Hail, drought and a cold winter plagued Palouse wheat farms this year, leading to low yields in Washington and Idaho.
Ace Clark, who farms near Albion, estimates his wheat harvest is off 20 percent from 2013’s crop.
“You could feel a year like this for several years,” said Clark, who farms 7,000 acres, about half of which is wheat. “In this country, everybody thinks of quarterly profits. We only get income one time a year – right now.”
Most farms in Whitman and Latah counties have seen a similar decline in yields, according to Sam White, the chief operating officer at the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative.
His group works with 250 family farms in the area.
Wheat prices have tumbled from more than $8 per bushel two years ago to less than $7 delivered to Portland grain terminals, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A record global yield has driven down prices to weaken Washington’s billion-dollar annual harvest.
“Everyone has had a good crop,” White said of the foreign markets.
On the Palouse, this is the first down year after a string of good crops.
“We’ve had some pretty high prices, and that doesn’t last forever,” Clark said. “It’s not terribly surprising to have a year like this – that’s what makes your averages average.”
For Kevin Mader and others, summer storms destroyed thousands of acres of wheat.
“In July, we had a big hail storm that hit a majority of our farm,” Mader said.
He estimated his farm lost as much as 35 percent of its crop due to drought and hail. Mader said he will consider cutting equipment costs and making only necessary repairs.
“We do feel it right away but at the same time, as long as we don’t have a couple back-to-back, it’s not back-breaking,” Mader said. “Two or three in a row would be bad.”
Clark said one bad year won’t threaten most wheat farms.
“Most farmers are kind of in it for the long haul,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to quit raising wheat around here. I don’t see that happening.”
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