Back in May, a farmer found genetically modified wheat growing in his field. Japan and Korea—two of the biggest buyers of Oregon wheat—both suspended imports, which suggested the $500 million industry could be in jeopardy. The two countries have resumed trade, but the crisis reminded Oregonians of the continued importance of wheat in Oregon’s economy.
In the Northwest, wheat flows from farms in trucks to small elevators where it’s loaded onto barges and brought to the massive elevators at the seaports. From there, it goes to the world. Plenty ends up in East Asia, often going into noodles, and some even reaches as far as Yemen, becoming the staple flat bread called khobz.
The wheat begins in early winter at places like Emerson Dell Farm south of The Dalles, which David Brewer’s family has farmed for five generations. The farmland rolls up and down, with little creeks in the many gullies and troughs between the hills. There are cattle grazing on grass fields and the crops include mustard and spelt. But most of the land, both now and throughout its 100-plus years, is wheat.
The wheat grown here and across the Northwest is called soft white winter wheat, which means it’s planted in early winter, grows a bit before frost sets in, then finishes its growth once spring begins. The Brewers’ harvest has recently finished but most farmers are still out on their combines cutting the tall stalks. Little of this wheat will stay in Oregon. As much as 90 percent of it is exported, mostly to East Asia.
After the harvest, the wheat goes to its next stop: grain elevators.
Are you a wheat farmer? Did the GMO discovery cause you to worry about selling your crop? How’s your harvest this year?