Washington’s wheat growers are planting their winter crop in the worst conditions some have seen since the 1970s.
These conditions come on the heels of a harvest that’s among the lowest in the same period.
Glenn Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said the collective wheat harvest of Washington, Oregon and Idaho this year is the worst since 1977. For Washington, it’s even worse.
“The lack of rain has resulted in this year’s crop being the lowest crop output since 1973 for Washington,” Squires said.
The five-year average for wheat production in Washington is 152 million bushels. However, this year’s crop is only 93.6 million.
And conditions don’t look any better for next year’s crop.
An early-summer heat wave coupled with an ongoing drought left subsoil moisture short in the state and forced wheat farmers to make a decision this fall, Squires said. They could either plant their winter crop and hope that rain would follow, or hope that a rainstorm would moisten the ground enough to allow for planting.
Right now, most farmers are planting their crops and banking on a rainstorm. According to Squires, 53 percent of this year’s crop has already been planted, which is up from 42 percent at the same time last year.
Wade Troutman, a wheat farmer in North Douglas County near the Columbia River, referred to planting seeds in dry dirt as “dusting it in.”
“Basically you’re setting the seed in dry dirt, not too deep, and hope that you get some subsequent rains,” Troutman said.
This type of planting creates stress for farmers.
“You like to seed into moisture, and seeding into nothing is like going on pure hope,” he said.
A rainstorm last week produced enough water for moisture to seep 3 to 4 inches into the ground in some areas. However, Troutman said these types of storms can be deceiving.
“It’s not consistent with the landscape. There might be a spot here and a spot there where they got ample rain, but then you go 2 miles further and there was no rain,” he said. “We haven’t had those rainstorms that give you a good soaking across the landscape.”