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Winter Wheat Thriving on Spring Rains

by Scott A. Yates, Washington State Staff Writer
Capital Press, May 27, 2005

SPOKANE -- Spring rainstorms have added inches of moisture to Eastern Washingtons winter wheat fields, leading to one of the best-looking crops in recent memory. Tell that to your drought.

Keith Bailey, manager of Odessa Union Warehouse, said timely and drenching rains during April and May have created the best conditions for the winter wheat crop since he began work at the cooperative seven years ago. There is such lush foliage, however, that if the rain turns off, the crop wont have enough moisture to support it.

At a recent meeting of the Washington Wheat Commission, other members also talked about the remarkable spring. Hal Johnson, who lives in Reardan, called the rainfall pattern a historic event.

It was quite remarkable to have a May rain like that. Its quite a significant event in that part of the country, he said.

The wheat crop has undergone a series of fortunate circumstances since it was planted last September. With moisture available at planting, the wheat got off to a good start. The winter, meanwhile, was mild and the ground remained unfrozen. For the most part, any precipitation that fell soaked into the soil instead of running off.

Then came the spring rains. In the past 52 days, 4.34 inches of rain has fallen around Spokane, double the average for the period.

Its making up for what happened this winter, isnt it? said John Fox with the U.S. Weather Service. We are 86 percent of normal for the water year, which started in October.

Lynn Blair, who represents Franklin and Benton counties on the wheat commission, said the rain was spotty in places with hits and misses. And in some locations, the rain was too late to help wheat that was already stunted.

John Burns, agronomist at Washington State University, said hes optimistic about the winter wheat crops potential, but he is not predicting any bin-buster.

What we need is to stay cool, no hot temperatures, sprinkles and showers from now on into June, he said, It wont be a bin-buster, but it is going to be a little above average.

Mother Nature still holds all the cards, and if the rain stops and temperatures spike, crops could easily move from the above average category to below. Thats partly due to the plants lazy root system, which has been developing off moisture near the surface, not mining it from below.

Hot temperatures could blow up a lot of wheat in a hurry, Burns said.

Scott A. Yates, Washington State Staff Writer
Winter Wheat Thriving on Spring Rains
Capital Press, May 27, 2005

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