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Originally published Friday, July 20, 2012 at 6:03 PM

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Drought-free Washington crops expected to fetch higher prices

Washington growers are celebrating, but prices for wheat are up $2 to $9 a bushel in the past month as crops in drought-stricken parts of the country are plowed under. Prices could be higher for apples because the other top apple-growing states — Michigan and New York — have been hit by unfavorable weather as well.

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TACOMA — With a drought drying out farms across much of the nation, apples, wheat and hay grown in the milder Washington climate are expected to bring farmers higher prices and incomes, industry leaders said.

"I don't like to celebrate someone else's misery, but the drought has put our farmers in the catbird seat this year," said Steve Yates, communications director of the Washington Grain Commission.

"It looks like we'll be the beneficiaries of our friends' misfortune," said Dale Foreman, an Eastern Washington attorney and fruit grower.

Washington is the nation's leading apple producer and had its fourth-largest crop in 2011.

"All indications are that we'll have the largest crop ever," said Todd Flyhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission. "The only downside is that we're worried that we may not have enough legal workers to get it all picked."

Prices could be higher because the other top apple-growing states — Michigan and New York — have been hit by unfavorable weather, he said.

West Mathison, president of Wenatchee's Stimelt Growers, a fruit grower, packer and shipper, said he's hesitant to predict a record year until the crop is in. Several hailstorms have hit the state's apple-growing regions in recent weeks, damaging fruit and trees.

"I think the market will determine the prices," he said.

Washington is the nation's fourth-largest wheat producer. Soft white wheat, the most-commonly grown in Washington, is now selling in Portland for about $9 a bushel, up from about $7 a bushel last year. The price of wheat is rising in part because the grain can be fed to cattle and chickens in place of corn, Yates said.

"The price of wheat and corn are locked together," he said. "As corn prices are rising with the drought, so have wheat prices."

Wheat prices have risen more than $2 a bushel in the last month, said Brett Blankenship, a wheat farmer in Adams County.

"We've had higher prices in the past, but this should be a pretty good year for Northwest wheat growers," said Blankenship, who is also secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Wheat Growers. "Tight supplies can be a concern, but we think we can supply the world's needs this year."

Other Washington farmers are making hay while shortages hit the Midwest.

Prices have been steady at the higher end of hay's historic range, on par with last year at $200 to $245 a ton, said Drex Gauntt, former president of the Washington Hay Growers Association.

Little hay will likely be shipped from the Northwest to the Midwest because of the expense, he said. But shortages in the heart of the country will mean less competition in export markets for Washington hay, much of which is exported to Asia.

Material from The News Tribune is used in this report.

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