Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Harvest bounces back from 2021 in Okanogan wheat belt

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MANSFIELD – The 2022 wheat harvest was double that of a drought-plagued 2021 making it about average with other good years but what lies ahead for 2023 could be affected by the early snow that arrived last November.

That is part of what Highline Grain Growers (HLGG) Chief Executive Officer Paul Katovich had to say about the year just past for the Okanogan County wheat belt comprised of a handful of multi-generation wheat ranchers on the 1.4-million-acre Colville Indian Reservation.

“The rain we had came at just the right time last June to give the wheat crop the boost it needed,” Katovich said of the welcome interlude in the dry conditions.

Getting the bounty to the Brewster elevator incurred a minor hiccup when trailer loads of grain had to suspend deliveries for a day to allow railroad cars to catch up to the full silos and create more storage space. With the next nearest elevator some 30 miles south at Mansfield, Brewster is the delivery hub for Okanogan County producers. Considering the logistics issues faced by carriers on both land and sea in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the delay experienced by local wheat farmers was minor by comparison.

What lies ahead for the 2023 crop is still early to predict except for the winter snows that arrived a month earlier than usual. That has both an upside and downside. Katovich said that on the upside the ground was not yet frozen when the early November snow fell which should promote better absorption into the soil and less runoff when it melts. The downside is the longer time the snow covers the crop.

“Wheat does not like to be buried under snow for an extended period,” said Katovich. “After about 100 days the potential for snow mold increases.”

Katovich said mold-resistant strains of grain have been developed to counter the damage but does not eliminate the problem. The fungus destroys leaves and crown beneath the snow and can substantially reduce yields.

HLGG was formed in 2018 as a collaboration of five grain companies for the benefit of its members and maintains a system of grain and seed handling warehouses in eight counties across Eastern Washington along the Highway 2 corridor from Wenatchee to Spokane.

As Katovich likes to remind inquirers about the HLGG motto for those who follow:

“It’s not ours, it’s just our turn.”

To learn more about HLGG visit their website at highlinegrain.com.

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