Wheat harvesting at Marcy Green farm usually does not start until late August, but a severe drought has stalled this year's harvest and her team finished harvesting last week because they didn’t want what had grown so far to dry out and die in the heat. …
The same story takes place in the wheat zone of eastern Washington, a vast expanse of seemingly endless rolling plains that grows the fourth largest wheat crop in the country. The drought, which the National Weather Service classifies as "exceptional" and the worst since 1977, has devastated the land.
“This is definitely the worst harvest year since we started farming 35 years ago,” said Greene, whose sixth-generation family lives on the same farm south of Spokane.
She estimated that her farm's wheat harvest this year was half of the norm and was of poor quality.
Green grows soft white winter wheat, a variety that is prized in Asian countries as it is great for making cakes, cakes, cookies and noodles.
At least Green will have some wheat to sell. Some Washington wheat farms have produced almost nothing due to the drought.
"In some areas we are seeing complete crop failures," says Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Wheat Growers Association in the small town of Ritzville, in the heart of the state's wheat-growing region.
Only about 10 percent of Washington's wheat crop comes from irrigated farms. The rest of the farms rely on rainfall, which has been rare as summers become one of the hottest in the state's history.
The current crop estimate is 117 million bushels, down from 165 million last year and there is a good chance that the harvest will be less than 117 million, said Glen Squires, director of the Washington Grain Commission, which represents farmers. A bushel is about 60 pounds (27 kilograms).
Oregon and Idaho also produce soft white winter wheat, and their crops have also been hit by the drought, Squires said.
The National Meteorological Service in Spokane said the state's wheat region received only half of the rainfall this year, and that the zone is in what the agency calls "exceptional drought," which is the worst category.
"The lack of significant rainfall in the spring and early summer has led to record droughts in much of the Inner Northwest," the agency said in a statement. "Record heat waves in late June further exacerbated the situation, as many stations recorded the highest temperatures on record."
About 90% of Washington's soft white winter wheat is exported from Portland, Oregon to countries such as the Philippines, South Korea, China and Japan, Squires said.
Wheat sells for about $ 9 a bushel, higher than last year, but that's only for those farmers who have wheat to sell, Squires said.
There are about 3,500 farmers in Washington who exported $ 663 million worth of wheat last year. With yields expected to be between 40% and 60% of the norm, revenues will drop significantly, Squires said.