U.S.: Severe drought has destroyed the wheat crop in Washington state

The wheat harvest at Marcy Green Farm doesn’t usually start until late August, but a severe drought has stalled this year’s crop, and her crew finished harvesting last week because she didn’t want what had grown so far to wither and die in the heat.

The same story is happening in the wheat zone of eastern Washington state, a vast expanse of seemingly endless plains with hills around the edges 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 crop year since we started farming 35 years ago,” said Green, whose family is in its sixth generation and lives on the same farm south of Spokane.

She estimates her farm’s wheat crop this year was half of normal and of poor quality.

Green grows soft white winter wheat, a variety prized in Asian countries because it’s great for making cakes, cakes, cookies and noodles.

At least Green’s will have some wheat for sale. Some Washington wheat farms have produced almost nothing because of the drought.

“We’re seeing a complete crop failure in some areas,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Wheat Growers Association in the small town of Ritzville, located 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 in what is becoming one of the hottest summers in the state’s history.

The current crop estimate is 117 million bushels, down from last year’s 165 million, and there’s a good chance 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 were also affected by the drought, Squires said.

The National Weather Service in Spokane said the state’s wheat region has received only half its normal rainfall this year, and that the area is in what the agency calls “exceptional drought,” which is the worst category.

“The lack of significant precipitation in the spring and early summer resulted in a record drought across much of the Inland Northwest,” the agency said. “A record-breaking heat wave in late June made the situation even worse, as many stations recorded the highest temperatures on record.”

About 90 percent 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.

The wheat sells for about $9 a bushel, up from last year, but that’s only for farmers who have wheat for sale, 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 percent and 60 percent of normal, revenues will drop significantly, Squires said.

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