Hi kids, this is Flat Aggie reporting to you from Eastern Washington! I visited a dry land wheat farm near Harrington. Can you find that on a map? When you think of Washington State you may think of lush green forests, tall mountains and lots of water. However, Eastern Washington is quite dry with lots of treeless farmland as far as the eye can see. The eastern part of the state is in a “rain shadow” of the Cascade mountains. They slow up rain clouds that dump on the west side and that doesn’t leave much rain for the east side. In fact, the farm I visited receives, on average, only 12-13 inches of rain per year! They don’t “irrigate” or water their wheat so this is why they call it “dry land” farming. Because of the low rainfall, they farm using a “summer fallow” rotation meaning half of their land is in crop each year and the other half is left alone or “fallow” so it can collect as much rain as possible to grow a crop the next year.
While I was there Farmer Josh was seeding soft white wheat. I got to ride in the tractor and learn all about this type of wheat that is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest. I learned that soft white wheat is ground into flour and used in pastries, noodles and cakes. I also learned that most of the wheat grown here is shipped all the way across the Pacific Ocean to countries in Asia (that’s a whole other continent!) They like this type of wheat for their noodles, crackers and sponge cakes. Yum! Talking about all this food made me hungry so I snuck a bite of Farmer Josh’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich; don’t tell him!
I was put to work by Farmer Josh, helping him fill the drill boxes with seed wheat. The seed wheat was a crazy red color because it had been mixed with a substance to keep bugs from eating it in the ground. I was in charge of telling Farmer Josh when the drill boxes were full and I didn’t let him spill one seed! Farmer Josh explained that this seed would grow all fall until the ground freezes then the plants will go “dormant” or hibernate all winter long. This type of wheat is called “winter” wheat. When the weather warms up again in the spring it will keep growing until it is nice and tall. In the summer, when the weather gets hot, the green wheat will start to ripen and turn a beautiful golden color. That’s when Farmer Josh knows it’s time to harvest.
Harvest is fun for Farmer Josh because he likes to drive his big green combine. His combine is extra special because it can go on big steep hills and his cab stays level! The combine cuts the wheat, separates the wheat berries from the plant, and spits all the unwanted pieces out of the back all in one machine. It sounds very amazing! The wheat berries are stored in a tank on the combine until it gets full, then Farmer Josh dumps it into a big truck that drives the load of wheat berries to Harrington and a big storage structure called an elevator. The elevators were the biggest buildings in town! The wheat will be stored in the elevators until they are loaded onto train cars and travel to the coast. Once they are at the coast they are loaded onto huge boats and shipped across the ocean. Wow!
Today is my last day vising Farmer Josh and I’m so excited about all the fun stuff I learned! Getting to watch how the wheat was seeded was so interesting and I loved learning all about soft white wheat, it’s uses and how far it travels; all the way across the ocean! I also enjoyed visiting Eastern Washington and seeing how different it is from what I thought Washington State looked like. Hopefully one day I can come back and maybe get to ride on that combine with Farmer Josh on those steep hills!
If you are interested in following along with Farmer Josh and everything he does on the farm throughout the year, you can visit his Facebook page: Steward Farms, Inc.!