Large crop, good prices boost north-central Washington wheat farmers
By DAN WHEAT
WATERVILLE, Wash. -- Farmers in north-central Washington are almost done with their largest wheat harvest in four years, and the cooperative serving them recently finished the second-best fiscal year in its 73-year history.
The crop has been about 10 million bushels the last two years but this year is about 13.5 million, said Kevin Whitehall, manager of Central Washington Grain Growers Inc. in Waterville.
The increase is credited to good spring rains. Much of the area, the state's highest-elevation wheat ground, is yielding 50 bushels per acre, Whitehall said. Areas north of Waterville are producing 70 to 80 bushels per acre and the Wilbur area is yielding 95 to 105 bushes per acre, he said.
"All of our areas benefitted from rains this spring. Without the rains, it would have been a wreck," Whitehall said.
Farmers around Waterville seeded the soft white winter Eltan wheat up to four times last fall, adding to their expenses, he said. Wheat was planted in dry ground, rain formed a crust that sprouting wheat couldn't break through and fields had to be reseeded, he said.
Harvest is running seven to 10 days late this year and will finish about mid-September, he said. Normally, the harvest is over by the end of August.
With wheat prices up over speculation surrounding a Russian drought that has choked off exports from that nation, the Waterville price rose from $3.86 a bushel on July 1 to a high of $6.03 on Aug. 5 and was $5.83 on Aug. 24.
It should be a good year for returns, but the selling pace is close to average, he said.
Most of the wheat grown in Douglas, Chelan, Okanogan and parts of Grant and Lincoln counties is sold through Central Washington Grain Growers. The cooperative has 20 storage silos. About 85 percent of the wheat is exported to Asia, mostly Japan.
At its June 17 annual meeting, the cooperative announced its second-best fiscal year ended March 31. The co-op made a little over $4.5 million before taxes compared with $7.2 million the previous year, when record-high wheat prices propelled the co-op to its best year ever, Whitehall said.
After grain sale payments, the co-op paid growers about $2.8 million in dividends, or 28.38 cents per bushel, Whitehall said. That compares with $3.2 million, or 31.29 cents per bushel, a year earlier, he said.
The co-op has paid more than $16 million in grower dividends over the last nine years, which averages 14.42 cents per bushel, he said. During the same time it has spent $5.5 million in capital improvements and has increased working capital by more than $5.9 million, he said. Annual repairs and maintenance run about $500,000, he said.
Central Washington Grain Growers pays its grower dividends within two years, which is a healthy position for any cooperative, Whitehall said.