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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Grain merchant predicts poor yields for Walla Walla Valley wheat growers


WALLA WALLA — The summer sun has quickly turned the patchwork quilt of green fields in the Walla Walla Valley into a solid shade of gold as the wheat ripens for harvest.

Cory Christensen, grain merchant for Northwest Grain Growers, said this year’s wheat harvest is predicted to be about 75% to 85% of the long-term average.

Northwest Grain Growers is a farmer-owned cooperative in both Washington and Oregon. The company serves more than 2,000 members by selling certified seed and provides grain handling and marketing.

Christensen said last year’s crop was a record large crop for many farmers, which sent Northwest Grain Growers scrambling to find more storage space, but the 2023 wheat outlook is not as promising.

“The Walla Walla Valley may be some of the worst-off in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

The weather is mostly to blame for the predicted smaller than average yields.

“Fall planting, which most of our acres are, started off well enough and rainfall looked to be ample, but temperatures dropped rapidly in a short span and much of the wheat wasn’t able to grow enough to be ready to jump out of winter dormancy like usual,” Christensen said. “Spring was the reverse. A slow, cool, but dry opening didn’t give the plants what they needed for root and tiller growth. The soil moisture was there, but the plants were too small to reach it in spring when they needed to get to it.”

Wheat quality and Soft White Wheat proteins also may pose challenges throughout Northwest Grain Growers’ footprint.

Soft White Wheat, the primary variety planted in the Walla Walla Valley, is expected to see higher protein averages, which Christensen said are not ideal for end use. Soft White is typically used in cakes, pastries, cookies and snack foods.

“Unless we get some untimely weather, we think the sum of the crops will be of good quality, but certainly there will be areas of poor grain that will require clever blending from our operations group to make sure we stay within prime export sales specifications,” he said.

Wheat exporters will blend large quantities of wheat with different proteins of the same commodity to get an average protein that brings in a better price.

In terms of wheat distribution channels after the harvest this year, Christensen said only time will tell how the overall market will do.

“There’s a longer-than-usual river closure this year for a few of the dams to have maintenance done, which will hamper our efforts to ship barges, but our shuttle loading facility in Endicott will be busy during that frame,” he said. “Otherwise, we will need to get about halfway through harvest in the Northern Hemisphere to see what opportunities PNW wheat will have on the world stage.”