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New wheat offers hope to farmers in dry years

January 2, 1997

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) _ A new variety of hybrid wheat is making mouths water in the arid Mid-Columbia Basin with its promise of good yields in dry years _ something area wheat farmers know all about.

``It matures early and has the ability to fill out (kernels) early. On a dry year, it will really shine, and more years than not, we’re short of moisture,″ said Dana Herron of the Connell Grain Growers.

The new hybrid wheat can tolerate greater extremes in moisture and heat than regular certified varietal wheat, said Leo Haas, director of marketing for HybriTech Seed International.

HybriTech has introduced nine varieties of hybrid hard red winter wheat on a limited basis. About 1,000 acres of it have been planted in the Horse Heaven Hills and near Connell.

The new wheat now is covered with snow, but by harvest time next summer it should show substantial yield increases, especially from the marginal dryland fields of the Mid-Columbia Basin, HybriTech says.

The company has focused o hard red wheat, the type grown in the driest locations in the Northwest. Next fall, HybriTech expects to begin limited marketing of soft white winter wheat.

Soft white is used for noodles, while hard red goes to bread.

Although the agricultural industry has been trying to introduce hybrid wheat for years, only HybriTech has been able to overcome a major obstacle.

Wheat is self-pollinating, meaning it has both male and female functions in one plant. To produce a hybrid, the male portion of one variety must be in contact with the female portion of another variety, as geneticists seek to coax out the best of both varieties.

But HybriTech invented a process to get rid of one gender in the wheat plant, allowing scientists to create a hybrid.

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ALBANY, Ga. (AP) _ Cotton, corn and soybean crops fared well in 1996, while tobacco farmers enjoyed a banner year. But things weren’t as prosperous for cattle farmers and vegetable and fruit growers around Georgia.

``It was odd. Some people had fantastic peanuts and horrible cotton, and vice versa,″ said Jerry Usry, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Producers Association.

In southwest Georgia, the corn crop was bountiful, but drought conditions damaged much of the crop in southeast Georgia where there’s not much irrigation, said Dougherty County corn grower Bob Brooks.

``We had the best we ever had,″ Brooks said. ``But as the year grew to a close, along about November, the prices started to drop.″

Some farmers whose extra cotton acres did not yield the crop they expected in 1995 shifted more acres to corn in 1996. Overall, prices topped out at more than $5 per bushel, up from $3.50 in 1995.

For the most part, 1996 was a good money year for Georgia farmers overall.

Georgia soybean growers got a boost from a new farm bill giving them more flexibility, said grower James Lee Adams of Mitchell County.

Soybean yields averaged about 26 bushels per acre in 1996. Yields have ranged during the past two decades from a low of 14 bushels per acre in 1990 to a high of 29 bushels per acre in 1992.

Cotton farmers planted fewer crops this year but reported their best harvest in 76 years.

Cattle farmers were hurt by high grain prices and increased cattle numbers nationwide. Cold weather made it rough for vegetable and fruit growers, especially peach farmers, many of whom suffered a near-total loss.

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