Fine weather pays off with healthy yields

Fred Kaufman drives the combine as he unloads winter wheat while his son, Steve, picks it up on Thursday afternoon at their farm in the Tammany area south of Lewiston.

The cool, rainy days of spring made for ideal growing conditions for the area’s grain and legume plantings. And now that farmers have begun the annual harvest, that charmed weather is paying off in healthy-looking crops.

“We had a really great spring,” said Tim D. McGreevy, chief executive officer of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council at Moscow. “It just doesn’t get much better than that. We’ve heard really outstanding yields for green peas … and the quality looks terrific.”

Russ Braun, grain division manager for CHS Primeland in Lewiston, said the same is true for the wheat crop that has been coming into the grain elevators.

“Throughout the spring, we had timely rain and cool temperatures, and, in general, I think the crop will yield above average at this point,” Braun said.

John Fox, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Spokane, confirmed a wetter-than-usual stretch from June 1 to Aug. 6. Precipitation in the Lewiston area for that time period was 2.37 inches compared to average rainfall at 2.02 inches.

Since July 1 there has been only 0.15 inches of rain, he said, which is drier than normal. Average rainfall for July is 0.66 inches. But the wet June made up for it.

August is expected to be fairly dry, as well, and likely cooler than normal for at least the next week or so.

“It’s going to be chilly for this time of year,” Fox said. “We’re looking at next week with potentially high temperatures in Lewiston that might only be in the upper 70s and lower 80s. Average high in Lewiston (this time of year) is around 90 degrees.”

Fox also noted that there have been only four days so far this summer with temperatures in the Lewiston area above 100 degrees. Average for this time span is seven days above 100. Last year there were three days with 100-plus temps.

Fox said there also appears to be a correlation between cooler summer temperatures and fire activity, which has been slower than usual for this time of year. Other years when cooler summers meant fewer wildfires include 2016 and 2011.

Although the respite from hot weather gave crops a good footing, it also delayed the onset of harvest by about a week to 10 days, Braun said. Farmers have been cutting fields at the 1,800-foot-elevation level and lower since mid-July. Some wheat is being harvested on the canyon rim north of Lewiston and on the Camas Prairie but has not yet started in earnest on the Palouse.

The biggest problem for many farmers has been the ongoing tariff situation, especially in regard to China and India, which are two of the biggest customers for lentils and yellow peas.

“We still face considerable obstacles and trade barriers due to the trade tariffs,” McGreevy said. “Our largest markets (India and China) have basically been closed to us.”

The U.S. has imposed tariffs that are as much as 20 percent higher than other countries, such as Canada, which grows many of the same crops.

“It’s frustrating to see a 20 percent trade advantage for the Canadians over us,” McGreevy said. “We’re still making some sales into lentils because we have green lentils to sell but generally it’s going to be a discount to our growers.”

The one bright spot has been domestic legume sales that have bounced up ever since the coronavirus pandemic. Plant-based protein alternatives have increased, McGreevy said, because of problems in the meatpacking industry, because of virus infections and overall climbing prices.

“It certainly increased demand for alternative protein sources,” McGreevy said. “We wish this tariff issue would go away. It’s not just the pulse industry; it’s really harmed all of agriculture and we’re a part of that. The prices are still low and the stock levels are still high, although since COVID-19 started in February we have seen stocks go down some, but they’re still high.”

Kathy Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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