Mark Small was one of the first Walla Walla-area farmers to start harvest last week. Here he walks the stubble on land near Lowden, checking the efficiency of the combines.
Photo by Greg Lehman.
Mark Small of Small Ranches surveyed a field of soft white wheat near Lowden on Thursday.
Mark Small began harvesting wheat last week in a field near Lowden.
“Yesterday was the first day, and we had some bugs to work out,” Small said, adding that by noon, his crew, had harvested roughly 170 acres. “We’re early. There’s not too many harvesting yet at all.”
Small said he expects to harvest an average of 200 acres of wheat a day during harvest, and hopes to finish by the second week of August, though he’s concerned his yield this year will be down due to unfavorable spring weather.
John Kent, president of the Walla Walla County Association of Wheat Growers, said production countywide was hurt by frost followed by a heat spell in May. Kent and Small said the heat wave was followed by rain in June, but it was too late.
Last year, farmers harvested more than 15 million bushels of wheat in Walla Walla County, but this year wheat production is projected to drop statewide for the second year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In addition to concerns about decreased yields, Northwest wheat farmers are keeping an eye on the export market for soft white wheat that took a hit this spring after genetically modified wheat was discovered on a farm in Eastern Oregon. The discovery soured several Asian markets, despite being isolated to a single field. South Korea on Wednesday said it would resume buying Northwest wheat.
The majority of wheat grown in the Northwest is exported.
“Ninety percent is shipped overseas,” Kent said, adding that most of the export is shipped to Japan, the first export market to raise concerns about the genetically modified wheat.
“Wheat prices are down since that whole thing,” Small said, adding that the market may not be as negatively impacted as first feared, however.
“It had a little effect (on prices),” Kent said. “But not nearly as much as first thought. It’s held pretty steady.”
That’s good news. Last year Small expanded his farming operation by roughly 4,000 acres and will harvest roughly 3,000 acres of wheat on property in the Lowden, Walla Walla and Dayton areas
After harvest is over — planting starts in October Small said.