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Published October 19, 2010, 11:08 AM

Prices, subsidies combine for Washington wheat boom

ALMOTA, Wash. — Solid prices and government subsidies have combined for a strong year for wheat farmers in Washington state.

ALMOTA, Wash. — Solid prices and government subsidies have combined for a strong year for wheat farmers in Washington state.

The Spokesman-Review reports that 147.8 million bushels were harvested, up from 123 million bushels last year.

“I think a lot of us are feeling pretty good right now,” said Ritzville, Wash., farmer Curtis Hennings.

Much of that wheat was sold. Farmers here benefited from wildfires that left many of Russia’s fields smoldering. The Russian government limited the sale of wheat abroad, benefiting the farmers here.

Washington farmers were ready to respond, said Tom Mick, chief executive of the Washington Grain Alliance. The proof is in ports along the Snake River south of Colfax.

The industry estimates that the value of Washington’s wheat crop should shoot past $750 million this year. That figure is not a record, but it’s a healthy one.

“We’re very happy with the crop,” Mick said. “We had good numbers and good quality.”

Moreover, farmers in the region received about $70 million in government subsidies last year. The money is a direct payment to farmers based upon historical acreage and yields. This year’s figures aren’t out yet, but should be similar, said Chris Bieker, a Farm Service Agency spokeswoman. Other federal programs pay farmers for land conservation.

Yields were high this year as well, among the best ever.

Glen Squires, vice president of the grain alliance, said the yield for winter wheat topped 69 bushels per acre, while the spring crop yielded an average of 52 bushels, for a combined average of 64 bushels of wheat to the acre. In the past decade, average yields have been as low as 53 bushels per acre. Last year’s average was 55.

Mick hopes to see more strong years. He cautions that farmers still face high prices for fuel and fertilizer. He hopes, though, that a few strong years can help him persuade his son or daughter to return home, and manage the family farm.

“The farmers who are left are pretty savvy businessmen, but most of them are around age 60 and want their farms to stay in the family,” Mick said.

“We need years like this one,” he added.

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