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Cool, wet spring puts some East Side harvests on hold

Sat., June 5, 2010, midnight

Harvesting equipment sits idle in a partially cut alfalfa field north of Pasco on Thursday. Recent wet weather is hurting hay growers and affecting other spring crops.  (Associated Press)
Harvesting equipment sits idle in a partially cut alfalfa field north of Pasco on Thursday. Recent wet weather is hurting hay growers and affecting other spring crops. (Associated Press)

TRI-CITIES – The cool and wet late spring has hurt hay crops, curtailed asparagus harvests, caused some anxiety for cherry growers and pleased wheat farmers across the region.

Recurring rainstorms have prompted farmers either to leave the season’s first cutting of hay still standing in their fields or scramble continually to dry product that already has been cut so it can be baled.

Asparagus yields are down overall by about 25 percent because of the cool weather, and growers so far have been able to pick only about half the amount they would have in a typical year, said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission.

Yields of Chelan cherries, an early season variety, are expected to be down in much of the region in part because of persistent rainfall that can cause ripening cherries to split.

Still, the overall cherry crop shows promise, particularly if the weather warms in coming weeks and rainfall diminishes, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Growers Commission.

But the elements have been kind to wheat growers, particularly in Adams, Franklin and Walla Walla counties, creating an “almost ideal spring for wheat development,” said Brett Blankenship, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

“This is one of the coldest and wettest late springs I can recall,” said cherry grower Pat Sullivan, of Pasco. “I was talking to some other growers the other day – we’ve been around here 20, 30 or 40 years – and no one can recall anything this strange.”

Precipitation in the Tri-Cities totaled 1.51 inches during May, which was 0.84 inch above normal. Precipitation for the year has reached 4.4 inches in the Tri-Cities, which is 1.23 inches above normal and follows what was a warm and dry early spring.

The rainfall regionally also has helped improve the water outlook.

Flows over Lower Granite Lock and Dam on the Snake River now are projected at 61 percent of average from April to September – up from a projection in the mid-50s – and at 67 percent at The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River.

But the rain has taken a heavy toll on hay farmers. More than 70 percent of the first cutting in Franklin County alone has been affected, said Bruce Clatterbuck, executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Franklin County. FSA offices around the state are monitoring the impacts of the weather and asking farmers who have suffered crop damage to report it.

“We’ve cut 8 percent of our hay,” said Terri Hayles, a Franklin County hay grower. “Normally at this time of year, we’d be close to done by now with our first cutting,” she said. “But we can’t cut it because of the rain, and the stuff we did bale we’re selling at about 35 percent of the cost we’d normally sell for.”

Hayles also grows asparagus. She said the harvest in a typical year is completed by June 20, but it is behind this year because of cooler temperatures, rainfall and a windstorm that battered the crop in late May.

“We have the potential to catch up some if the weather cooperates, but there just aren’t enough days left to pick,” Schreiber said.


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