Freeze nipped wheat in region but major damage not seen

Soft white wheat is transferred from combine to a bank-out truck.

Soft white wheat is transferred from combine to a bank-out truck. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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WALLA WALLA — Although Eastern Washington had its share of harsh weather in December, the winter wheat crop appears to have escaped major damage.

“Farmers were concerned after we got the cold snap in early December with temperatures into the single digits with wind and no snow cover,” said Scott Yates with the Washington Grain Commission.

“By and large, I think the state dodged the bullet,” he said, although some locations had winter kill.

In Walla Walla County, some producers were reseeding winter wheat crops that had failed, but overall crops “looked good and spring planting was underway,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last week. The news from Columbia County was similar, with winter wheat beginning to green up in the fields.

Yates said the Ukraine situation and Russia’s annexing the Crimea had an impact on the market because Ukraine is such a big wheat exporter. “That helped support prices, but that information has been factored into the market now. The winter kill in the Great Plains is another one of the items that is now being factored into the price,” he said.

The lack of subsoil moisture is a problem in the Pacific Northwest as well in the Midwest. “But if timely rains show up, as they often do, the situation is not nearly so dire,” Yates said.

“Bottom line? The Horse Heaven Hills had particular difficulty, but we’re still evaluating the winter wheat crop overall. While it’s not likely to be a bin buster, the crop can still make average. I’m cautiously optimistic. It looks like the ‘experts’ who predicted a falling wheat price will have to revise their figures.”

According to the USDA, Washington farmers planted slightly less winter wheat this year than last. About 1.65 million acres were planted for 2014, a 2 percent decrease from 2013.

The majority of wheat grown in the state is soft white wheat, used for pastries, crackers, cookies, cereals, flatbreads and cakes. The hard red winter wheat grown in the area from Texas to North Dakota is used for yeast breads, hard rolls and bagels.

Soft white wheat accounts for nearly 75 percent of wheat production in the state and more than 46 percent of all soft white wheat produced in the United States comes from Washington.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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