Wheat harvest is underway in the West, and Roy Motter, of Brawley Farms, Brawley, Calif., predicts yields of about 3.5 tons per acre from his 900 acres of irrigated desert durum wheat in the Imperial Valley.

“The wheat looks nice right now,” Motter said, just one day before launching his harvest in mid-May.

The quality of Imperial Valley-grown wheat is always reliable, Motter says. He predicts the average protein level of his crop at 12.5 percent to 13 percent; the common percentage in the Valley.

Motter planted his 2009 wheat at a 150 pound-per-acre seeding rate. The first water was applied in late November. The wheat was unscathed by record hot temperatures topping 100 degrees in early April. The crop had surpassed the important heading stage.

From 3.5 to 4 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River is applied through seven irrigations.

Motter’s 2009 wheat contracts are with El Toro Export and Barkley Seed.

Steve Wright, University of California Cooperative Extension agronomy farm advisor in Tulare and Kings counties, expects a 5 percent to 10 percent wheat yield reduction in low-lying areas of the San Joaquin Valley.

Four nights of freezing temperatures down to as low as 24 degrees in mid-March resulted in blank heads. Another yield-decline culprit this year on the West Side of the Valley is ongoing water shortages.

“Many growers were hit by a hot spell in late April when temperatures reached into the upper 90s,” Wright said. “If the wheat wasn’t well watered, the plants took a hit. Some fields started to mature early due to the water stress.”

Many small-grain fields were cut early for silage due to the lack of water, Wright says. The final irrigation on small grains grown for silage typically is applied from late April to early May. Some fields were cut in early April due to the water shortage.

“A lot of dryland wheat is a disaster this year; the rain just quit too soon,” Wright said. “There will be some wheat grain harvested, but much of it will be used for grazing or cut for hay or silage.”

The Central Valley wheat crop is relatively disease-free. Wheat stripe rust did not cause significant damage, Wright says.

Equal amounts of wheat are generally grown for grain and silage for dairies in the San Joaquin Valley. Wheat for grain could increase to 60 percent this year, Wright says. In Tulare County about two-thirds of the wheat crop is typically chopped for silage. This year that amount could fall to 50 percent. The reduced silage use is due to lower prices, $22 per ton average this year compared to $30 the past two years.

Milk prices are so low some dairymen did not spend money on wheat herbicides.

“We’re seeing fields with more weeds, some poisonous including fiddleneck,” Wright said.

Third-generation farmer Kole Upton, Sr., F. M. Upton & Sons, Chowchilla, Calif., is growing 1,400 acres of irrigated PR 1404 hard red winter seed wheat variety on irrigation in Merced and Madera counties for Lockwood Seed and Grain, Chowchilla.

“I think the wheat crop looks pretty good,” Upton said. “We got a good start including some rains.” He expects yields in the 2.85 to 3 ton per acre range.

Upton also grows corn, almonds, oats, and cotton. Additional acreage is leased for tomato and lettuce production.

“Wheat is an attractive rotation crop since it grows during the winter,” Upton said. “We could not put all of our ground into summer crops because there’s not enough water.”

Upton and Motter are directors on the California Wheat Commission.

Fieldman Geoff Schulz of Penny Newman Grain, Fresno, surveyed wheat fields between Kettleman City and Corcoran in Kings County in mid-May.

“Yields should be strong for growers who had enough irrigation water,” Schulz said.

In Arizona’s Yuma County, durum wheat grower David Sharp expects slightly lower yields tied to rain-delayed planting last fall that reduced plant tillering.

Sharp and his brother, Clyde, are partners in Lyreedale Farms in Roll. In most years the farm’s wheat yields average 3.75 to 4 tons per acre depending on the soils and location.

The Sharps contracted their 2009 production through Barkley Seed.

“We missed the price run-up last year in wheat,” David Sharp said. “We were fortunate to get early contracts this year that were comparable to the peak of last season.”

email: cblake@farmpress.com