August 25, 2008
Oregon farmers in the Willamette Valley are big on wheat for 2008.
Responding to strong grain prices, acreage is expected to be up four-fold over 2007,
"It's amazing to drive down I-5 (through the center of the Willamette) and see the number of fields that have been planted to wheat," says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba.
About a million acres of wheat have been planted throughout Oregon, more than an 850,000 increase over 2007 levels. Planting has increased east of the Cascades, but the most notable boost is in the Willamette. About 120,000 acres are in production throughout the valley, up from 30,000 in 2007, says Oregon State University Extension Cereals Specialist Mike Flowers.
"Many Willamette Valley growers are taking advantage of high prices to work in a rotational crop with grass seed," Flowers observes. "It's a good time to plant wheat. In past years, wheat didn't bring back enough money to provide an incentive for grass seed growers. The cash flow now makes wheat an excellent choice as a rotational crop."
Not only is the acreage leap impressive; the yields look encouraging as well. He predicts about 100 bushels per acre or more for the Willamette. The dry side of the mountains will not be as fortunate. East state producers could actually experience a below-average wheat yield dropping down into the 30 bushel range for some, he feels.
The wheat market situation is stirred by last year's world crop shortage, which triggered the planting surge. As 2008 began, wheat supply globally had fallen to a 30-year low, resulting in part from Australia's drought. That fired up U.S. wheat prices to a $16 per bushel high earlier this year, bounding far beyond the $3 mark farmers were getting prior.
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