Wheat, barley yields down this year

Due to a host of weather conditions over the past year, wheat and barley yields are down across the commonwealth.

According to a report from the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service, this year’s crop yields are the lowest since 2010. Virginia farmers are expected to harvest 10.3 million bushels of winter wheat during 2016, which is down 26 percent from last year.

Likewise, barley producers in the state are projecting a harvest of 1.15 million bushels in 2016, down 4 percent from last year.

Wade Thomason, a professor and extension grain crop specialist with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, said the drop in yields is likely due to the warm fall and early winter of 2015, as well as March of 2016.

“What that meant for the crop was we grew more vegetative growth than we would like to see,” he said.

He said the warm weather and added growth likely caused the crop to grow prematurely, which leaves it susceptible to spring freeze injury. Given the two frost advisories of early April, Thomason said this confluence of bad weather could have caused the crop’s demise.

Adding to the ailing crop, the high frequency of rainy days in May exacerbated issues further because farmers could not make applications to the crop.

“A record number of rainy days in May promoted an enormous amount of disease pressure,” Thomason said. “We had more disease pressure in wheat than we’ve probably had in 20 years or so.”

While most grain producers stray toward the coast, the Shenandoah Valley does crank out some wheat and barley, and local farmers have been affected as well.

Glen Keller, owner of Keller Farms in Toms Brook is coming to terms with a lagging crop yield.

“Our yields were pretty low,” Keller said. “I’d say our yields are off 15 to 20 percent.”

However, it’s not all bad news for the crop. Thomason said vomitoxin levels are low this year, which is one less thing grain farmers have to worry about.

According to figures provided by the Virginia Cooperative Extension, wheat and barley are grown on more than 300,000 acres of land each winter and yields more than $150 million annually.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com