Valley farmers share in wheat quandary

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WALLA WALLA — As with wheat farmers elsewhere, local farmers are also worried about what the future holds for soft white wheat, one of their staple crops.

“What the uncertainty is, is what’s going to happen to the market,” said Perry Dozier, a Walla Walla County commissioner and wheat farmer.

Dozier said he is in the same situation as many other growers when it comes to trying to decide what to plant later this year. The decision will probably hinge on whether the market for soft white wheat “is getting beat up.”

One option is to switch to another wheat variety, such as hard red winter wheat or dark northern spring wheat. But those varieties require more fertilizer and other work to insure they meet the protein levels required by buyers.

Wheat farmers throughout the Pacific Northwest were thrown into a turmoil in May after a patch of genetically modified wheat was found growing in an Eastern Oregon wheat field. The location of the field had not been disclosed.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have said the wheat is the same strain as a genetically modified wheat legally tested by the Monsanto Corp. between 1998 and 2005 in 16 states, including Oregon. The strain was developed to make the wheat resistant to Roundup, the company’s own industry-leading weed killer.

The Oregon test fields were cleared in 2001. Investigators are still trying to determine how the altered crop made its way to the Oregon field.

Dozier said the wheat markets have rebounded slightly since the initial shock, but prices are still down.

“That’s my biggest concern,” he said, “can we get through this 2013 year without taking a huge hit?”

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