Washington farmers harvested the fourth-largest wheat crop in the nation, reaping a record 182.7 million bushels, officials said Wednesday.
Plentiful rainfall and a larger-than-normal number of acres planted combined to boost yields to record levels. The previous high of 177.6 million bushels was set in 1993, said the Washington Agricultural Statistics Service, an affiliate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
North Dakota, with the largest crop in the nation, harvested 393.4 million bushels of durum and other types of wheat. It was followed by Kansas, Montana and Washington.
Idaho wheat farmers produced 117 million bushels, beating the previous record of 110.4 million bushels in 1993.
Inland Northwest farmers cheered the bumper crop because it comes at a time when prices are strong and future sources of revenue are uncertain.
Washington farmers, who were able to lock in prices of $4.50 per bushel or more before harvest, could reap more than $800 million from their crop. That likely would make wheat more valuable than Washington apples in 1996.
“It’s the best winter wheat crop in 10 years,” said Paul Gross Jr., farm manager for the Spokane Hutterite Bretheren west of Spokane, where 1,000 acres of wheat was harvested. “We’re pretty much pleased with what we got.”
Sales of this year’s crop are critical to farmers because government subsidies will decline next year and world production, lead by farmers in Europe and Australia, is rising in reaction to higher consumption rates.
Worldwide, the wheat harvest will total 21.3 billion bushels this year, up from 19.7 billion bushels in 1995, the USDA said.
As a result of this competition, the agriculture department lowered its estimate of U.S. wheat exports to 925 million bushels, down 25 percent from a year earlier.
While drought struck the Midwest, abundant spring rains blessed Inland Northwest farms. In some areas of the Palouse, too much rain flooded fields and towns.
Higher rainfall boosted wheat yields to a record 66.5 bushels per acre in Washington. Idaho yielded 75.5 bushels per acre.
Washington farmers harvested 2.7 million acres of wheat, up from 2.6 million last year. The increase came in winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and harvested a year later.
Idaho farmers harvested 1.6 million acres, up from 1.3 million acres in 1995.
But not all crops fared as well as wheat. Palouse pea and lentil growers were struck by an untimely heat wave, resulting in the poorest crop since 1990, said Tim McGreevy, executive director of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council in Moscow. And grass growers are spending more money to thatch their fields in lieu of a new state reduction of field burning.