Around the Northwest wheat farmers are hauling in the harvest and they are finding the best prices for their golden grain in decades.
Prices are up because wheat is in short supply due to drought in some areas of the world. Also some farmers have switched from wheat to soybeans and corn to make biofuel.
We sent correspondent Anna King into the Central Washington’s wheat fields to see how Northwest farmers are getting on with a happy harvest.
After coming in from the fields, Chris Herron tries to pretty up by dusting himself off with a compressor hose.
Now slightly more clean, Herron says he can hardly believe this year’s record wheat prices. Hard red wheat has climbed from about five dollars a bushel last year at this time to more than six dollars a bushel. And the soft white wheat price has jumped about two dollars from last year.
Chris Herron: “Six-dollar wheat is something I haven’t seen in 34 years. The last time wheat was this high I was 16 years old. I’m 50.”
There are many theories on why wheat prices are up. Here are a couple of the main ones.
The rising demand for ethanol has caused farmers to plant more corn in place of wheat. And world supplies of grain are tightening because of drought in Australia, Eastern Europe and North Africa.
There has also been too much rain in Western Europe. The resulting high prices are enough to make Herron a little dizzy.
Chris Herron: “Every time I called the elevator and asked what the price was, I never heard what he said after the word six, because he started the sentence with the word six. I’ve never heard the word six in something for the wheat price before. It finally peaked at 6.80. So I sold that last portion of my crop for the highest price I’ve seen in my lifetime 6.80.”
But Herron says even with record prices for his wheat, the increasing cost of living, fuel and fertilizer makes it difficult to celebrate too much. Even though Herron farms about 5,000 acres, it’s just enough to get by, he says.
Chris Herron: “So what do you do with the extra money? Well the kid in me wants to go and buy a new Mustang and drive it up and down Main Street just like I was 16 years old. But the old man in me says, no it might not rain next year so you better just save it.”
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service both corn and wheat acres are up in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
The agency says the increase in those crops in the Northwest is the highest they’ve seen since the mid-80s. Farmers are even demanding more money for other crops like potatoes, saying they will plant corn or wheat instead if they don’t get more money for their spuds.
Remie DeRuwe is another wheat farmer from north of Pasco. He walks to his combine to resume harvesting some more wheat from his field.
DeRuwe can’t grow corn because he lacks irrigation water. But he’s just as happy with the bushels of wheat pouring into his combine’s hopper.
Remie DeRuwe: “(It’s) the end of another year of hard work. It’s kind of nice to know the fruits of your labor for an entire year and then to get out here and harvest it and know that worked. It’s a good crop. Sometimes it’s disappointing to work hard and the crop isn’t what you think it’s going to be.”
DeRuwe says he and other farmers might use their money to heal up a bit from the bad years. Pay off loans, buy needed equipment and put some into savings. Some say they expect the wheat prices to hold at least for a couple of years. But DeRuwe says 2007 might be talked about in small town cafes for years to come.
Remie DeRuwe: “I told my 10-year-old son, I said Jake just remember this year. Remember $6 wheat because it might be a while before you see it again.”