Wheat tour showed promising harvest, potential for expanded market

farm-droughtA tour of Virginia’s wheat fields revealed some pleasant surprises as growers began this year’s soft wheat harvest.

Held June 10 in some of the state’s northern and eastern counties, the inaugural Virginia wheat quality tour was an opportunity for agronomists, granary operators, merchandisers, millers and traders to assess crop quality first hand. Participants compiled sample test weights and yield estimates and checked wheat for signs of disease.

Robert Harper, grain manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, was among tour participants who examined wheat on farms in Caroline and Hanover counties and on the Northern Neck. Generally speaking, he said, they found “wheat that, considering the circumstances of the growing season, looked really good. There was less disease pressure than we thought we would find.”

March was unseasonably warm, Harper noted, which promoted early growth. An unseasonably cool April and wet, cloudy May created conditions that can foster freeze, mold and other problems in wheat.

“It was nice to have agronomists, grain buyers and producers together at the same time to assess the crop,” Harper said, adding that growers “were interested that people were taking notice” of Virginia wheat.

Mid-Atlantic wheat quality tours began about five years ago in Pennsylvania and have since expanded into Maryland and Delaware. This year was the first time industry stakeholders also examined wheat in Virginia and New Jersey.

Harper said organizers already are interested in visiting farms in more Virginia counties in 2017.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced June 13 that Virginia farmers expect to harvest 11.7 million bushels of winter wheat this year. Farmers seeded 240,000 acres last fall, with 185,000 acres to be harvested for grain.

Winter wheat production nationwide was forecast at 1.51 billion bushels, up 10 percent from 2015. The expected area to be harvested for grain or seed totals 29.8 million acres.

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