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Klamath Basin growers not joining gold rush on wheat crops
By DD Bixby, Herald and News 7/24/08

Almost all local wheat is grown on Klamath Project lands. A load of white wheat is dropped from a combine owned by Crawford Farms on a field outside of Tulelake in July 2007.

    While some of the country’s larger potato-producing areas are cutting back on production to catch up with today’s big grain cash crops, Klamath Basin growers likely won’t follow suit, said Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center Crops Agent Brian Charlton. 

   “We didn’t loose potato acres at the expense of grain,” he said. 

   Since 2004, Klamath Basin potato acreage declined about 15 percent, said Dan Chen, a Merrill potato grower. But that decline is because of a marketing technique used by the United Potato Growers, not because farmers are plowing fields under to grow wheat and other high-end grain crops. 

   The strategy is to match consumer demand and not glut the market, which deflated potato prices in the past. Charlton said this strategy seems to be paying off for the Basin producers, and the local potato market is pretty sound these days. 

   About 20 years ago, the Klamath Basin had 30,000 acres in potato production and 250 growers. Now growers number fewer than 100, and there are only about 16,000 acres of spuds on both sides of the border. 

   “I think we’re going to see our potato acres stay relatively stable,” Charlton said. 

   In 2007, potatoes brought in $16.5 million in gross sales and made up 6 percent of all agriculture commodities in Klamath County. 

  Wheat and hay 

   The Klamath Basin has a well-established hay market and with high sale prices, growers have relatively little incentive to plow under perennial hay crops for wheat and other annual grains, Charlton said. 

   The OSU Extension Economic Information Office reported alfalfa hay bringing in $43 million and other gross receipts for hay and silage were $18.9 million in 2007. All hays make up 20 percent of the county’s agriculture commodities. 

   In 2007, small grains, which include wheat and barley, made up 3 percent of all agricultural sales at $7.5 million. 

   In March, agronomist Rich Roseburg estimated that wheat made up the majority, between two-thirds or three-fourths, of small grain production in the Basin. 

   Almost all wheat is grown on the Klamath Project lands, Roseburg said. 

   On the Oregon side, between 6,000 and 10,000 acres of wheat are grown, while the California side raises about 16,000 acres of the crop.

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