Small Grains Resources for Unprecedented Times with Aaron Esser


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For questions or comments, contact Aaron Esser via email at or cell phone at (509) 660-0566.

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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. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app and leave us a review so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Aaron Esser. Aaron is with WSU Extension in Lincoln and Adams Counties. He has been with WSU for 23 years. In conjunction with his traditional extension program, he has served as chair for the WSU Wilke Farm Management Committee for the last ten 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.

Drew Lyon: So every crop year is unique across the region and 2022 is no different. Can you talk a little bit about what you are seeing across the area and relationship to the 2022 crop and overall environment this spring.

Aaron Esser: Yeah. Thanks Drew. Just had a quick glance. I’ve seen in winter wheat across region that looks excellent but I’ve also seen some stuff that’s not going to get harvested. And then there are certain instances where it may not have even got planted from last fall too and it’s too dry to see this spring. But, you know, you mentioned that every year is unique and that is true every year unique. But 2022 is shaping up to I guess, we’re at WSU, so it might be appropriate to say 2022 saying “hold my beer”. And when I look at that, Drew, there’s really three things that come to mind: the risk; there is reward; and then the ultimate trump card is Mother Nature. And when I look at the risk you know, and we talk about the risks and rewards and Mother Nature, we’ve seen all these before. We’ve experienced them all before, but maybe not to the same extent. And the combination that we’re seeing in 2022. With the risk I’m talking about supply chain issues and the cost of doing business in 2022 is nothing like we’ve seen in the ag industry and the weed industry here in the Pacific Northwest. This will be I can’t imagine it’s not going to be the most expensive winter are the most expensive wheat crop that we’ve ever put in the ground. I know just at the Wilke farm I have $93 an acre just invested in fertilizer on one of the, on one of the farms or one of the fields with winter wheat. When I look at solution 32 at the farm in 2021 in the spring, just last year, I paid a dollar 79 a gallon for solution 32. Last fall I paid $2.62 a gallon. So it’s up 46% from fall vs. spring. When I look at what I don’t know what it’s going to be yet this spring I haven’t got those numbers, but my guess is it’s going to be well up over 140% of what it was last year. When I look at Roundup, you know, last spring I bought Roundup for about $19 a gallon. I just picked up a little shuttle of Roundup last week for the Wilke Farm, and it was $56 a gallon, and that’s about 190% increase from the previous year. And then we look at diesel, another number that’s kind of that’s been out there and kind of put some perspective to it. You know, last year I spent $2.42 a gallon. Granted, I don’t have big storage tanks and I just take my slip tank and pick it up at the, at the pump. And last year it was $2.42. This spring, my first sleep tank that I that we filled up was $4.64 a gallon. So I’m looking at an increase of 92% right there. So, you know, we’ve seen high fuel prices. We’ve seen Roundup up, our herbicides up, and we’ve seen fertilizer go up, but not all of the same, the same period in the same time. Now let’s talk about the rewards and that’s the commodity prices. Across the board, the levels where we’re levels that we rarely experience. 2021, I sold the soft white crop at the Wilke Farm and I ever $6.77 and you might be thinking, ooh I’ve heard of someone’s better. Well we did some forward contracting on that and brought the price down a little bit. Just a few weeks ago I forward contracted about 10% of my anticipated production this year and I have $9.33. So we are seeing an increase in the commodity price as well of about 38% right there. I’m anticipating canola is going to be upwards of 50% over what we saw maybe last year and then the legumes and stuff for at a very summer spot. So it’s not hard for farmers to find a product that has a strong market price on it. And we’ve seen prices go up and down and stuff. But you know, it’s very rare that we find wheat, canola, and legumes all up at once. Okay. Now let’s talk about the Mother Nature and when I go back and look at the years that were similar to over the last ten years to what we see right now, I’m looking at moisture from September or precipitation from September through March, where we’re kind of currently at our crop year. And we’ve recorded seven inches of precipitation so far. And when I go back and look over the last ten years, that’s the second driest year that we’ve recorded. We average 8.9 inches of precip. So we’re down about 23 or 21% in soil moisture from just that. Our driest year, by the way, was 2021 where that same period we’ve only recorded 6.8 inches moisture. Now looking at soil samples, what is that showing for moisture? I don’t have all my soil samples back yet, but the ones I do have back, we’re averaging eight inches of moisture, total moisture in the top 4 feet. Our nine year average is 9.1 inches moisture. So our soil moisture is down 12% over what we’ve experienced, You know what out average is, and our driest year that we ever had was over the last ten years, I guess, was in 2014, where we only had 5.6 inches of moisture in four feet. So we’re doing a lot better than in 2014. But both precipitation and soil moisture were the second driest years in over the last ten.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So with those numbers, what do you think it means for yields for the 2022 crop? Put on that prognostication cap so we can come back and tell you how wrong you are. But what do you see?

Aaron Esser: Um. You know I really hope I am on the wrong side of the ledger here, Drew. Years, you know, 2021 — years that were very similar to this, so far, at this stage was 2021, which was last year, and then 2013, and then 2014. Just looking at that precipitation from September through March. You know, when I go back and look at what we did for a winter wheat, we averaged over those three years we averaged at the farm 64 bushel an acre. Our ten year average is 73 bushel. So we know it was down about 12% over our ten year average. Spring wheat over those three years averaged 34 bushel an acre and over our ten year average we averaged about right at 40 bushel and acre. So we’re down about 13% on spring wheat. And then canola over those three years we averaged just right at 1,000 pounds an acre. And when you look at our ten year average, we averaged 1,133 pounds an acre, so we’re down about 9%. And those are numbers, you know, to help farmers put a perspective on what they’re doing with they’re management and making sure that they’re making management decisions accordingly and not let some of these, you know, you hear about the prices you hear about the cost of this and the price of this and everything else, but how to compartmentalize it, how to sort it out so you can make good financial decisions on your farm. I think it’s important to keep these things in perspective, very important when you start looking at the overall yields and what’s realistic out there.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So rather unprecedented circumstances this year looking at the cost of inputs, potential commodity prices, and weather. What are some of the things you’re doing at the WSU Wilke Farm this year that might be relevant for other farmers to think about?

Aaron Esser: The Small Grains website really does have a lot of tools on it and I’m really proud with the team we work that we’ve been working with and putting that website together and the amount of useful resources on it. And I think every grower out there can glean something that’s really going to help them through this time. When you look at one of the resources, the post-harvest nitrogen efficiency calculator that’s on there, what all farmers from last year should know their protein and when you know you’re yielding your protein, you put that in there, it’ll tell you how many pounds of nitrogen you hauled off of the field how many pounds of nitrogen you should have potentially in the field. You know, so with these high fertilizer prices, the return on managing that fertilizer is more important today than we’ve seen. And that’s one of those tools that can really help farmers manage it. The new spring wheat nitrogen fertilizer calculator that Isaac Madsen developed this year and and put on there, it’s a great tool for farmers to really get a handle on what to do for spring canola. I know we’ve seen a lot more spring canola acres across the PNW and when you look at that and then what the yield and that’s out there, it can really help you improve your overall fertilizer management. The wheat nitrogen application calculator that’s on there, another one, you know your realistic yields what you have in your soil and then what you should be applying for for the yields. There’s also the spring we calculator on there and that once again will help you give you some perspective of what you’re seeing with the soil moisture, precipitation and help you plan accordingly. You know out at Wilke, you know, we’ve had some of the things, and one of the biggest questions that we get that I’ve been getting is on burn down for spring seeding. Will 20 ounces of Round Up be enough? You know, and those type of questions really scare me. And I am going to say at Wilke we did go with our standard program of 32 ounces and yes, it cost over $14 an acre. A tough pill to swallow. But when I look at it long term what we’ve been doing on the farm and what our program is, you know, understanding what you can get away with and what you can’t based on what you’ve done in the past and what your plan is moving forward. And if you’re going to be reducing those Round Up rates, which may or may not be a good plan, make sure you’re taking every other detail and getting that correct. Are you using the best surfactant that you can put with that roundup? Are you spraying in ideal conditions? You know, and those factors, if you have really good conditions, a good surfactant and a low weed population, yeah, you may not need to go at 32 ounces. Maybe you can. We chose to go at 32 ounces at the farm because we really do have a lot of green out there, more than I anticipated. When I look at the what we’re doing with our winter wheat crop, we’re done spending money on it for the most part, especially on the fertilizer side. And we’re really lucky. We do have very low weed pressure within the crop and it’s not going to require a tremendous amount to keep that crop clean. Dark northern spring wheat, that’s what we’re put in the Wilke Farm and you might say, “Oh, you know why you’re raising dark northern spring wheat?” And you know, last year we got docked for protein so this year maybe I want to get paid for a little better protein. Plus we also need the Clearfield trait. So we are going with dark northern spring wheat. Just put in those numbers what we have for soil moisture and precipitation in that yield calculator, it says we’re going to have about 48 bushel an acre and historically that yield calculator at the farm has been it overestimates my yield over the long term by almost 30%. So we’re not quite going for 48 bushel but we have fertilize the crop are we’re going to be fertilizing for 44 bushel an acre. And so overall that with starter fertilizer and deep band we’re going to be putting on 28 pounds of nitrogen, 12 pounds of phosphorous and 4 pounds of sulfur and that should be more than enough to get upwards of 44 bushel an acre. Which when I look at historic those three years that are very similar to this, we’re even overshooting that. So it should be a little bit on the over-fertilized side. On spring canola we don’t really have a good yield predictor per se a tool out there, but history can tell us a lot. And you know the three years that were similar were a little over 1,000 pounds an acre. I fertilize — the spring canola crop, this year’s going to be fertilize for 1300 pounds an acre and we’re going to be playing 32 pounds of nitrogen, 12 pounds of phosphorous and 4 pounds of sulfur on that. And that’s understanding because what we have in the soil and then what we’re applying to get to those, what I’m thinking are probably more realistic yields.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Appreciate your outlook for the coming year and hearing what you’re doing it the Wilke Farm. You mentioned several calculators on the Small Grains website. Do you have any other additional resources that you think would be useful for farmers?

Aaron Esser: One of the other things that’s on the Small Grains website is we do have the Wilke production and economic reports on there and they go all the way back to 2013. And if you remember 2013 and 2014 were two years that I talked about that were very similar to what we are experiencing in 2021 and what 2022 is shaping up to be. So I think just going back and looking at what we did back then and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at it and maybe I guess hopefully not trying to make some of those same mistakes I felt we made back in 2013 and 2014 — very important. The Variety Testing app. You know when you start looking at do you need fungicides on wheat and this and that, understand and trust the numbers of what you have in the ground. If it has a very good stripe, rust resistance and good foot rot resistance, you probably don’t need, you’re not going to see a return on your investment with a fungicide, especially with the drier year that we’re having and where we’re at with the rust forecast. So understanding what you have there for numbers. Same thing on your spring varieties. Understand the numbers that you’re putting in the ground and what they’re bred to do and capitalize on that are very important. If you have issues in the field that you’re not sure what’s going on, we have at the Plant Diagnostics Clinic. Cassandra Bates is always willing to help and she’d be a great resource if you have issues that you’re not sure and to make sure you get them taken care of because the last thing you want is you may have an issue this year. You don’t want that same issue next year and maybe even on a larger scale, so understand what you have now so you don’t repeat into the future.

Drew Lyon: All right, Aaron. I always appreciate you coming on and telling us a little bit about what’s going on in Wilke Farm and what implications that may have for others. We’ll see how your prognostications go. It’s tough to outguess Mother Nature and all the other factors that seem to be affecting farming these days. But I do think it’s important for our growers to to be cautious out there this year. This is a very different year.

Aaron Esser: Yeah. Keeping things I maybe keeping it real and understanding where you’re at.

Drew Lyon: All right. Thanks, Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Thanks, Drew.

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Drew Lyon: 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 @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.

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