Thomas G. Chastain
There’s no question that grass seed acreage has been down in recent years while wheat acreage in the Willamette Valley has been on the rise. The often asked question is whether the acreage levels of these crops are unprecedented. Historical trends in grass seed crop acreage in the Willamette Valley over the years have been essentially a mirror image of wheat acreage (Fig 1 – click to enlarge). From the mid 1970s through the early 1980s, both crops occupied about 250,000 acres and together accounted for about 1/2 million acres in the valley.
After the early 1980s, grass seed acreage grew while wheat acreage dropped – market conditions favored the rise of grass seed crops and decline of wheat in the valley over the next two plus decades. Grass seed crop acreage is sensitive to general economic conditions and is reduced by recessions in the economy (marked by gray bars). When wheat prices are favorable for economic production during periods of low grass seed prices, there is a replacement of grass seed acreage by wheat.
Even with the recent large increases in acreage, current levels of wheat acreage in the Willamette Valley are low from a long-term perspective but are certainly narrowing the gap with grass seed crops.