New tour in Virginia may help expand production of soft wheat

virginiaVirginia wheat growers’ crops will be highlighted during a mid-Atlantic tour June 10. Industry stakeholders have conducted wheat quality tours in the Midwest for decades, but mid-Atlantic soft wheat tours are still in their infancy.

“Some people are surprised at how much soft wheat is grown in Virginia,” said tour organizer Andrew Clements, a merchandiser with Gavilon Grain LLC in Kansas City. “This tour may help shed light on Virginia’s wheat industry and help expand production.”

On June 10 agronomists, granary operators, merchandisers, millers and traders will gather on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula and in Culpeper County to tour Virginia wheat farms. Virginia Cooperative Extension agents will lead the tours.

Participants will examine wheat fields, check for signs of disease, take sample test weights and estimate yields. Traders and mill representatives will use that data to determine the available wheat supply and its quality.

Wheat will be ready to harvest at the time of the tour, and “this will give us more information about the harvest and take some of the guesswork out of it,” explained Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain manager.

“The more information we have, the better,” Clements said. “Wheat is very finicky, and the mills that buy wheat have particular needs for milling-quality wheat.”

Harper said flour mills check wheat for quality factors like mold and test weight. With all the recent wet weather and cloudy conditions, it’s likely that crop quality will not be as good as farmers hoped.

“We had a good March, and by April 1 the wheat crop was ahead of schedule. Then a cold snap hit, and we went into a period of 20 cloudy days and excess rain,” Harper said. “That put the wheat under a whole lot of disease pressure.”

But, he explained, the quality of wheat is ever-changing, so he is hopeful.

The mid-Atlantic soft wheat tour started about five years ago in Pennsylvania when a wheat trader took a local grain elevator representative and a local crop broker to several wheat farms. Since then, the tour has grown to 32 industry leaders and covers Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. This year the tour has added another group in Pennsylvania and expanded to New Jersey and Virginia, Clements said.

Tours in the other states will be held on June 13 and 14, and results of all the tours will be compiled and presented at a June 14 event in Pennsylvania.

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