The Washington wheat cluster is composed of wheat producers, wheat transportation storage and handling, and wheat processing. Roughly 2.3 million acres of land are put into wheat production annually in Washington. Over the last 15 years, wheat production has averaged about 60 bushels per acre, but there can be significant year-to-year variation. The combination of yield and price volatility results in significant change in the value of Washington wheat production from year to year. In 2014 both wheat yields and prices were down significantly from their 15-year highs. This led to total 2014 production value being at its lowest level in 5 years, coming in at $714.9 million. This is equal to the 15-year average value, but the average is weighed down by much lower values early in the period. Despite the 2014 outcome, wheat continues to be one of the top agricultural products produced in Washington.
Wheat processing in the state has declined, but the degree of decline is difficult to assess. Due to a limited number of firms and the associated data privacy issues that come with that, most Washington processing data is not disclosed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 7 flour mills exist in Washington, but only two of those are known to be large commercial facilities. The remaining 5 appear to be smaller operations focusing on local or organic flours.
Total wheat cluster contributions to Washington’s gross state product (GSP) came in at just under $550 million dollars. Wheat production accounted for $461.4 million of the total; transportation, storage, and handling accounted for another $50.4 million; and wheat processing generated an additional $37.5 million. The cluster supports nearly 8,200 jobs in the state with wheat production; wheat transportation, storage, and handling; and wheat processing each accounting for 6,941, 778, and 448 respectively.
A significant portion of the total cluster contributions accrued in non-cluster industries. The value added in Washington’s service sector, other agricultural activities, and wholesale and retail trade were $195.6 million, $119.1 million, and $57.1 million respectively. Of total wheat cluster contributions, 75% were generated in industries not directly involved in wheat production or processing, along with 71% of the employer contributions. As such, Washington’s wheat sector is a fundamental contributor to Washington’s overall economic vitality.
View the Economic Contributions of the Wheat Cluster to the Washington Economy in PDF format.
Glyphosate–resistant Russian-thistle was identified in Washington in 2015. Other weeds resistant to glyphosate have been identified in the state in recent years, including prickly lettuce, horseweed, kochia, and Italian ryegrass. Many people think that herbicide resistance is a recent phenomenon associated with the overuse of glyphosate-resistant crops, but as a recent article released by the Weed Science Society of America states, herbicide-resistant weeds predate glyphosate-resistant crops by 40 years.
The use of glyphosate-resistant crops (there are no glyphosate-resistant wheat varieties) is very limited in the dryland crop production systems of Eastern Washington and yet herbicide-resistant weeds are a growing concern for many Washington wheat farmers. Resistant weeds can evolve whenever a single approach to weed management is used repeatedly, whether that approach is chemical, mechanical, or cultural. A diverse, integrated approach to weed management is the first line of defense against herbicide-resistant weeds.
Washington wheat growers who suspect that they may have developed a weed that is resistant to an herbicide may want to submit a sample to the WSU Resistance Testing Program.