Good protein levels, higher prices mark 2007 Western Desert Durum crop

As combines rolled across the Desert Durum wheat fields in California's Imperial Valley and in Arizona during May and June, harvesting the crop referred to as the “Gem of the Southwest” generated worthy findings.

Early predictions included three-ton per acre average yields with 13 percent to 16 percent protein on a 12 percent moisture basis, said University of California (UC) agronomy advisor Rick Bottoms in Imperial County, who also serves as the UC Desert Research & Extension Center director in El Centro, Calif.

Cooler nighttime temperatures than normal helped create favorable conditions leading to increased yield. Reduced plant respiration at night is a positive, he said.

“USDA grading shows 95 percent of Imperial County wheat samples graded U.S. number one with dockage very low,” Bottoms noted.

California Wheat Commission Executive Director Bonnie Fernandez said, “Desert Durum farmers keep telling me the yield is normal.” No major pest or disease pressures, as expected, have been found in the desert.”

For Desert Durum grown in Arizona, Arizona Grain President Eric Wilkey in Casa Grande painted a similar picture.

“Test weights are very good this year and will be up a full pound per bushel with moisture at 6 to 7 percent as expected,” Wilkey said. “The crop looks clean. There wasn't a lot of rain during the crop period to bring on weeds.”

“We have good Desert Durum prices this year,” Fernandez said. “We haven't had such good prices in about 10 years. The industry deserves to have some good prices — we've earned it. I can't tell you what will happen next year, but the outlook is positive for the next year or two.”

“A grower can probably expect to get $9 to $9.25 per hundredweight delivered to a grain facility in the Imperial Valley. In Arizona, grain is sold at planting time,” Wilkey said.

California's Durum wheat is forecast at 257,000 tons, up 33 percent from 2006, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service's California Field Office in Sacramento. About 90,000 acres are expected for harvest, 38 percent above the 2006 acreage. NASS predicts 2.85 tons per acre yields, 4 percent below 2006.

Fernandez said all wheat plantings would cover 608,000 acres in California in 2007, or 17 percent higher than 2006. Some 3,000 California farmers grow wheat.

About 15 percent of California's 2007 wheat ground is Durum, 88,000 acres, compared to 64,000 acres in 2006. The 2007 Durum acreage includes 52,000 acres of Desert Durum in the desert areas of Southern California, and 36,000 acres of Durum in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV).

According to results from the 2007 California Wheat Variety Survey, Kronos and Orita remain the top Desert Durum varieties in the Imperial Valley. Other major varieties include Havasu and Desert King. In the San Joaquin Valley, Platinum is No. 1 for the second year in a row followed by the introductory variety RSI 64.

Arizona's 2007 Durum wheat crop is forecast at 240,000 tons, up 8 percent from 2006, according to NASS' Arizona Field Office in Phoenix. Area for harvest is estimated at 80,000 acres, yielding an average of 6,000 pounds per acre, the same as 2006.

Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council (AGRPC) Executive Director Allan Simons said about half of Arizona's 80,000 Desert Durum acres is grown in Yuma County, about 15,000 acres each in Maricopa and Pinal counties, plus 3,000 to 5,000 acres smattered each in La Paz, Pima, and Cochise counties.

Kronos is the most widely grown Desert Durum variety grown in Arizona over the last decade, Simons said. Other current varieties grown include Ocotillo, Orita, Alamo, Sky, Duraking, Crown, and Havasu.

While most Desert Durum wheat is sold to Italy, some is sold in North Africa and the Caribbean.

Desert Durum is a trademark name in the U.S. and Mexico owned by the AGRPC and the California Wheat Commission — only Durum wheat produced in the desert areas of Arizona and California qualifies as Desert Durum.

In general, Desert Durum's grain moisture content is usually less than eight percent. Kernels average 50 grams or more per 1,000 kernels, and are highly uniform in size and over 90 percent are classified as large.

Desert Durum has few broken, shrunken, or diseased kernels. The large uniform kernel size yields unsurpassed percentages of semolina, the coarsely ground prime endosperm of Durum wheat.

Semolina is used to make high quality pasta, and couscous, a North African and Latin American dish quickly gaining a foothold in the U.S. diet.

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