2021 has been one of the hottest and driest years Benton and Franklin counties have seen in a long time. Without an adequate amount of moisture in the ground, dryland crops have been unable to produce the typical yield in wheat. Irrigated crops, on the other hand, have fared slightly better as they’ve been able to irrigate without issue so far.
The dryland areas of our two counties have been affected greatly due to the heat and drought we’ve experienced so far in 2021, with wheat crops being at some of their lowest yields in years. The averages seen in Benton and Franklin counties typically fall in the high 30s for bushels per acre. This year, however, due to a process by which moisture from the seed is pulled into the ground, the average has been falling closer to 18-20 bushels per acre, with some areas down to as few as three bushels or less. The heat has also caused higher proteins in the wheat that have made it less-than-ideal for baking, a development that has led to difficulty in exporting. With less forage available for grazing, range ground has been likewise affected. Some cattle producers have been cornered into selling some of their herd or selling their calves at a lighter weight to keep the remaining herd fed.
In the irrigated portions of the Columbia Basin, crops have been more of a mixed bag when it comes to the impacts of warmer weather. While adequate irrigation water has not been the norm across the Western US this year, it seems our area has been spared. Our water sources (the Washington Cascades and the Canadian Rockies) received good snowpack last winter, and the drought has not yet had a major effect on irrigated crops.
Among the most adversely affected have been our area’s fruit growers. Specifically, our cherry growers, who were some of the first hit by the heatwave at the start of their harvesting season. The heat not only hurt the quality of the fruit, but it was also simply too hot to pick, with the crews often having to stop picking by mid-morning. With some blocks not getting picked at all, the result was a cherry crop in Washington that did not produce as expected. Now, as the picking season approaches, orchardists are beginning to pivot their concern toward the apple crop. Some are reporting more sunburn on the apples than what has been considered normal historically, and many are growing concerned about the fruit being smaller than average.
While area potato farmers are reporting average to below-average yields per acre, their true issues lie with quality—specifically the gravity or density of processor potatoes. French fries are sold by the pound, and if the potatoes aren’t dense, processors must put more in each box to reach the desired weight. In addition to experiencing slightly lower yields, farmers who are raising potatoes for sale in grocery stores are reporting smaller potatoes overall and, because of the lighter expected crop, prices received are moving up to help compensate.
Onion farmers are reporting similar issues: growth being halted by intense heat, resulting in smaller-than-average onions. The Walla Walla Sweet crop was adversely affected with some fields that were ready to be harvested getting “cooked” out in the field, even destroying some fields completely.
Derek Brownson is an experienced Business Banker, specializing in both commercial and agricultural lending. With over 21 years of experience in the banking industry, Derek brings along with him a breadth of knowledge to his clients to find custom lending solutions whether their business is in town or the country.
If you are in need of agricultural lending services, you can learn more about our loan opportunities and Derek himself by visiting our website page here.
Business Banker, Community First Bank
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