The latest U.S. winter outlook spells trouble for dry California and the Northern Rockies. The U.S. Agriculture Department forecasts that an early snowstorm in the Rockies this week will mean poor yields in some of California’s best wheat fields. And for California growers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says U.S. winter wheat is expected to be “very weak” and its yield “below average.”
That’s bad news for farmers who have been relying on wheat — and not barley — as their main crop. This winter, about one-third of all U.S. wheat harvest was cut down to make way for barley and other winter crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s winter outlook for the Northern Rockies and California is the latest indication of a tough winter for wheat growers. This year’s Northern Rockies outlook is the second worst since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. California winter wheat crop prospects are as bad as they have been in 15 years.
The winter outlook for California wheat growers is particularly bleak. Winter wheat planted in California was at its lowest level (40 percent planted, or 1.0 million acres) since 1968. And while California winter wheat is usually the second largest crop in the state behind barley, it has fallen to eighth this year.
California winter wheat is predicted to be lower than average this year and yield average in all three of the state’s major wheat producing regions: Kern, Santa Barbara and San Joaquin. There is also a chance of a new record low harvest this year in Kern County in northern California.
Kern County produced a record 1.09 million bushels of winter wheat in 1990. But in 1996, that harvest fell to 1.03 million bushels and last year was the state’s second lowest wheat harvest since 1968, producing 1.02 million bushels.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s winter outlook for Northern Rockies wheat growers is even bleaker, with wheat harvest potentially being the second lowest since the late 1970s. Wheat was planted more than a million acres this year at 48 percent or an estimated 1.32 million bushels, down from nearly 1.4 million in 1990.
The U.S. Department of