Optimism for winter wheat crop

Winter wheat shows a healthy green in fields on the west end of Waterville April 6. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

Spring is here and wheat farmers are getting ready to start working in the fields. This comes a little late this year. Despite an early snow melt in February, the weather has remained cool and most fields are still too muddy to work, or even get a truck in to get a good look at how the wheat made it through the winter.

Alan Loebsack, who farms fields north of Waterville, said that he’d been around to look at the wheat in all of his fields, but mostly he has been riding a three-wheeled vehicle to avoid getting stuck in the mud.

“A year ago we were already in the field doing stuff in March,” Loebsack said.

Nevertheless, what he has seen has been encouraging. The wheat seems pretty green and despite the small amount of snow pack this year, there seems to be a good amount of moisture in the ground.

“I’m feeling way better about my fields than I did last fall,” Loebsack said.

Some of the wheat leaves were burnt by cold weather that came after the snow melted, but they appear to be greening up okay as the season progresses.

Another encouraging thing about this year for Loebsack is that the price of wheat is up a little, with prices currently set at about $4.90 a bushel for August.

Loebsack said that he has forward contracted a small percentage of the 2018 crop as a hedge against the risk that the price will go down again.

Loebsack said that the first thing he will be doing in the fields this season is seeding some spring wheat.

One of the varieties he plans to seed is dark northern spring wheat, which is a high protein variety. The price is a bit higher than the soft white wheat, but input costs also tend to be higher.

“It’s going to be a new adventure for me,” Loebsack said.

In addition to wheat, he planted some peas last fall. Loebsack said that he is thinking about experimenting with a new variety of spring canola. The fields were too dry last fall to seed a winter crop of canola.

Doug Bromiley, who farms on the East Wenatchee side of Badger Mountain, said that from what he has seen the overall health of the crop across the county looks good. He has also been encouraged to see the price move up a little.

Bromiley believes the merger of five grain companies, including Central Washington Grain Growers, into HighLine Grain Growers Inc. will be positive for most growers.

His first tasks in the field will be to apply herbicide to both his stubble fields and to the winter wheat crop to control for broad leaf weeds. He said that he is not going to be growing any spring wheat this year, and he doesn’t have any alternate crops.

Bromiley added that as usual he will also pray for rain, for the price of gas to go down and the price of wheat to go up.