They say that it is truly an ill wind that doesn't blow someone some good. This year wheat growers in the Northwest are enjoying a windfall created by this summer's drought and wildfires in Ukraine and Russia.
It's been a tough year for farmers in Eastern Europe, particularly those in the former Soviet breadbasket. Months of drought, followed by devastating wildfires, significantly reduced wheat yields. Those countries normally export a lot of their wheat, but this year conditions were so bad Ukraine limited its exports for the remainder of the year, while Russia banned exports altogether.
That pushed wheat prices to their highest level in two years. What began as a lackluster season with prices hovering around the break-even point of $4.50 a bushel in July has turned into a pretty good year with prices now hitting $6.25.
The price spike came as welcome news in the Northwest.
In Washington, farmers harvested 147.8 million bushels, a 20 percent hike over last year.
"We were blessed with a good year," Jim Nollmeyer, a grower from Reardan, Wash., said.
In Idaho, wheat production was 108 million bushels, up 9 percent. In Oregon, the harvest, at 63 million bushels, was 30 percent greater than 2009.
Wheat acreage also increased -- 57,000 acres in Oregon, and 40,000 acres in Washington.
Quite a bit of that increase in Oregon is being attributed to Willamette Valley grass seed growers who switched to wheat this year. The grass seed market has been decimated by the recession, and growers have a two-year supply of seed in storage. The hike in wheat prices came as particularly good news to those growers who switched crops this year. It was a good decision.
We hate to see farmers anywhere lose their crop to the weather. Farmers everywhere know that it is but for the grace of God that the rains fall on their fields and the weather cooperates with the harvest. But if drought must befall growers in Eastern Europe, we are thankful that farmers here can benefit from the run up in prices.