the film
[ René Descartes]

Washington Wheat Facts

by Washington Wheat Commision, Revised 1999

Profile of a Typical Washington Wheat Farmer

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census (1992)

From Field to Market

During harvest, wheat is taken from the field to on-farm storage or nearby commercial grain elevators by farmer-owned grain trucks. After the wheat is sold, semi-trucks with trailers are often used to transfer the wheat to regional rail or barge-loading facilities. Over 60 percent of Washington's wheat exports are shipped by barge from ports situated along the 400-mile Snake-Columbia river system to terminals located in the Portland/Vancouver area. About 36 percent of the wheat is transported by rail to coastal grain terminals, often in 26- or 52-car unit trains. From these seaport terminals, grain is loaded onto ocean freighters and exported to nations around the world.

Only about 10% of Washington-grown soft white wheat is consumed in the U.S.
Most of it -- 85% to 90% -- is exported.

About 50 percent of the wheat grown in the U.S. each year is exported. High-volume sales of U.S. wheat are a leading U.S. agricultural export, totaling over one billion bushels and approximately $4 billion each year. Wheat exports benefit not only farmers but the general economy as well. In fact, agricultural exports are one of only a few export products that have a positive balance of trade.

Major importers of Northwest-Grown Soft White Wheat

Country 1997/98 (bushels) 5 Year Avg. (bushels)
Pakistan 81,990,000 67,240,000
Japan 34,320,000 37,380,000
Philippines 24,120,000 24,340,000
South Korea 21,670,000 23,650,000
Yemen 21,130,000 18,530,000
Egypt 4,770,000 27,200,000
Taiwan 4,220,000 4,410,000
Bangladesh 2,330,000 13,090,000
Sri Lanka 1,930,000 8,890,000
Total Northwest soft white wheat exports for 1997/98 = 202,000,000 bushels
Source: USDA/FAS

Exports are Vital to Washington Wheat Farmers

Washington is one of the nation's largest wheat-exporting states, with up to 90% of the state's production exported each year. As a result of aggressive promotional programs supported by Washington wheat producers, countries which have traditionally relied on a rice diet, such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan, are now consuming products made from soft white wheat. In other parts of the world, Pacific Northwest soft white wheat is preferred for the production of native flatbreads. Washington wheat exports depend on the ability of the industry to provide a consistently high quality product that meets the specifications of a variety of wheat customers. Through strategic research and marketing programs, the Washington wheat industry will continue to be a leader in world wheat exports.

Leading Wheat Export States -- 1997

Kansas $498,200,000
North Dakota $458,700,000
Washington $380,100,000
Arkansas $238,100,000
Montana $234,900,000
Idaho $233,100,000
Ohio $192,900,000
Missouri $177,200,000
South Dakota $174,600,000
Oklahoma $162,800,000
Source: Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (1997/98)

1997/98 Exports of Major Wheat Producing Countries

Country Exports (metric tons) % of World Trade
United States 28,100,000 27.9%
Canada 21,300,000 21.2%
European Union* 15,500,000 15.4%
Australia 15,500,000 15.4%
Argentina 9,400,000 9.4%
* Includes France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal
Source: USDA/FAS

Top Wheat Producing Nations -- 1997

Country Bushels
China 4,530,000,000
India 2,545,000,000
United States 2,526,000,000
Russia 1,623,000,000
France 1,249,000,000
Canada 892,000,000
Germany 729,000,000
Australia 681,000,000
Ukraine 676,000,000
Pakistan 611,000,000
Source: USDA/FAS

Washington is the Major U.S. Producer of Soft White Wheat

Though Washington farmers grow four classes of wheat, soft white wheat accounts for over 85 percent of total production. Two distinct types are grown: club and common. Club wheats have shorter, more compact heads than common types. The two are often marketed as a mixture called Western White, one of the world's most popular wheat mixes, available only from the Pacific Northwest.

Washington also Produces Hard Wheats

The hard wheat classes grown in Washington are hard red winter, hard red spring and hard white wheat (in limited production). the variety of classes grown in Washington provides wheat buyers with the options they need to produce a wide variety of quality wheat products.

Different Wheats for Different Products

Each class of wheat has different characteristics, such as protein content, bran coat color, and milling and baking qualities. These characteristics determine the best end-uses for each type of wheat. "Soft" and "hard" refer to the density of the kernel.
Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring: Yeast breads, hard rolls, and bagels.
Soft White, Soft Red Winter: Pastries, pancakes, cakes, cookies, crackers, flat breads, and cereals.
Hard White: Yeast breads and Asian noodles.
Durum: Pasta

80-90% of Washington Wheat Farms Rely Totally on Rainfall for Moisture.

They are called dryland farms. The remaining farms are irrigated. Rainfall in eastern Washington varies from as low as 8-12 inches per year in some regions to as high as 22-24 inches per year in others. In low rainfall areas, farmers plant only about half of their land each year. The remaining half is left idle to collect moisture for next year's crop. This practice is called summer fallow rotation and is used on over half of Washington wheat farms. In regions with higher rainfall, and on irrigated farms, the land is planted yearly (annual cropping).

Winter and Spring Wheat

Most wheat grown in Washington is winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and harvested the following summer. A faster-maturing wheat can be planted in the early spring and harvested the same summer. Winter wheat generally yields better than spring-planted varieties.

Washington Crop % Grown Avg. Yield/Acre
Winter Wheat 85.7% 67.0 bushels
Spring Wheat 14.3% 54.0 bushels
Source: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service (1997)

Washington Wheat Acreage Planted by Class

  1997 1998
Soft White - Common 80.9% 81.3%
Soft White - Club 7.1% 7.3%
Hard Red Winter 7.3% 7.0%
Hard Red Spring 4.7% 4.4%
Source: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service (1998)

U.S. Wheat Production by class -- 1997

Soft White 13.3%
Soft Red Winter 19.1%
Hard Red Winter 44.%
Hard Red Spring 19.8%
Durum 3.4%

Wheat is Washington's Number One Field Crop

Most of the state's wheat is produced in 14 central and eastern Washington counties over a wide range of soil types and growing conditions. In 1997, approximately 2.6 million acres of wheat were planted, producing more than 168 million bushes of wheat.

Wheat is Washington's Number 1 Agricultural Export

  Millions $ Rank
Aircraft 18,115 1
Forest Products 3,304 2
High Tech 3,178 3
Wheat 878* 4
Seafood 540 5
Apples 466 6
* Includes pass-through from other wheat states.
Source: Washington Council on International Trade (1997)

Washington's Leading Farm Products

Apples $822,800,000
Milk $732,400,000
Wheat $602,700,000
Cattle & Calves $456,600,000
Potatoes $432,000,000
Hay $395,000,000
Forest Products, Farm $260,000,000
Nursery/Greenhouse Prod. $250,000,000
All others $1,644,500,000
Total $5,605,000,000
Source: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service (1997)

How Washington Ranks Nationally (1997)

Washington consistently ranks as one of the nation's leading wheat-producing states. Due to a combination of favorable climate, rich soils, and progressive growers, Washington's average yield is significantly higher than the national average.
Rank State Production (bushels) Acres Harvested (acres) Avg. Yield (bu/acre)
1 Kansas 506,000,000 11,000,000 46.0
2 North Dakota 267,695,000 11,025,000 24.3
3 Montana 185,630,000 5,930,000 31.3
4 Oaklahoma 178,200,000 5,400,000 33.0
5 Washington 168,080,000 2,595,000 64.8
  U.S. Total 2,526,552,000 63,577,000 39.7
Source: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service (1997)

Washington Wheat Farmers are Top Producers

Production 168.1 million bushels
Acreage 2,595 million acres
Average Yield 64.8 bushels / acre
Crop Value $602.7 million
Number of Farms 5,032*
Source: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service
*U.S. Department of Commerce, Census of Agriculture (1997)

1997 Wheat Production by County

Due to variations in rainfall and other growing conditions, yields per acre vary widely from one region to another, from as little as 25 bushels per acre to as high as 100 bushels per acre on individual dryland farms. Several counties in Washington have consistently ranked among the top wheat-producing counties in the nation, with Whitman County ranking number one every year since at least 1978.
County Production (bushels) Acres Harvested Yield (bu/acre)
Whitman 36,305,700 502,100 72.3
Lincoln 25,306 377,200 67.1
Adams 20,000,000 313,700 63.8
Grant 17,650,000 230,300 76.6
Walla Walla 17,236,700 228,500 75.4
Douglas 10,300,000 230,500 44.7
Columbia 7,435,600 103,800 71.6
Spokane 7,118,100 114,000 62.4
Franklin 7,407,000 118,300 68.2
Garfield 5,950,000 87,200 68.2
Benton 5,345,000 130,600 40.9
Yakima 2,960,000 47,100 62.8
Klickitat 1,700,000 50,300 33.8
Asotin 1,241,900 24,400 50.9
All Others 2,124,900 37,000  
State Total 168,080,000 2,595,000  
Source: Washington Agricultural Statistics Service (1997)

Revenue for the State of Washington

Wheat farmers help fuel the economies of the food processing, transportation, wholesale and retail sectors, creating revenue and jobs for Washington State. When the ripple effect of wheat dollars used to purchase and services is taken into account, wheat productions contributes approximately: Source: Washington State University

Washington Wheat Production History

Superior wheat varieties, improved farm management and fertility practices, and better protection against pests have helped Washington farmers steadily increase wheat production over time. Previous drops in productivity were largely the result of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a voluntary land retirement program implemented by the federal government to protect valuable soil resources.

The First Wheat Crop in the Northwest
was Planted in 1825 at Fort Vancouver, Washington

As the western territories expanded, wheat production increased and markets for Northwest wheat grew steadily. By the late 1800s, the Columbia-Basin, including the vast regions of tributaries and drainage areas in eastern Washington, became the center of wheat production for the Northwest, as it has remained. the completion of the transcontinental railroad lines to the Pacific Northwest in 1883-1884 facilitated the transport of wheat to the coastal ports for export. today, the Pacific Northwest is the principal white wheat producing area in the U.S. and a major supplier for both national and international markets.

Production Costs For Selected Items

Washington wheat prices have changed very little over time, especially compared to the costs of farming inputs which have doubled, tripled, even quadrupled since the 1970s.
  1977 1987 1997
Diesel Fuel (bulk, per gallon) $0.45 $0.69 $1.04
Aqua Ammonia (Per ton) $66.25 $89.10 $110.00
Combine (large capacity) $51,400 $75,650 $111,000
1987, 1997 Machinery prices for U.S. only
1987, 1997 fertilizer price for Northwest U.S. (WA, OR, ID)
1987, 1997 fuel price for U.S. Pacific region (WA, OR, CA)
1977 fertilizer and machinery prices for U.S. Pacific region (WA, OR, CA)
1977 fuel price for WA

Wheat is the Staff of Life

With its health-giving nutrients, delicious flavor and versatility, wheat makes a contribution to the human diet every day, all over the world. Wheat foods, such as bread, pasta, and cereal are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, which provide long-lasting energy. They are also excellent sources of important vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, the B vitamins, iron and zinc, and folic acid. And that's not all! Wheat foods are a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber. No wonder the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that consumers enjoy 6 to 11 servings of grain foods each and every day.
Don't desert dessert!
The flours ground from soft white wheat grown in Washington make light, tender cakes, cookies, and pastries. You can have your cake and eat right too, if you plan your "just desserts" as part of an overall balance meal plan. When you base your diet on plenty of low-fat grains, fruits and vegetables, you can afford to indulge in your favorite treats -- so enjoy!

Wheat Shipping Capacities

Farm Truck 7.5-15 tons 250-500 bushels
Semi-Truck & Trailer 40 tons 1,333 bushels
Railcar 100 tons 3,333 bushels
Barge 3,000 tons 100,000 bushels
Ocean Freighter 25,000-55,000 metric tons 918,500-2,020,700 bushels

Organizations Important to Washington Wheat

Wheat Measures
bushel 60 pounds  
metric ton 2,204.6 pounds 36.74 bushels
short ton 2,000.0 pounds 33.33 bushels
acres 43,560 square feet  
hectare 107,593.2 square feet 2.47 acres

Washington Wheat Commision
Washington Wheat Facts
Pamphlet - Revised 1999

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