Grain outlook is good

Published 8:00 am Saturday, June 10, 2023

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Peaceful plots of waving grains are ground zero for intensive research and development that keeps Virginia farmers competitive.

Stakeholders took the opportunity to see it for themselves at the recent 2023 Virginia Small Grains Field Day at the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Richmond County. The event was presented by AREC faculty, staff of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the small grains breeding and genetics program in Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

Dozens of seed reps, researchers, growers and grain marketers toured research plots across the AREC’s 215 acres of cropland. Plot trials at experiment stations help evaluate the newest small grain varieties, fertilizers and crop protectants, said Josey Moore, Virginia Farm Bureau grain marketing specialist.

“This AREC tests out a lot of products for people in small experimental plots,” she said. “And we like to come see what’s doing well in this climate and soil.”

The event also was sponsored by the Virginia Grain Producers Association.

Nicholas Santantonio leads the Virginia Tech small grains breeding program research team. During the field day, he discussed wheat and barley variety development.

A collection of dense genetic data helped his team identify and enhance desirable traits in small grain varieties, resulting in increased yield, quality and disease resistance. While about 8 million bushels of wheat are expected to be harvested in Virginia this year, mildew and leaf rust have been somewhat troublesome statewide.

However, there’s a renewed interest in barley since the craft beer industry has boomed, driving a demand for malt, Santantonio added. In recent history, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota produced 90% of U.S. malt barley.

“But they’ve had a problem lately, with more frequent drought in the summer,” he explained. “In 2021 it was so bad, companies were buying malt from other countries like Argentina, which wasn’t very high quality. Malt production in the eastern U.S. could serve as a buffer in these circumstances. Our winter barley doesn’t run into that drought problem so often.”

Internationally, the war in Ukraine and wavering currency relationships have markets out of whack, said Robert Harper, VFBF grain marketing manager.

“That will impact what a bushel of wheat is worth at a flour mill in Virginia, Maryland or North Carolina,” he said.

But the crop outlook is good at home.

“In Virginia, our wheat crop is a marathon,” Harper continued. “You start in October and finish in June. Input costs like protectants or fertilizer were at an all-time high last year. They’ve come down, and we’re thankful. It sets the table perfectly to grow milling wheat.”