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2017 Wheat crop: Good quality, lower yields

Boise—The combines across the state are heading for the barn.

Idaho’s 2017 wheat harvest is finishing up on the last dry-land farms in Caribou, Bannock and Bingham counties.

“Southwest Idaho is 100-percent in,” said Blaine Jacobson of the Idaho Wheat Commission. 

“Statewide we’re better than 95-percent in. Theres some harvesting on the dry farms in Eastern Idaho. The farms outside of Soda Springs are just finishing up winter wheat and starting spring wheat. Farms in Bingham, Bannock and Bonneville counties still have spring wheat out. Up north around Grangeville, there’s a few still harvesting,” added Jacobson.

The first hard white wheat was harvested in Canyon County Aug. 1, thats the earliest harvest date Jacobson remembers in all his years at the Commission.

“It’s been hot and it ripened up the crop. Once the crop started to grow we didn't have the wild swings or excessive moisture at harvest. Those are the primary factors of falling numbers, so there will be no falling numbers this year in Idaho,” said Jacobson.

Jacobson says there is no evidence of falling number in the state. 

“All the numbers are high 300’s even in the low 400’s. I haven’t heard of anywhere in the state with falling number, I think we’re all relieved with no reports of falling number,” said Jacobson.

Falling number is a test that measures starch damage in wheat that reduces the quality of baked goods and noodles. Idaho farmers were caught off guard last year when nearly 44-percent of soft white wheat samples and 42-percent of club wheat samples tested below 300, the industry standard. The Wheat Commission says Idaho farmers lost more than $30 million in lower prices last year.

Eric Hasselstrom farms just over 2-thousand acres of wheat, barley and garbanzo beans outside of Winchester. He got his wheat crop in last week.

“Our fields in Nezperce averaged about 75-95 bushels to the acre, At our Craigmont fields we did just 65 bushels. Last year I had 140 per acre bushels but that’s not normal. So production is off and thankfully the quality is very good and the test weights are heavy,” said Hasselstrom.

The lower Palouse had a very wet, long winter, just two weeks of spring and then summer hit. Hasselstrom said the rain turned off like a faucet and the bushel count shows it.

“There’s a lot of 30-40 bushel wheat around here and thats tough. Thankfully I have crops up here in a lot of different places both in the hills and down in the prairie,” said Hasselstrom.

Statewide early numbers show that quality and yields are excellent on all the winter wheat. 

“The spring crop was so late, it went in late and it didn't get enough moisture before we got the hot temperatures. The heat stressed the crop and our spring harvest is not going to be what it is normally. Thats where the lower yields are coming in this year so far on the spring wheat,” said Jacobson.

The real factor for the Idaho’s 2017 crop according to Jacobson is the protein content of wheat. Some producers are getting protein bonuses.

“We got the desirable low protein on our soft white wheat, but our hard red winter is also low-protein, and that’s not so desirable,” he said. Overall, protein levels are good across the wheat classes, and yields are down a little from last year, Jacobson said. Quality is good.

But Hasselstrom says in his part of the state with lower yields it is going to be tight.

“It’s been a tough one this year with the hard winter and hot summer and a flat market, it’s not going to be a fun fall when its time to do our year end  refinancing,” said Hasselstrom.

According to the Idaho Wheat commission, average test weights are coming in at 61 to 62 pounds per bushel statewide. 

“We don't have an overall yield average yet. We were told by elevators in southern Idaho that yields are at the five year average. This is both winter and spring wheat, we thought they’d be less. But in Northern Idaho and Southwest Idaho the overall yields are down just 10 percent from the 5-year average. Everything is off from the bumper year, but there are farmers out there that are still having bumper crops, but as an average we are not close to matching up to last year,” said Jacobson.

Hasselstrom says he’s not thrilled with market prices and if prices hold at these levels theres little room for profit right now.

Soft white wheat prices range from $4.96 to $5.27 per bushel at Portland. Hard red winter wheat is $4.50 to $4.80 per bushel. Dark northern spring wheat is $7.50 to $9.06 per bushel, depending on the protein content.

Jacobson says prices are under valued and things could change dramatically on the world market and especially when the Midwest wheat comes in.

“I think there’ll be upward pressure on prices as traders evaluate the crop and get a better handle on inventory. I don't know if theres as much inventory out there as being reported. The Canadian harvest is running behind schedule, they were having problems in the Dakotas with drought and they might have a smaller crop. And  Australia has had drought problems so I think these factors will affect the market place,” said Jacobson.

If one thing is consistent statewide, Jacobson says Idaho has quality wheat.

“Overall, the crop is terrific this year.  Other than the issues with spring wheat this is a quality year, and  overall its probably one of our better crops,” said Jacobson.