Spokane Journal of Business

Crops give reasons to be thankful


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Since 1957, our Canadian friends and neighbors have celebrated Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. Perhaps, this year we should have joined them.

Given the good news of our state’s bountiful apple and cherry harvests this year, we could have cooked two turkeys—one with the Canadians on Oct. 13 and the other on Nov. 27 when our Americans traditionally get together.

Here is why.

Apples are the state’s largest agriculture crop. The Washington apple industry is expecting a record harvest this year, enough to fill 140 million 40-pound boxes. That would be an 8 percent increase over the previous record in 2012.

The increased crop yield is due to more high-density plantings coming into production, Bruce Grim, executive director of the Washington State Horticultural Association, told the Washington Times.   

Washington apple producers have another advantage. Desmond O’Rourke, a retired Washington State University agricultural economist, told the Times the downward price pressure could hit East Coast apple producers more because they have older varieties, and consumers prefer the Washington varieties.

Washington has 31,600 acres in apple production, which generated $2.25 billion in 2012. Today, our state’s growers account for seven out of 10 apples grown in the nation.

The state’s $49 billion food and agriculture industry employs approximately 160,000 people and contributes 13 percent to the state’s economy. That’s more than Boeing.

About a third of our crops are exported. The state Department of Agriculture estimates more than $15.1 billion in food and agricultural products were exported through Washington ports in 2013, the third-largest total in the U.S.

Wheat is second on the list of the state’s cash crops, worth $1.18 billion in 2012, but the news is not as good there. Too much heat and too little rain this summer are taking a toll on the winter wheat crop in Eastern Washington. This year’s crop is down an average of about 30 percent from last year’s yield and slightly below the 10-year average.

But our state has a bumper crop of cherries. Over the last decade, the state’s cherry production — bings, rainiers, and a host of other varieties — has surged as newer higher-yield trees bear fruit and overall acreage has increased. The state now has about 40,000 acres of cherries in production.

Washington’s crop could be up to 21 million boxes this year, which would make it second only to 2012, the Washington Cherry Commission reported. And prices are running about $70 a box for cherries, about 50 percent higher than normal.

The high prices Washington growers hope to get are largely due to the woes of California competitors, who have seen their cherry crop drop from 8 million boxes to 3 million due to drought.

In fact, the California drought left an estimated 420,000 acres of farmland unplanted this year, or about 5 percent of the total. California kept much of its agriculture alive by switching from surface water to wells in the hopes that normal snowpack will return to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and replenish reservoirs.

Overseas droughts are impacting crops as well. The northern swath of China is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years and this year’s corn is only half the normal height.

So as we pause to say thanks. We should count our blessings because our reservoirs have supplied our irrigated crops with sufficient water. Perhaps, we can include a prayer that nature will be a little kinder to our wheat farmers and those planting crops in parched parts of the world.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business. 

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