Wheat harvest runs behind normal

Cold, wet weather has pushed harvest back about two weeks.

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The welcome sun melts into the horizon Thursday evening as wheat moves slowly toward maturity. A cooler, cloudier growing season has left harvest behind schedule and fields of ripening wheat yearning for hot, sunny days.

WALLA WALLA - Cold weather makes some things hard to start and the 2011 wheat harvest is no exception.

Cool temperatures, along with wet spring weather, has pushed back harvest locally and regionally, but the extra rain may boost yields in some areas.

In Walla Walla County, "we're about two weeks behind right now," said Dave Gordon, general manager for Northwest Grain Growers. Only about six growers along the Touchet River are currently cutting wheat right now, he said.

Another local farmer, Curtis Coombs, summed conditions up in two sentences. "It's just too green. It's super late right now," he said.

Another unknown in this year's harvest will be how much damage fungus stripe rust has caused. The damp spring weather caused a severe infestation throughout the wheat-growing areas, forcing some farmers to apply double or even triple the amount of fungicide to their fields.

The fungus stunts the development of wheat grains, which significantly reduces yields. But how much is yet to be seen.

"I don't think we're going to know that until we harvest the crop," Gordon said Friday.

In Umatilla County, the wheat harvest usually begins July 5, but weather has delayed that an extra 10 days, according to The Associated Press. But on the plus side, the extra rain has doubled this year's harvest in some areas.

According to the weekly crop report issued by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2 percent of Oregon's winter wheat had been cut as of July 18 and only 1 percent of Washington state's harvest.

"The winter wheat harvest continues to slowly advance as it is moving into some of that late developing wheat in the north," U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey told AgInfo.Net. "The national harvest passed the two-thirds mark in the last week to reach 68 percent. Five-year average ... (is) 72 percent. Last year (it was) 70 percent."

In the Pacific Northwest, 84 percent of Washington's spring wheat has started to ripen compared to the five-year average of 98 percent. Idaho's spring wheat is only a point behind average at 80 percent headed, the agriculture service reported.

In the U.S. spring wheat crop, Rippey said cool, wet weather for much of the growing season has held the heading progress to 60 percent by July 17. The five-year average is 88 percent and last year it was 84 percent. The spring wheat condition was reported as "reasonably good," though. Seventy-three percent was rated as good to excellent and 5 percent very poor to poor.

According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, acreage of winter wheat for harvest this year in Washington state is expected to reach 1.8 million acres, 50,000 acres more than last year.

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