Wheat, barley production down 33%, lowest since 2010

RICHMOND—A cold, wet spring had a chilling effect on Virginia’s wheat and barley crops.

“The wheat yield is the lowest since 2010, when yield was estimated at 51 bushels per acre,” said Herman Ellison, state statistician for the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On Oct. 3 Ellison cited results of the NASS Small Grains Production Survey conducted in September.

Virginia’s wheat crop is planted in the fall and harvested in early summer.

The commonwealth’s farmers harvested 9.28 million bushels of wheat this past summer. That represents a 4 percent decrease from an August forecast and a 33 percent decrease from 2015. Yield is estimated at 53 bushels per acre, down 13 bushels from 2015.

One non-weather-related reason for the drop is that farmers seeded 50,000 fewer acres of wheat last fall than they did in 2014.

The decision to plant less wheat “is a function of price,” explained Robert Harper, grain manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Farmers closely follow market prices and are keenly aware of their production costs. A drop in wheat prices is an incentive to focus on other commodities.

Harper said the majority of farmers with whom he works “are reducing their wheat acres by half or by a third” for their 2017 crop.

The wheat they do plant, he said, is likely to be on their most-productive land, and “they would rather reduce their acreage than put the acres (of wheat) out there and cut corners” in producing it. Many took a similar action in the fall of 2015.

Harper said a small percentage of wheat growers are opting to plant no wheat to sell next year, though “the grand majority” of those will plant some anyway this fall as a cover crop.

“So when you ride around, you’re still going to see small grain acreage in Virginia.” 

Barley production for Virginia is estimated at 804,000 bushels, down 33 percent from 2015. Average yield per acre is 67 bushels, down 8 bushels from last year. Producers seeded 33,000 acres in 2016, which is 13,000 less than in 2015. The harvested area, at 12,000 acres, is also down.

“Due to freeze damage some Virginia barley growers abandoned fields this year,” Ellison said. “The average barley yield is estimated the same as 2010.”

Media: Contact Ellison at 804-771-2493, Harper at 804-290-1105 or Elaine Lidholm, VDACS communications director, at 804-786-7686.

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