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Wheat Planting Level Lowest in 30 Years

by Scott A. Yates
Capital Press, April 5, 2002

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Richard Nixon was president the last time American farmers planted so little wheat.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates 41 million acres of winter wheat and 15.6 million acres of spring wheat, or a little more than 59 million acres total. That's the lowest acreage since 1972.

Most of the drop from 2001 is in spring-wheat sowings, off 543,000 acres. Washington state contributed its portion to the decline. Farmers here are expected to plant 620,000 acres of spring wheat or 20,000 acres less than a year ago.

Doug Hasslen, state statistician for the Washington Agricultural Statistics Service, said acreage for most major crops in the state declined or held steady, except for hay and field corn.

"The water situation appears to be better this year, but there are other factors, such as low crop prices and high costs for fuel, fertilizers and chemicals that are weighing heavily on farm plans," Hasslen said.

Tom Mick, chief executive officer of the Washington Wheat Commission, was surprised by the crop report. He anticipated spring wheat acres would be up.

Winter wheat was already down 50,000 acres. That, combined with the spring acreage reduction and a 30,000 decline in barley acres means 100,000 fewer acres in small grains.

"I have no idea where it went," Mick said.

Others believe the decline in spring acreage is the result of last year's poor crop, hit hard by lack of moisture. As a result, it's believed some farmers are letting land sit idle as they work into a different rotational cycle.

Oregon and Idaho maintained the same spring wheat acreage as in 2001. Idaho, however, dropped it's winter wheat acreage 30,000 acres to 730,000 acres. Oregon actually increased its winter wheat to 800,000 acres from 750,000 acres a year ago.

All three states, however, decreased their barley acreage. In addition to Washington's 30,000-acre decline, Oregon and Idaho farmers are expected to decrease their acreage by 10,000 acres each. Total Northwest barley acreage is pegged at 1.32 million acres, compared with 1.34 million acres a year ago.

Barley acreage is expected to rise nationally, however. The Wheat Yearbook Summary published by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said spring wheat acreage is facing competition from barley because of tight malting barley supplies in the United States and Canada.

Wheat stocks, meanwhile, are expected to drop 343 million bushels from a year ago to 2.9 billion bushels. total use is projected to be down 90 million bushels as exports drop to their lowest level in 30 years.

Total use, however will exceed production by 175 million bushels over 2000/01. As a result, season average farm prices are projected to strengthen to between $2.75 and $2.85 a bushel, up from $2.62 a year earlier.

The wheat report indicated increase in winter wheat acreage in the Northern Hemisphere are large enough that global wheat production will increase in 2002/03 unless yields drop dramatically.

In Washington, the 72.2 million bushels of wheat stored in all positions on March 1 was 13 percent lower than a year earlier. In the Northwest, wheat stocks totaled 132.2 million bushels, 9 percent lower than last year. Nationally, wheat stocks held in all positions fell 10 percent from a year earlier, at 1.21 billion bushels.

Scott A. Yates, Capital Press Staff Writer
Wheat Planting Level Lowest in 30 Years
Capital Press, April 5, 2002

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