State agriculture chief eyes regional hay damage

The wet, cool spring has taken a big bite out of the hay harvest.


WALLA WALLA -- The state's top agricultural official is touring the Mid-Columbia area today to survey crop damage, particularly to the hay harvest.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Newhouse is scheduled to tour farms in the Tri-Cities area and possibly visit Walla Walla County, said Mike Louisell, public information officer. The visit is to help Gov. Chris Gregoire decide whether to seek a federal disaster declaration for rain-damaged crops.

Hay farmers have been hit particularly hard by the late rains and cool weather.

Dick Garbe, who farms 200 acres of hay in the Gardena area, said his first cutting of hay has been pretty much wiped out by the abnormal weather. "On our part it's 100 percent," he said today.

Garbe said he normally cuts the first crop of hay around Mother's Day and his second around the first part of July. During a "good, long summer" hay farmers can expect to get about four cuttings done, but this year "we'll be lucky to get three."

Along with quality, the weather has also affected the quantity of hay harvested. In the Gardena area fields produce about seven to eight tons of hay per acre. "This year we're really going to struggle to make about five tons," Garbe said.

According to an article in the Tri-City Herald today, the rains and cool temperatures have affected more than 70 percent of the first cutting in Franklin County.

The Herald reported that Newhouse and agriculture staff are expected by early next week to recommend to Gregoire whether to seek federal disaster relief.

Andy Porter can be reached at or 526-8318. Check out his blog at


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