Cooler temperatures this year have given Washington’s wheat famers a boost. The cool wet spring combined with good ripening conditions in July and August have increased yields here. At the same time, severe drought has diminished the harvest in the nation’s Plain states.
As a result, Washington is expected to surpass Texas and Oklahoma in winter-wheat production this year, making it second only to Kansas.
Tom Mick, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, says farmers here are harvesting a crop that’s way above average.
"We anticipate it to be over 160 million bushels. In the last 61 years, there’s only been eight other times that we’ve harvested that much," Mick says.
The average yield is about 140-145 million bushels. Mick says this year’s crop would have been even larger, but farmers had to contend with disease problems brought on by the cooler temps – in particular, a bout of stripe rust that required extensive herbicide use. It seems to have worked well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting Washington’s wheat yields will reach 72-bushels an acre this year – just one bushel shy of the state record from the year 2000. And right now, prices are up because investors have moved money away from stocks and into commodities markets.
Mick says high yields often lead to falling prices though, so that part of the equation remains a wild card – especially since overseas wheat growers are also seeing strong yields this year.
"The wheat is holding its price right now and we hope it continues to do so. But if wheat comes on in the southern hemisphere – say in Australia in November – in December we could see increased downward pressure on prices," Mick says.
The export market takes 85 percent of Washington’s wheat. It is Washington’s fourth-largest agricultural commodity, after apples, milk and potatoes.
The state is home to about 3,500 wheat farmers, mostly in eastern Washington.