BOISE — When it comes to farming, Idaho is famous for potatoes, Washington for apples and Oregon for its greenhouse and nursery crops.
But when you combine the three states, the Pacific Northwest is, or at least should be, more famous for wheat, said Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson.
With the help of USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service employees, Jacobson found that in terms of acreage, wheat is by far the top crop in the PNW.
NASS data shows that on an acreage basis, wheat was tops in the three-state region in 2016 with 4.1 million acres of winter and spring wheat. Hay was second with 3.3 million acres, followed by barley, grass seed, corn and potatoes.
“It’s a wheat region,” said Jacobson. “In terms of acreage, wheat is tops in the Pacific Northwest.”
According to NASS, Washington growers harvested 2.2 million acres of wheat in 2016, Idaho growers harvested 1.1 million acres and Oregon growers harvested 797,000 acres.
Jacobson also compiled a list of the infrastructure that supports the region’s wheat industry.
That includes eight wheat breeding programs, seven wheat breeders and two wheat geneticists and 80 people who work full-time on those wheat breeding teams.
It also includes five wheat quality labs, 35,000 square feet of greenhouse space, 50 wheat nurseries and variety trial locations, and 100,000 test plots.
The wheat industry is supported by a large amount of other resources, Jacobson said, including the PNW Wheat Quality Council, the National Small Grains Collection, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Wheat Genomics Program and the Wheat Marketing Center.
Jacobson said he has been sharing that information with trading partners to show them how committed the region is to wheat.
“The big story to our overseas customers is that wheat is such a dedicated crop in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “It helps them appreciate the importance of wheat here in the PNW.”
Growers and wheat industry leaders contacted by Capital Press said the acreage numbers showing wheat is the region’s top crop are encouraging but they were more impressed with the infrastructure that supports the industry.
All of those resources are in place to ensure the region produces high-quality wheat, which is what enables the region to compete on a global scale, said Idaho wheat farmer Jerry Brown, a member of the IWC’s board of directors.
“The PNW is extremely committed to quality wheat because that’s what our customers are demanding,” he said. “The only reason we are competitive in the world is because we sell quality wheat.”
Steven Wirsching, director of the U.S. Wheat Associates West Coast office in Portland, said growers invest a lot of money in wheat breeding programs as well as other efforts to ensure quality.
When it comes to wheat, “quality is not an accident, nor is it the result of Mother Nature,” he said. “It’s the result of the large investment of money by growers over a number of years in land grant universities’ breeding programs.”
“Quality is the No. 1 priority of all three commissions,” said Washington Grain Commission member and farmer Dana Herron. “There are several systems in place to ensure that happens.”