Farmers throughout Eastern Oregon welcomed the recent rains, which brought precipitation for the crop year up to about 85 percent of normal, according to data collected at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center near Pendleton.

A few months ago, conditions were not exactly ripe for a good dryland wheat crop. To begin with, last year's crop water year - when this year's wheat ground was in fallow - was drier than normal, with only 14.6 inches of precipitation. The 79-year average is 16.5 inches.

Then, rainfall in September and October, when seeds were attempting to emerge and grow, was very disappointing. While the 20-year average for rainfall in September is .64 of an inch, last year only .12 of an inch fell. In October, which sees an average of 1.18 inches, .21 of an inch fell.

The crop water year brightened over the holidays - December's precipitation came in at an impressive 2.81 inches, almost a full inch above the 20-year average. January's precipitation was slightly below the 20-year average, at 2.05 inches. February was just at average, with 1.41 inches.

March is shaping up to be another good month for growers. In the past week, almost half an inch of rain has fallen at the research center.

Steve Petrie, the superintendent and a professor of soils, said this winter's precipitation helped crops recover the moisture that was in deficit last fall, and the rain in the past few weeks has been helpful.

"If we have enough rain from here on out, we might have an average crop," he said.

Petrie said decent rainfall in the next 90 days was of supreme importance to dryland crops. Unfortunately, he added, no one knows if it will come or not.

"If you could predict that, you ought to be in Las Vegas on the gaming tables," he said.

In Morrow County, Bill Jepsen's meticulously recorded precipitation data show more than an inch has fallen in the past 13 days - that includes the light blanket of snow he woke up to this morning. So far this crop year, precipitation at his farm outside Heppner is about an inch below the 47-year average.

"It's nice - the fields are wet enough on the surface now, no one's doing any field work," he said, "and they were getting close, before these rains came."

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