Thomas G. Chastain

Cool-season grass seed crops  – the dominant crop in the Willamette Valley, have seen a decline in acreage in recent years.  The decline in grass seed acreage has largely been the result of poor economic conditions and markets for the crop (Fig. 1).   Grass seed crop acreage is sensitive to general economic conditions and is reduced by recessions in the economy (marked by gray bars).    When prices of wheat and other crops are favorable for economic production during periods of low grass seed prices, there is a replacement of grass seed acreage by these crops.  But there now appears to be signs of a reversal of this short-term trend with a small increase in the acreage of grass seed crops grown in the Willamette Valley in 2011.  The long-term trends show an increase in the acreage of grass seed crops and loss of wheat acreage.

Figure 1. Grass seed crop and wheat acreage trends in the Willamette Valley. Gray bars indicate periods of economic recession. (click to enlarge)

A different way to observe the changes in acreages of grass seed crops during the recent economic downturn is to compare the USDA-NASS  satellite image for the region from 2007 with the image from 2011 (Fig. 2).   The images are enhanced with crop land data layers and are color coded for the various crops grown in the Willamette Valley.  The 2007 image shows the dominance of grass seed crops (pale green color) in the southern portion of the valley (between Eugene and Salem) and a greater diversity of crops (other colors) including grass seed and others near Salem and north to Portland.  But in the 2011 image, the amount of grass seed crops is visibly lower throughout the valley.


Figure 2. Land cover by various crops in the Willamette Valley in 2007 and in 2011. (Click to enlarge)

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