SHEDD, Ore. &

Though most of Oregon's wheat is grown in Eastern Oregon, farmers in the Willamette Valley, enticed by sharp price increases, are bringing in their biggest harvest in years.




Willamette Valley growers planted about 120,000 acres of wheat this year compared with less than 28,000 last year, estimates Mike Flowers, a cereal grains specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.




"We're looking at roughly a fourfold increase," Flowers said. "There's a lot of wheat out there."




The prices are the obvious reason for the big harvest. Last year at this time, wheat was less than $4 a bushel. Last week, it was more than $8.




Drought in Australia and severe weather in Canada drove down world stockpiles at a time when some Midwestern fields were being converted to corn for ethanol production. Demand from developing countries also increased while the weakening dollar made American grain more attractive in many global markets.




About 85 percent of Oregon wheat is exported, with most of it going to Pacific Rim countries.




Grass seed remains a much more widely grown crop than wheat, but Willamette Valley farmers are in a good position to take advantage of the wheat price increase because of a moist climate that shortens the planting cycle and increases the yield.




Meanwhile, prices for annual and perennial ryegrass have been flat for the past two or three years, giving grass seed producers an added incentive to replace some fields with wheat.




"We've probably doubled the (wheat) production we've had in the past," Benton County farmer Larry Venell told the (Corvallis) Gazette-Times newspaper. "We've always used it as a rotation crop, but this year we've been able to bring it up to a frontline crop."




Though farmers are happy with wheat prices, the enthusiasm is tempered by skyrocketing prices for diesel fuel and petroleum-based fertilizers.




"The reality is the margin for a farmer is the same today with $8 wheat as it was (last year) with $3.87 wheat," said Tammy Dennee, director or the Oregon Wheat Growers League. "We've added a whole bunch of zeroes to the game."