Agriculture + Viticulture

OverviewField

Uncertainty abounds: What does 2020 hold for agriculture?

While Lamb Weston and Mid-Columbia potato growers were dealing with an unexpected surplus of spuds this spring, Mid-Columbia asparagus farmers had a different tale to tell. They had the skilled cutters they needed to bring in the harvest and prices were strong. 2020 was a solid year for the iconic first shoots of spring, thanks…

Gilles Nicault, the acclaimed French winemaker behind every bottle produced by famed Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla, holds a sample of grapes collected from Candy Mountain Vineyard near Richland. (Photo courtesy Richard Duval Images)

Global gut: Wine grape glut may cut into industry’s profits

While the quality of grapes and winemaking in Washington state remain world-class, the global glut of wine continues to cut into the industry’s bottom line. Consumers stand to benefit, whenever shelter-in-place restrictions and pandemic-affected spending allow. “The Washington grape market is suffering from a structural imbalance between supply and demand that will likely require substantial…

Washington posted a modest increase in agricultural exports in 2019 even with trade wars and other challenges. The Covid-19 crisis poses a new set of challenges in 2020 to a sector that is second only to airplanes for export activity. (Photo courtesy state Department of Agriculture)

To market: Exporters turn to new trade agreements, Zoom

Washington’s agricultural exporters faced brutal headwinds in 2019 and they are facing them again in 2020. Trade wars, retaliatory tariffs targeting the state’s most iconic crops and a new Pacific Rim trade alliance that didn’t include the U.S. marred the 2019 season, driving producers to seek new markets in Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, among…

Photo courtesy James Michael/Northwest Cherry Growers

Cherry picked: Growers worry about finding enough workers

Covid-19 could hurt southeast Washington’s cherry crop by limiting the number of fruit pickers allowed in orchards. The fickle crop is healthy, delicious and highly profitable, but a litany of factors can threaten its success. If weather cooperates and diseases are kept at bay, the fruit must be picked, packed, shipped, stocked and bought before…

Photo courtesy Washington Apple Commission

A big bite: $3B apple industry is the MVP of Washington ag

The Washington apple industry has had a challenging year. Retaliatory tariffs. Labor shortages. And now a pandemic that has contributed to a slowdown in the supply chain. On the other hand, growers of Washington’s top agricultural product produced another large crop featuring a new star — the Cosmic Crisp, a new variety that is quickly…

Photo courtesy Save Family Farming

Hired help: Pandemic exacerbates ag labor shortage

The state of Washington is under pressure to enforce social distancing guidelines at farms and orchards, but farmers say they can’t find enough agricultural workers to hire, and social distancing requirements interfere with plans currently in place. “We might force people into housing conditions that are less safe. If someone comes from another state, will…

Photo courtesy Washington State Potato Commission.

Surplus spuds: Coronavirus upends potato industry

Demand for Mid-Columbia potatoes was growing every year — until coronavirus. Area potato growers specialize in varieties that taste great after freezing, while most Idaho potatoes wind up in the grocery store produce section. Southeast Washington potatoes head to processing facilities like those owned by Lamb Weston or the J.R. Simplot Co. “The majority of…

Courtesy USA Hops

Brewing storm: Hop growers pull back as beer drinking shifts

Growing conditions are strong on Washington hop farms but growers are curtailing expectations of modest growth as beer-drinking patterns shift and an entire industry is disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The unknowns mean 2020 will look a lot like 2019, when the National Agricultural Statistics Service said Washington growers produced about 82 million pounds of…

Dick Boushey, whose eponymous vineyard in the Yakima Valley is one of the most famous in the Washington wine industry, also is a leading grower of Concord and Niagara juice grapes. (Photo courtesy Richard Duval Images)

Concords rebound: Juice grape growers step up to meet demand

There is no glitz or glamour associated with Concord grape production in Washington state, but the industry is looking better now than in recent years. The reversal stems from growers removing vines, which means they are sending fewer grapes to processors for Concord juice and jelly. But that’s not the only reason for optimism in…

To offset the challenges presented with the sale of wheat, some farmers have begun a crop rotation with canola, which produces a vibrant yellow flower as it grows. (Photo by Karen Sowers)

Agriculture powerhouse: Crop value high amid trade threats

Persistent issues with international trade have been threatening Washington’s most successful crops. Ongoing trade issues with Asian markets and North American neighbors are “making farmers nervous,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. “We have to have trading partners,” she said. With $6.7 billion in food and agricultural products sent…

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