Severe drought devastates Washington state wheat crop
The wheat harvest on Marci Green’s farm usually doesn’t start until the end of August, but a severe drought delayed this year’s harvest and her crews finished harvesting last week because she didn’t want it. that had grown so far withers and dies in the heat.
It’s the same story across the wheat country of eastern Washington State, a vast expanse of seemingly endless flat land with rolling hills along its edges that produces the fourth largest wheat crop. from the country. It was devastated by a drought that the National Weather Service classified as “exceptional” and the worst since 1977.
“This is definitely the worst crop year we’ve had since we started farming 35 years ago,” said Green, whose family is the sixth generation on the same farmland just south of the town of Spokane.
She estimated her farm’s wheat crop this year at half normal and of poor quality.
Green grows soft white winter wheat, a variety popular in Asian countries because it is excellent for making pastries, cakes, cookies and noodles.
At least Green will have wheat to sell. Some Washington wheat farms were producing almost none because of the drought.
“We are seeing total crop failure in some areas,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers in the small community of Ritzville, the heart of the state’s wheat growing region.
Only about 10 percent of Washington’s wheat crop comes from irrigated farms. The rest of the farms are dependent on rain, which has been rare in what is shaping up to be one of the hottest summers in state history.
The current crop estimate is 117 million bushels, up from 165 million last year, and there’s a good chance the crop will be less than 117 million, said Glen Squires, director of the Washington Grain Commission, which represents farmers. One bushel equals about 60 pounds (27 kilograms).
Oregon and Idaho also produce soft white winter wheat, and their crops have also been affected by the drought, Squires said.
The Spokane National Weather Service said the state’s wheat region has received only about half of its normal rains this year and the area is in what the agency calls an “exceptional drought.” the worst category.
“The lack of significant rainfall in the spring and early summer has resulted in record drought across much of the northwest interior,” the agency said. “The record-breaking heat wave at the end of June made conditions worse, as several resorts recorded their hottest temperatures on record. ”
About 90% of Washington’s soft white winter wheat is exported from Portland, Oregon, to countries like the Philippines, South Korea, China and Japan, Squires said.
Wheat costs about $ 9 a bushel, which is higher than last year, but that only applies to farmers who have wheat to sell, Squires said.
Washington has about 3,500 wheat producers, who exported wheat worth $ 663 million last year. With expected returns between 40% and 60% of normal, incomes will drop significantly, Squires said.
Many farmers in the state have crop insurance that covers up to 80% of losses, but some don’t, Squires said.
Officials believe it is inevitable that some wheat farmers will be bankrupted by the drought, as “there is always a brightening up” of them after severe droughts, Squires said.
Green’s farm has crop insurance that will help pay the bills so the farm can survive another year, she said.
“Years like this are the reason we have crop insurance,” Green said. “But generally, if you buy crop insurance, you don’t make any profit. “
Another problem for the state’s wheat growers is that next year’s crop is due to be sown in September, but there is no moisture in the soil to help the seeds take root.
“We need a lot of rain,” Squires said. “But nothing says a change in the weather is coming.”
After the 1977 drought, scientists began to create varieties of wheat that survived better on little water, Squires said.
But farmers who use these varieties will likely have to wait beyond the September planting season to sow their seeds for planting if the area doesn’t get a good soaking soon. And delaying planting could mean wheat grows too short in the fall to survive the winter.
During the winter and in the midst of the snowfall in the region, the planted wheat stops growing and goes into a kind of hibernation. If the wheat isn’t tall enough or developed enough, it can lead to a phenomenon called winter kill, Squires said.
He said there was only one solution: “We need humidity.”