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Idaho set a record for average wheat yield in 2020

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Extremely favorable growing conditions resulted in Idaho wheat farmers setting a record for average yield per acre last year. 

According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average wheat yield in Idaho during 2020 was 96.7 bushels per acre. 

Teton farmer Dwight Little said weather conditions were near ideal in his area for wheat and barley. 

“We just had ideal growing and harvest conditions for grains this year,” he said. 

Little said in his area, grain farmers usually have to stop for two or three days at least twice during harvest season for a rain or wind event. That didn’t happen in 2020.

“We never did have a rain or other weather event that stopped the combines,” he said. “I can’t remember a better harvest season.”

Last year’s record average yield of 96.7 bushels per acre was up significantly from the average yield of 87.8 in 2019 and 5 percent more than the previous record of 91.9 bushels set in 2018.

“Genesee” Joe Anderson, who farms in North Idaho, said his winter wheat yields last year were about 20 percent above normal.

“It was an amazing growing season,” he said. “It was the growing season without stress. It never got too hot and the rain came just like we had irrigation. It was a really low-stress year for the crop.”

Wheat is grown in 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties and according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there are 2,584 wheat farms in the state.  

Wheat is Idaho’s No. 2 crop in terms of total farm-gate revenue and the state is known for producing a consistent supply of wheat almost every year due to the fact much of the wheat produced here is grown under irrigation. 

Idaho wheat farmers brought in an estimated $525 million in farm-cash receipts last year. 

Idaho farmers harvested 1.16 million acres of wheat in 2020, up 3 percent from 2019. 

“But with those record yields, the total production last year was up 14 percent above 2019,” said Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Casey Chumrau.

Idaho’s total wheat production in 2020 was 113 million bushels, compared with 99 million bushels in 2019. 

The record average yield set last year is for both irrigated and dryland fields combined and yields were much higher than that average number in some areas where wheat is grown under irrigation. 

Meridian farmer Neil Durrant, who farms with irrigation, said his wheat yields, which normally average about 150 bushels per acre, were up a good 10-15 bushels in 2020. 

“I heard a lot of guys were getting over 150 bushels an acre,” he said. “We were a little above 150 and we were hitting almost 170 bushels on a couple of fields.”

As in other areas of Idaho, growing conditions played a significant role in the higher yields in southwestern Idaho, Durrant said. 

“Yields were up significantly and I think the weather played a big role in that,” he said. 

With wheat prices on the uptick, Idaho farmers are expected to plant more wheat acres this year. 

According to NASS, Idaho farmers planted 740,000 acres of winter wheat for the 2021 season, up from 720,000 seeded acres for the 2020 season.

“We’re expecting spring wheat acres to be up as well, partially to take advantage of the higher prices we’ve been seeing on the futures market,” Chumrau said. 

She said hard red wheat futures prices are at their highest level since 2014 and export prices for soft white wheat out of Portland are at their highest level since 2015.