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Winter wheat drought impact may be minimal

BICKLETON - A wet August on the Horse Heaven Hills set the roots for some well established winter wheat, but on the flatlands of the Yakima Valley winter wheat hasn't been so fortunate.

Now with the drought forecast a certainty, the planted winter wheat may face a struggle.

And some farmers who normally plant spring wheat may choose to forgo the expense and headache. The cost of fertilizer coupled with a lack of water will likely make growing spring wheat too expensive, say experts.

According to the Washington Ag Statistical Services, more than 1.9 millions acres of winter wheat were planted last fall for harvest in 2005, of which about 120,000 acres was planted in the central region of the state in Benton, Klickitat, Kittitas and Yakima counties. While much of the state's wheat is planted on dry land, there is a sizable acreage planted on irrigated land, said John W. Burns, a Washington State University extension agronomist.

Burns, who recently toured the Bickleton winter wheat fields, said that 2005 crop is looking good, so far.

"It wintered well, thanks to a wet fall. At this point the winter wheat crop is looking good," Burns said.

However, the situation for spring wheat may not look so rosy, he admitted.

Unless farmers can front load the water to the seeds and get a good root system going before June, planting spring wheat may be a waste of time, Burns said.

"We're hoping for the best," he said.

"But without spring water and a normal precipitation, the spring wheat outlook doesn't look good," he said.

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