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2022 has been good for Washington wheat farmers


Growing and selling wheat depends on many factors. The weather has to cooperate. There has to be good demand among your customers. And so far this year, factors have been mostly positive for Washington wheat growers.

Early this year, there were concerns the war in Ukraine would disrupt global wheat markets. Inflation is making farming more expensive. And after an historic drought in 2021, no one was sure what 2022 would bring.

But none of those factors have damaged Washington’s wheat growing or exports, according to the Washington Grain Commission. The commission’s CEO, Casey Chumrau, said stability has been the by-word this year.

“We were very fortunate to have had kind of a return-to-average year. We had excellent quality and plenty of quantity of wheat. So we’re hoping that this great moisture we’ve had so far will set us up for another great year in 2023,” Chumrau said.

The state’s wheat output has been 154 million bushels so far -- 65 percent higher than last year’s haul, Chumrau said. Acres of planted wheat haven’t changed significantly, but each acre on average produced a higher yield this year.

That production marks a return to expected values, after 2021’s historic drought. Washington now ranks third in the nation for wheat production.

“Washington had a significant rebound in wheat production in 2022, following the extremely challenging drought year of 2021,” Chumrau said. “And a really long, wet spring provided adequate moisture and favorable growing conditions.”

The war in Ukraine hasn’t disturbed Washington’s role in global the wheat market. 90 percent of the wheat grown in the state is shipped overseas, on par with previous years.

“In February, when the war started, prices shot up, and we are just getting back down to about the pre-war prices. So that’s really been the major effect,” Chumrau said. “But we haven’t seen a huge shift so far in exports, where we would be making up for Ukrainian export.”

But that doesn’t mean the war’s effects haven’t been passed on to Washington wheat farmers. Chumrau said Ukraine produces fuels and fertilizers used by domestic wheat farms, and the war disrupted some of the supply channels farmers relied on for those products.

As in previous years, most Washington wheat is shipped west, across the Pacific Ocean to Asian markets.

“Philippines is number one, South Korea, China, Japan. Those are for white wheat, which is predominantly grown here in Washington and in northern Idaho, which also exports a lot of their wheat,” Chumrau said.

The big demand for Washington and Idaho wheat in Asia isn’t just a byproduct of geographic convenience, Chumrau said. It’s because of the quality.

“Pastries and cakes and cookies are very popular in Asia, especially for that white color. They like the really, really bright white in their products,” she said.

People in the U.S. may associate baking with the winter months, but Chumrau said Washington’s wheat exports don’t tend to fluctuate seasonally. Perishability makes it hard to store wheat for long periods of time, so overseas distributors order Northwest wheat throughout the year.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.