So far, so good for area farmers

A farmer fertilizes his field Monday afternoon near Colton. Area farmers have started doing their spring work, with some having already completed their seeding.

Farmers in the region got a boost to a volatile grain market after China last week made a major purchase of wheat.

Chinese buyers bought 340,000 metric tons, or about 12.5 million bushels, of hard red winter wheat last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The purchase followed the first phase of a trade agreement between the United States and China and is the largest since China implemented retaliatory tariffs on U.S. wheat two years ago.

That’s good news to farmers who have been facing a shaky grain market, especially since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“It’s made for some very volatile markets,” said Sam White, chief operating officer for Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative, based at Genesee.

“When (this virus) first started coming about, nobody really knew what this was going to cause. So we saw the markets drop off. However, in this whole time frame, going back to China’s deal with the government, they said they would begin to buy wheat and corn, and they did that last week. That has markets turning around and going back up.”

White said there remains an element of uncertainty about future grain sales but, for the most part, farmers are going forward with spring and summer planting and fertilizing plans as in any other year. Most farming decisions for the season have already been made, White added, and the spread of the coronavirus has not changed much in the way of usual farming operations.

“Farmers are self-isolating in their tractors,” White said, with a bit of irony. “They’re out there getting the work done that they need to get done. It’s a little early but what’s normal is the question. They’re going to do what Mother Nature tells them. It’s a little drier than we’ve seen, but they’re putting seed in the ground and going strong.”

White said the business staff at the PNW office is practicing social distancing and people who can work at home are doing so. Several workers in the seed and processing plants, however, must remain on site.

“There’s product to move, so we still are at work just trying to be more conscious of it,” he said. “We’re trying to implement programs so farmers don’t have to get out of their truck and do whatever we can to be safe.”

Loren Morscheck of McGregor Chemical at Waha said most farmers in the Tammany area have finished with spring seeding and are looking ahead to fertilizing.

“The ground’s been working really well,” Morscheck said. “It’s dry on top but we’ve got good sub-moisture. Things are going well, we just have to remember it’s the middle of March, not the middle of April.”

Morscheck said spring work started a week or so earlier than usual, but last year it was the middle of April — later than usual — before farmers could begin seeding.

The coronavirus hasn’t seemed to have an effect on farming, he added.

“Farmers are anti-social creatures, anyway,” Morscheck said. “They’re all out busy doing their thing and they’re pretty spread out anyway.”

In other ag-related news:

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced last week it is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Idaho small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the coronavirus. The disaster loans apply to small businesses, private nonprofit organizations of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is seeking grant applications for the 2021 agricultural best management practices program. The program is designed to help landowners implement agricultural best management practices in high-priority watersheds throughout the state and help meet total maximum daily loads. This year, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $279,000 to support water quality improvement projects.

Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould issued a statement assuring Idahoans that vital services for Idaho agriculture and food production will remain uninterrupted during the COVID-19 emergency. The department has implemented measures to help account for the health of staff while still serving customers, Gould said. Most people working in agriculture do not have the ability to telecommute, she added.

Kathy Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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