Wheat Harvest

A wheel line runs through a field of wheat in the Tyhee area. Harvest is going to start late this year because of the weather.

By John O’Connell

POCATELLO — Idaho’s fall wheat harvest is starting roughly seven to 10 days later than the five-year average, and early yields are down about 10 percent from last summer’s record volume, Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson estimated.

As of July 23, Jacobson said harvest was underway in the Lewiston, Glenns Ferry and southwest Boise areas. He estimated 3 million bushels had been harvested, with good overall quality, protein levels and test weights.

“We had a lot of cool, wet weather later in the spring that delayed both winter wheat and spring wheat,” Jacobson explained.

Jacobson said recent hot weather should help both the fall and spring crops make up for lost time in a hurry.

Jacobson said farmers aren’t seeing any issues with low falling numbers — which refers to a test to measure sprout damage. He said test numbers from the 2019 fall wheat crop have been coming at acceptable levels, above 300, and even pushing 400. Test weight — a quality indicator referring to the average weight of a cereal in pounds per bushel — have also been good, in the 60 range, he said.

Protein levels, which can hurt quality of soft white wheat if they run too high, have been in the ideal range of about 10 percent, Jacobson said.

“We’re fortunate not to have significant disease or weather problems at this point,” Jacobson said, adding he’s “keeping his fingers crossed” with the bulk of harvest remaining.

Frost, which occurred just before fall wheat plants flowered in many growing areas, posed the most significant setback for the 2019 crop. Jacobson said he’s heard comments from some growers that their heads are smaller, likely due to the frost. The full extent of the damage won’t be known until Eastern Idaho grain is in the combine, he said.

“In parts of Eastern Idaho, there are growers who have looked at their heads, and it’s not what it used to be,” Jacobson said. “I would guess in selected areas there are probably some growers who are going to feel that pain.”

American Falls grower Kamren Koompin agrees with Jacobson’s observations about the delayed harvest. Last year, his farm was harvesting fall wheat on July 20. He expects to start harvest this season on Aug. 1 or Aug. 2.

“Compared to what we’re used to in the last 10 year, it’s definitely late,” Koompin said.

Area dry-land farmers say they’re also behind in harvest this season. Cleston Godfrey, a Caribou County farmer who is an owner in the Soda Springs grain elevator, estimates growers in his region are one to two weeks behind. They usually start harvesting fall wheat during the final week of July, he said.

“We had a good spring. So far conditions have been good for growing grain,” Godfrey said.

He believes his area has avoided significant frost damage, though that won’t be clear until harvest, he said.