N. Idaho farmers are waiting on the weather

N. Idaho farmers are waiting on the weather

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April showers may bring May flowers, but the soggy ground has also put a damper on farm plowers.

“We’re a little delayed with spring planting this season — sort of like last spring,” said University of Idaho Nez Perce County Extension agent Doug Finkelnburg.

“There are a lot of folks that would like to be out and doing spring work. We have a few more weeks before we start complicating the situation. Ultimately we’ll run into crop insurance deadlines (around the middle of May) and people will have to decide if they want to plant if they can’t insure it.”

Finkelnburg said the slower start to spring work affects not only planting but also spraying, fertilizing and cultivating that are being held off because the ground is too wet to get into the fields.

Some of those earlier downpours have left behind puddles — and worse — in some farm ground.

“There’s some evidence of erosion in the typical places … but I haven’t seen any major washout-style erosion in the area,” Finkelnburg said. “Winter crops — other than some limited erosion, I’m not aware of any issues with crops coming out of the winter and from what I’ve seen driving around, it looks like a decent crop so far.

“But a lot of things can happen between here and harvest.”

One of those variables is grain prices, which, so far, aren’t much more promising than a year ago.

According to the U.S. Wheat Associates price report, wheat futures prices fell last week after news of expected favorable growing conditions and large harvests in some of the world’s top wheat-exporting regions, including Russia.

Marketing is also complicated by the U.S. failure to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which affects trade relations with Japan and other Pacific Rim customers.

U.S. Wheat Associates said negotiations between the U.S. and Japan are continuing and “for U.S. agriculture the concern is that the U.S. trade deficit with Japan seems poised to increase due to the disadvantage of being outside the Trans Pacific Partnership. This month, in fact, Japan lowered its trade barriers further to imported agricultural products from many of the world’s major suppliers, but not the United States. Consequently, U.S. products, including wheat, are more expensive for Japanese importers.”

Tariffs in some of the countries that have been major buyers of Pacific Northwest garbanzo beans, peas and lentils have contributed to sorry prices for those commodities, as well as fewer acres expected to be planted this spring.

Tim McGreevy, chief executive office for the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council at Moscow, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts a 38 percent drop nationwide in the number of acres planted to chickpeas this year — down from 839,000 acres last year to 519,000 acres this year. In Washington there is an expected 32 percent decrease in chickpea acres, from 189,000 acres last year to 110,000 acres this year.

Idaho’s drop from 133,000 acres of chickpeas last year to 84,000 this year is about a 23 percent difference, McGreevy said.

The story is similar for lentils and peas, he added, although Washington and Idaho are showing a slight increase in acres planted to those crops this year.

“Chickpeas have been particularly hard hit,” McGreevy said. “They faced the Indian tariffs and it was their biggest market and those tariffs have persisted.”

In addition, because of a record number of chickpea and lentil acres planted in the past there has been some carryover stock that has kept prices low.

Chickpeas have dropped from about 40 cents per 100 pounds last year to 21 cents per 100 pounds this year.

“Lentils we’re seeing in the Pacific Northwest have stayed about the same pricing,” he said. “Prices are not fantastic, but there’s nothing that’s fantastic right now.”

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