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A bumper crop with a catch

By Staff | Sep 23, 2009

It’s been bittersweet for farmers across the state this wheat harvest.

Bushels-per acre have been at record levels, but below normal protein percentages has caused big discounts at the grain elevator, prompting farmers to choose to put the grain in the bin and wait for more favorable prices.

Carter Medalen, Farmers Union Oil Company agronomist, said that’s easier said than done, however, as farmers are running out of room to store their big crop.

“Some of the farmers I’ve visited with say this is the most brain bushels they’ve ever combined,’ Medalen said.

A good majority of farmers have wrapped up the small grains harves – a good month behind an average year.

The high bushel numbers even exceed 2004 which was another bumper crop year in the region. The cool season crops, including wheat, durum and canola benefitted from a growing season which featured temperature mostly in the 70s and just a handful of hot days that often can stress the crops.

However, it’s those lack of hot days that may have also caused low protein levels.

“You often hear farmers say that stress makes the protein,’ Medalen said.

Plenty of nitrogen was burned up producing those record bushels, but there wasn’t enough nitrogen left over to push protein up to the head.

Karlyle Erickson, Pierce County extension agent, said there is a few schools of thought as to why the protein levels are down. One of the reasons is the adequate moisture levels meant the roots didn’t have to go so deep in the soil to tap into nitrogens in the soil. Farmers may have cut back on applying nitrogen and that coupled with adequate moisture may have produced a denser crop, but not a much filled with nitrogen.

It’s the tradeoffs farmers in the north central regions of the state had to contend with this growing season.

And more and more have decided to hold off selling for a couple of months, a decision which has also been encouraged by the department of Agriculture and a handful of wheat organizations.

Tim McKay, manager at Rugby’s Farmers Union Elevator, early last week said about 20 percent of the spring wheat crop harvested has come into the elevator, and he acknowledged a number of farmers are holding on to their spring wheat as a result of the low protein levels.

“And that’s what they should be doing,’ McKay said, adding they should wait for more favorable market prices.

This week the elevator is gearing up to begin taking soybeans as the shift turns from small grains to row crops.

Row crop outlook

The string of mid-80 degrees for day-time weather coupled with warmer-than average overnight temps has been a much-needed boost for the crow crops, such as corn and sunflowers, that has lagged behind schedule due to a late planting and cool July and August weather.

Erickson said the warm temperatures and no early September frost to contend iwth has enabled the row crops, especially corn, to bounce back. “Every day we can avoid that frost is going to add bushels,’ he said.

Most of the grain corn planted in this area was the 80-day variety, and one more week average temps and with no frost, would enable the crop to get through the full dented stage. He added soybeans are right on the verge of being able to take a frost.

It will be a few more weeks before farmers get back into the fields to take off the row crops. In the meantime, they wait and hope the September warm up did help the crops get over the hump.

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