Managing in Today’s Markets with Aaron Esser

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Wilke Farm

Contact information:
Aaron Esser, Regional Extension Agronomist, Lincoln-Adams Extension,

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Episode transcription:


Drew Lyon: Hello, welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production.

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My guest today is Aaron Esser. Aaron is with WSU Extension in Lincoln and Adams Counties. He has been with WSU for 26 years. In conjunction with his traditional extension program, he has served as Chair for the WSU Wilke Farm Management Committee for the last 12 years. The WSU Wilke Research and Extension Farm is a 340-acre facility on the eastern edge of Davenport, Washington, in the intermediate rainfall zone.

Hello, Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Hello, Drew. Thank you.

Drew Lyon: So, you kind of suggested a title of managing in today’s markets for today’s podcast. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about today’s markets and why you want to discuss that.

Aaron Esser: Yeah, initially I really wanted to just talk about some of the highlights and stuff we had to Wilke Farm like I’ve done in the past, but here recently there’s been some changes, some pretty striking changes since March rolled around. And a lot of that comes down to the market price and where we sit today.

Just as a quick summary with the WSU Wilke Farm, you know, I really have a strong incentive to figure out a way to make money on the acreage that we have. We receive zero funding from WSU to help support the farm. The Washington Grain Commission, we actually pay the same amount as what any grower pays for the Grain Commission and stuff. And on varieties we also pay the royalties just like any farmer does, so I’m always sensitive to those types of things. And even on that farm, we have to take care of that as well.

With that being said, you know, we’ve seen the price of wheat decreasing.  I think today in Davenport, Washington, it’s sitting at $4.61. And if that holds towards when we go to sell, that will be one of the lowest prices, the third lowest price we’ve seen in the last ten years. It’s 21% below my ten-year average up there and 45% over the high watermark we’ve seen over the last ten years that I sold grain for.

So, I think the only year that’s shaping up as lower, hopefully lower, is 2016-2017. So, at that being said, you know, it kind of changes the strategy that we’re looking at.

Farmers always talk about gambling on a daily basis and a lot of ways that is correct given the limited control they have on the weather and input cost and markets.

But I didn’t say no control. They have limited control. They still have some control. And that comes down to crop choices and things like that. And that’s kind of why I titled this Markets and Management. You know, I stress growers that need to have a plan and a good plan is always long term, but it’s also flexible and it has to change as new information is collected and gathered.

And be careful when you start looking at cost with these market prices and stuff where, you know, farmers’ main tendency is to start cutting cost. But if you start–if those costs lead to a loss of production, you know, it can compound the mistakes or that low price. So be careful there.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, the direction of the market isn’t good, at least the wheat market, maybe other crops as well. What does that mean for things like crop choice here as we go into the spring and other input costs, such as fertilization and weed control and the like?

Aaron Esser: Well, I’ve seen a lot of canola the last few years across the Inland Northwest here and when you start looking at the canola price, it will probably be the lowest canola price I’ve seen in the last three or four years, but it still is above the ten-year average for what we’ve been selling canola for up there. So, it’s down, but maybe not down to the same extent as wheat.

Earlier I talked briefly about, you know, decision and decision making–and these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. And when you look at fertilizer and crop choice–what you did last year is tied to what you’re doing this year, which is tied to what happens next year–and a lot of that like fertilizer and the carryover and understanding what you have in the soil.

When I talk about fertilizer, I talk about a term: “If you don’t monitor it, you can’t manage it.” And there are really two very, I think, useful tools on the Small Grains website under the Soil and Water Resource tab. One of them is the Wheat Nitrogen Application Calculator and then the second one is the Post-harvest Nitrogen Use Efficiency Calculator.

And some of the ways you can use these–when I look at cropping decisions that we have going on at Wilke, you know, we have ten fields, they’re about 30 acres in size–those could easily be 300 acres in size or whatever to scale. But I have ten fields that we manage and two of them are going to be in fallow this year. Four of them are already seeded to winter wheat. So that leaves four fields that we have decisions to make on this spring.

The first one is field five. And when I go back and look at that, using that Post-harvest Nitrogen Use Efficiency Calculator from last year, it shows that that field is going to have between 156 lbs of nitrogen to upwards of 188 lbs of nitrogen. So, when I look at that nitrogen that we have in the field and where prices are at, I’m start leaning toward–and it has to be into a spring cereal—so that leaves me soft white, Dark Northern Spring wheat, or barley.

I’m leaning with that amount of residual nitrogen to put in Dark Northern Spring wheat on that field. Not only is that selling for $1.72 better than soft white today, but it’ll also be able to capitalize on that residual nitrogen. So that’s using the information that happened last year to make decisions that are impacting this year.

Field six, it’s supposed to be a broadleaf crop. So, we have choices between canola, we can put peas in there, chickpeas, mustard, or something else—a broadleaf crop. I’m leaning towards Liberty Link canola because I like the cleanliness of it for the weed control. We have about 125 to 150 lbs of nitrogen, so I already have enough nitrogen for 1400 lbs of canola, so my costs will be down on that. I have good weed control. And then that field is going to be going into winter wheat this fall more than likely, so I don’t mind packing a little bit of nitrogen for that winter wheat crop I have.

The field five that I was previously talking about, you know, that field is going to be going into fallow. I don’t want to have nitrogen sitting in my summer fallow. It just makes it more difficult to control weeds if they have a lot of fallow and food there. So, I want that to be low. The field six I want to have some residual nitrogen coming into it.

So, when I talk about making these decisions, it’s not in a vacuum. It’s really what happened last year, what’s happening this year, and how you can capitalize and what’s going to take place next year.

Drew Lyon: Okay. You talked a little bit about crop choice and fertilization, but Dr. Chen just recently released his updated stripe rust update and his forecast is in the range of severe epidemic with 40 to 60% yield loss and the most susceptible varieties. I know you have some ongoing studies looking at fungicide applications on winter wheat at Wilke. Could you share a quick update on that?

Aaron Esser: Yeah, this is another one, Drew. You know, the main takeaway from the research I’ve been doing is understanding what you have planted on your farm for varieties and don’t make that broadcast and treat all those varieties the same. For instance, on your farm, if you have a variety called LCS Blackjack, it has excellent stripe rust resistance as well as excellent strawbreaker foot rot. Some of the best that’s out there for foot rot. You know, that’s a variety to try to get a response out for fungicide is going to be extremely difficult. And if you’re looking at putting a fungicide on with this forecast, it would be a good one to put maybe a generic on at best and minimize the amount of expense.

However, I know there’s some fields of VI Voodoo out there; I’ve seen a lot of them this early spring, late winter. It has marginal resistance to stripe rust and it only scores a number of six out of ten for foot rot. Now, if you have those two varieties, they need to be treated a little bit differently. You know, with Voodoo, it’ll respond a lot better to the fungicide application.

We have been looking at these trials since 2020, so four years, five site locations. We use water, we use a fungicide called Quilt Xcel, and we use a product called Pixie Dust. And over the last four years, five site locations, the water has averaged 83 bushel an acre, Quilt Xcel has averaged 83 bushel an acre, and Pixie Dust has averaged 84 bushel an acre.

Absolutely no significant difference, no signs of plant health or anything else related to this. And we’re using the varieties–it’s important–Resilience Clearfield+, very good stripe rust, very good foot rot. And then Piranha, which is not quite as strong in either category as Resilience. So, understanding what you have planted, I think, and the forecast really helps.

In 2023, we looked at a second fungicide, same active ingredients as Quilt Xcel, just a different formulation, and it too–we had very similar results. No significant difference. When you’re looking at the p values–I know it doesn’t mean much to farmers, but we’re looking at 0.91, not 0.09, but 0.9, so highly not significant.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Growers can go to the Small Grains website and find the ratings for their wheat varieties they have planted and the lower the number, the better the resistance?

Aaron Esser: Yes. The lower the number, the better the resistance. And they have little footnotes on the bottom of those tables. And you can find those numbers on the Variety Selection app that Clark Neely has put together. It’s on the Small Grains website under a couple different places. It’s pretty easy to get a hold of those numbers.

Drew Lyon: All right. So, the big point there is know what you have out there.

Aaron Esser: Understanding what you have. Yes. And manage accordingly.

Drew Lyon: And that goes for fungicide as well as, as you mentioned, how much fertilization or fertility you have in your soil going into the crop.

Aaron Esser: Yes, and we could talk even about weed control if you wanted to add that in too, but not today, Drew.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So, earlier you talked about the key highlights at the WSU Wilke farm. I was wondering if you wanted to take a few minutes to talk about one or two of these findings.

Aaron Esser: I think the cool thing about the Wilke farm, if you haven’t been there, it’s just the amount of researchers that we have involved up there and the different amount of projects. And I think one of the things that sets that facility apart from many others within the WSU system is its amount of small-plot research, medium-scale research, and the whole farm itself is broken into a large experiment long-term looking at crop rotation and stuff.

So, I think those are some of the things that really set it apart. The cool new experiment that we have is our cow chow study, but I don’t have anything really to report on cow chow today.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And I know you do have this WSU Wilke Farm Management Committee. So, you have you have growers and others giving you input on the things that they’re–from the region—on things they’re interested in and concerned about. And I know you I know you try to address those in what you do at the Wilke farm.

Aaron Esser: Yes. Yeah.

Drew Lyon: All right, Aaron, appreciate you coming in and talking a little bit about the markets. I think it is a little bit different than we’ve had the last few years, so it’s an important thing for people to consider, and sharing a little bit about what’s going on at the Wilke farm.

Aaron Esser: Appreciate it, Drew. Thank you.


Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. If you have questions or topics you’d like to hear on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon — that’s — ( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter [X] @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.