Farming

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Northwest farmers are beginning to harvest the first asparagus of the year this week in southeast Washington. That’s a tad earlier than usual. And after last year's farm-labor shortage, growers across the region are keeping an eye on how many asparagus workers show up for the harvest.

The people who raise cattle destined to become steak or hamburger on your dinner plate are feeling the pinch. Wildfires this summer have scorched more than a million acres of Northwest rangeland. In addition, the Midwest drought is driving up feed costs across the board.

Now ranches and feedlots are looking to cut their feed costs in the short term... And longer term, have an eye on making the cattle themselves more efficient.

This summer's drought continues to wilt and bake crops from Ohio to the Great Plains and beyond. Under a baking, late-afternoon sun just outside of the tiny east-central Illinois town of Thawville, John Hildenbrand walks down his dusty, gravel driveway toward one of his corn fields.

"You can see on the outer edge, these are a lot better-looking ears on the outside rows. Of course, it's not near as hot as it is inside the field," he says.

A fierce drought has been scorching crops this summer, but it's still too soon to know exactly how much of a hole it will burn in your wallet.

For America's agricultural biotech companies, the corn rootworm is threatening to turn into their worst nightmare.

Agriculture is a tremendous force in shaping the Idaho economy, according to John Hammel, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho. Hammel told state budget writers Wednesday that the industry’s strength comes from its diversity.

“It is tremendously diverse, with over 150 commodities grown statewide, and has a growing livestock sector, which is led by dairy production. This diversity minimizes the impact to Idaho from a downturn in any particular agricultural sector,” says Hammel.

Police in eastern Washington are trying to figure out who has been intentionally torching haystacks near the tiny town of Mattawa.

Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones says in the last two weeks two fires burned three major haystacks to the ground. Jones says he doubts local kids have been setting the fires.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Reflections of a farm laborer and his son near Eltopia, Wash.:

"My name is Victor Santillan and I work for Agri-Pack, stacking hay in the trucks. I'm from Durango, Mexico and I'm proud of it too. I think people are still feeling sad about this anniversary. I feel sad for all the people that died.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Reflections of an eastern Washington farmer harvesting alfalfa with a massive tractor:

"This is about the only piece of farm equipment that has air conditioning. (Laughs) My name is Collette McEntire and I am swathing third cutting export alfalfa hay.

RICHLAND, Wash. – A new study says increasing numbers of families in Walla Walla County are living in overcrowded conditions.

Nikky Stephen / Flickr

Cooler temperatures this year have given Washington’s wheat famers a boost. The cool wet spring combined with good ripening conditions in July and August have increased yields here. At the same time, severe drought has diminished the harvest in the nation’s Plain states. 

As a result, Washington is expected to surpass Texas and Oklahoma in winter-wheat production this year, making it second only to Kansas.   

U.S. produce is about to get cheaper in Mexico. That includes apples, pears and potatoes from the Northwest.

Mexico has agreed to lift a tariff it added three years ago in retaliation over a dispute with the U.S. Northwest farmers are now working to win back their customers south of the border.

David Granatstein / Washington State University

As sales of organic foods continue to climb across the country, organic farming in Washington has decreased. That surprised some researchers for a state that's one of the country’s top producers of organic produce.

While people in the agriculture industry expect certain crops to go through challenging cycles now and then, an annual study of the state’s organic farms shows "significant" declines in the past year, according to David Granatstein. He's sustainable agriculture specialist at Washington State University.  Granatstein co-authored a new study that found decreases in the number of organic producers, acreage and farm gate sales. 

Wikimedia Commons

The tumultuous political climate in the Middle East is creating volatility in the price of wheat.  Northwest farmers and wheat traders are trying to hedge against the uncertainty.

Tom Banse / N3

Forget Wall Street. One way some well-off Northwesterners avoided steep losses in the stock market in recent years was by making unusual alternative investments: in small farms and food businesses. These “angel investors” are organizing loose networks to match their money with cash-hungry local producers. Think of it as slow-food meets slow money.