agreed with all the obvious reasons for the crop's performance, but suggested there's something else.

"You just don't know what's happening under the ground," he said.

Scott Yates is based in Spokane.
Promising Wheat Crop Falls Short
Capital Press, August 11, 2006

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