Spokane Journal of Business

May, June rainfall helped some Inland Northwest crops, hurt others

Ag lender says timely moisture boosted grain growers

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While the amount of rainfall in the Inland Northwest during the months of May and June provided much needed moisture for grain crops, the precipitation had a negative effect on other crops, the Northwest Farm Credit Services says.

Recent rainfall for most areas of Spokane County and the Palouse region totaled slightly below normal levels for May, but June's total of nearly 2 inches was above normal, the Spokane office of the National Weather Service reported.

In Montana, Washington, and North Idaho, the extra moisture boosted yield potential for wheat growers, says a report by Northwest Farm Credit Services, the big Spokane-based agricultural lender.

However, it caused substantial damage to Northwest cherry crops in some areas and caused widespread harm to the first crop of hay for many regional growers, the association says.

"Mid- and late-June rains had varying effects on crops throughout the Northwest," says Michael Stolp, a Spokane-based vice president of market research and development at Northwest Farm Credit Services.

"Grain producers and livestock producers benefited, with hopes for improved yields and pasture conditions," Stolp says. "However, the rains had an adverse effect on cherry producers and hay growers attempting to bale hay without damage."

The association says that the heavy and persistent rains, and their timing, affected some cherry crops adversely because ripe and nearly ripe cherries absorb moisture, causing the fruit to split.

The cracked fruit is unmarketable, the report says. A heat wave during early July in some areas also took a toll on some cherries, the report says.

Bing cherry crops were the hardest hit. The ag lender says that reports from cherry orchards impacted by heavy rainfalls range from spotty damage to total losses.

Meanwhile, hay crops are harmed by persistent rainfall if the hay is cut and on the ground to be baled. If the hay gets wet and doesn't dry properly, the feed quality diminishes, Stolp says.

The association says precipitation deficits in Washington and North Idaho ahead of June for wheat farmers were stabilized with the mid- and late-June rains, supporting an outlook for average wheat yields. However, growers likely will find a weaker market for selling wheat than last year, it says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects the season-average farm price for all wheat at between $6.25 and $7.55 per bushel, down from the record $7.80 per bushel projected a year ago.

The Northwest cherry crop likely will be around 16 million boxes, down significantly from 23.2 million boxes a year ago, Northwest Farm Credit Services says.

In the past several years, the association says that cherry prices typically fell during peak harvest time, which generally occurs after the Fourth of July, because so many producers are pressed to get the fruit into the market.

This year, average prices for cherries hovered near $57 per box at the end of June and were expected to hit below $50 per box at peak harvest.

That compares to early-season prices reported at nearly $70 per box, the ag lender says.

At Green Bluff, northeast of Spokane, 1.3 inches of rain fell on June 20, says the Washington State University's Agricultural Weather Network.

Todd Beck, co-owner of a Spokane-area farm operation called Harvest House, says that for several dozen farms and orchards located at Green Bluff, the cherry crops weren't far enough along for recent downpours to harm them. Beck says he only heard about mild impacts at Green Bluff.

"We run around two weeks later than the rest of the state, and we usually harvest later than Yakima, Tri-Cities, and Wenatchee, which are the big cherry producers," Beck says. "When we had heavy rains, we weren't quite ripe enough for major damage. We had light damage but fortunately, when that big rain came, it was right before it would do heavy damage."

A number of farms in Green Bluff currently have cherries available for customers to purchase, he says. Green Bluff's Cherry Festival occurs in the latter part of July. In Northwest Farm Credit Services' July 9 market report, it also listed that the rain caused problems for some crops of wine grape growers.

Northwest hay prices might increase this year due to tight supplies, the ag lender says, but the market outlook is uncertain. Old crop hay stocks were at near record lows, with high-quality alfalfa in short supply, and then the untimely and frequent rains caused crop damage.

Treva Lind
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