Amber waves of grain to reap more green

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— In a field off Corkrum Road on Friday morning, Brad Sevener cleaned the windows of a wheat combine while others greased the machine or blew yesterday’s dust and chaff off the machine with compressed air.

It was the start of another day of harvest on farmland owned by Craig Noble, who is bringing in about 1,500 acres of soft white wheat and another 150 acres of hard red winter wheat this year.

“It’s going really well,” Noble said of his harvest so far.

Another farmer, Nat Webb, reported a similar situation earlier last week.

“So far yields have been very good,” Webb said. “Storms have hurt some farmers but fortunately (they) didn’t hit us and we hope they don’t return during harvest” he said, referring to fast-moving storms that tore through a stretch Walla Walla County in mid-July damaging fields, equipment, roads and bridges.

But despite the storm damage, generous rains and relatively cool temperatures earlier this year have apparently set the stage appears for a fairly good harvest this season here and elsewhere.

“I think overall we’re going to be above average, but not as good as last year, “ said Dave Gordon, general manager of Northwest Grain Growers. He said that by Saturday evening, he expects about 60 percent of the local winter wheat harvest to be completed.

“The day before yesterday (Wednesday) we hit a million bushels in all our elevators,” he said.

Prices for soft white winter wheat, the dominant Washington wheat crop, have been holding at more than $8 a bushel in recent weeks. As the drought in the Midwest has intensified, the price for soft white wheat delivered in Portland has climbed week by week. On Monday, it jumped 15 to 17 cents per bushel, with July deliveries ranging between $8.90 and $9 a bushel.

According to a report published in The Seattle Times, if current prices hold or head higher, this year’s harvest could rival last year’s in value, adding momentum to a historic turnaround in the state’s wheat country. Through much of the 1990s and into the early years of the new century, Washington’s wheat farmers most frequently faced glutted world markets and low prices.

Some of the other crops grown in rotation with wheat also have seen sharply higher prices in recent years, adding to the overall boost in grower income, the Times reported.

“These last three or four years have been a period that most of us have never seen in our lifetime. It’s been a wild time,” Ben Barstow, a Washington wheat grower who farms 900 acres near the Idaho border, told the Times.

In recent years, increasing numbers of livestock producers in the U.S., as well as internationally, have turned to wheat to fatten their animals. The shift occurred as rising corn prices have often made wheat a more economical option.

“Last year, the wheat crop was of phenomenal quality,” said Barstow. “And it was heart-wrenching to see so much of it go into the feed animals.”

This year’s drought has sent corn prices shooting up even higher, and that may cause more livestock operators to shift to wheat.

There also is concern about the wheat crop in Russia, a major exporter that has been hit by drought conditions in some farm regions, adding to the upward pressure on wheat prices.

“The immediate ones are the corn and wheat prices and what are the Russians going to do,” Gordon said Friday.

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