NEWS
PNW Ag Hit by Historic Drought
Russ Quinn DTN Staff Reporter
Mon Jul 20, 2015 08:55 AM CDT
(Page 1 of 2)

OMAHA (DTN) -- While some parts of the Midwest deal with too much rain this growing season, farmers in Washington state, and the Pacific Northwest Region as a whole, are struggling with historic drought and record heat.

Drought has led to dry pastures near Benge, Washington. (Photo courtesy of TJ Buechner)

Dry, hot weather is lowering crop yields, though it is also boosting protein levels because of a lack of moisture. Cattle producers are also facing challenges in finding enough grass and forages to feed their herds.

HISTORIC DROUGHT

Bryce Anderson, DTN senior ag meteorologist, said central and eastern Washington state have been dry for the better part of two straight years. The last time the state east of the Cascades was out of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, was late November 2013, he said.

Anderson said the drought was "turbo-charged in June 2015 with outrageous heat. The Office of Washington State Climatologist reported mean June temperatures ranked as the warmest on record for nearly the entire state. June also ranked as the driest or second-driest for every station.

"The blistering June records included numerous readings of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, topped by Walla Walla reaching 113 degrees on June 28, which broke a daily record for the station but is also the warmest June temperature on record anywhere in the state," Anderson said.

Roy Dube, who raises wheat, barley and dry peas near Rosilia in eastern Washington's famed Palouse region, said it has been many years since his home area has been this dry.

"This is historic as we usually produce crops pretty consistently," Dube told DTN. "The last time we had a drought like this was when I was in college in 1977."

His area usually receives about 18 inches of moisture a year. This year he estimates about 8 inches have fallen so far.

Dube said dry conditions began last fall as farmers seeded winter wheat, followed by little winter moisture. Rains began in March, though not enough to replenish soil moisture, and stopped completely in May. Some areas of the region have had no rain since then.

"We didn't get anything at all in June, and then recently we did get about a quarter of an inch, but the damage is already done," he said.

The region has seen several days warmer than 100 degrees in June, a fairly rare happening in the Pacific Northwest, with many days with highs 25 degrees warmer than normal, he said.

Dube feels his winter wheat crop yields could be close to average, but his spring seed crops will see lower yields due to the lack of moisture. Anything seeded later in the spring will be worse off than earlier-seeded crops, he said.

Eric Zakarison raises winter and spring wheat, as well as barley, peas and oats on about 1,300 acres around Pullman. Zakarison was feeling pretty good about his crops in early June, but the heat wave has caught up with his operation. The last few weeks have been over 90 degrees every day.

"It's really baked us out," he said.

His winter wheat, with a deeper root system, has weathered the situation and the crop has pretty much all turned brown and will be ready to be harvested in the coming days.

"The spring crops got hurt more by the dry weather, though," Zakarison said. "We got rain in May, but we didn't get the June rains like we normally would. That kind of clipped us."

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