Farmers provide wheat outlook

Stripe infects a wheat leaf. (Provided photo/WSU Douglas County Extension)


By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

When North Central Washington dryland wheat farmers get together this spring they share stuck stories, or stories about others who they have seen stuck. With their characteristic humor, there is lots of laughter despite the inconvenience they experience getting tractors and other equipment out of the mud.

“All the fields are as wet as they’ve been in my memory,” said Owen Jorgensen who farms lands in the St. Andrews area and near Withrow. The field conditions are a combination of high precipitation last winter and this spring and a gradual snowmelt that kept water in the field.

Jorgensen said that he so far has escaped getting stuck by being very careful. He walks the fields first, and if they are too wet he stays off. He and his brother Keith and son Shiloh, who farm together, also have called in the crop duster a lot more than in most years.

During the spring, a key field chore is applying herbicides and fungicides to the emerging winter wheat crop. Jorgensen said they usually use the crop duster for 200 acres of land or less. This year they have hired one for about 1,000 acres.

He has also found that all of their operations are running late due to the weather and soil conditions.

Despite the inconvenience of not being able to get into the fields, Jorgensen wasn’t about to complain about the abundance of water this year.

“When you’re a dryland farmer, water is good. Thank the Lord we have water. That’s my attitude,” Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen added that the wheat is growing very well with all the moisture.

“Everything looks great,” Jorgensen said.

Doug Bromiley, who farms on Badger Mountain, agreed that the overall stand and outlook for the crop is good.

The biggest problem has been the infection of stripe rust due to wet conditions since last fall.

“It’s just the way the weather is,” Bromiley said.

Bromiley said the stripe rust is being addressed by applying fungicides, but a problem he does not know how to address is the low prices, which have been hovering below $4 a bushel for soft white wheat, and not much over $4 for club wheat.

However, like Jorgensen, Bromiley isn’t complaining.

“All and all I think the mood is pretty good among all the farmers,” he said. “You always hate to complain in this country about having too much water.” He added that though he won’t say the words “too much,” he does think that precipitation has been enough and is hoping for some drier weather.

Bromiley said that he is probably three to four weeks behind schedule in terms of his field work. He hasn’t resorted to aerial spraying, but is letting some fields wait until they dry out before moving his equipment onto them.

Dale Whaley, WSU extension educator, said that he has been busy this spring getting out into the fields and helping farmers to identify stripe rust. He added that the wet weather also sometimes pushes nutrients below the reach of the roots and that can cause nutritional deficiencies that can resemble stripe rust at a distance. Whaley said he is asking growers to provide tissue samples if they suspect nutrient deficiencies.

Whaley said that fungicide sprays don’t kill the stripe rust, but they stop it from spreading up to the flag leaf or final leaf. The health of the flag leaf is a key determining factor in the yield of the crop.