Wheat farmer Erl McLaughlin has finally gotten a settlement for his unharvested crop, after fretting through the fall and early winter and wondering what the next growing season will bring.
McLaughlin, who farms 550 acres on Alder Slope, was unable to harvest 412 acres of dark northern spring wheat because of the high moisture content caused by a wet fall.
Insured under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Multi-Peril Crop Insurance program, McLaughlin said he kept thorough documentation from late September that showed weather and crop conditions that he was able to present to the USDA office in Spokane, Wash. As a result, he was able to get the settlement in late January.
Though declining to state the exact amount, he said the settlement staved off total disaster.
“Considering the conditions of the crop — because it had a lot of things wrong with it including a high moisture content — the settlement was quite substantial,” he said.
Although the high moisture in his wheat would have led to lower prices he would have received, he doesn’t consider the insurance settlement better than selling his crop.
“Insurance companies are not designed to make you complete,” he said, just to help avoid a complete loss and enable growers to continue onto the next year.
"I've been farming for 40 years and never had a crop fail like this," he said.
McLaughlin said he had approached the Wallowa County Commission last fall requesting they declare the county a disaster area because of the weather-related harvest conditions.
“That never happened,” he said.
County Commissioner Todd Nash, whom McLaughlin had contacted, said the commissioners considered McLaughlin’s request, talked to other growers in similar positions and determined “there wasn’t a lot of benefit” in a disaster declaration, Nash said.
He said he made contact with most growers similarly affected by the weather and most had gotten their crops harvested. However, many got low prices for the grain due to high moisture content or having sprouted in the field. Much of it had to be sold for feed.
Nash said he didn’t recall the number of farmers or acres involved, but said, “Most of it got harvested.”
He also said he repeatedly checked with McLaughlin and other growers to make sure they got adequate insurance settlements.
“It was a tough deal,” he said of the farmers’ plight.
McLaughlin’s grain usually gets shipped to the Far East after being trucked to Burbank, Wash., where it’s loaded on barges on the Columbia River and shipped to Portland.
For this year’s growing season, McLaughlin said that as soon as weather conditions permit, he’ll burn last year’s crop where it stands. He would have preferred to turn under the stubble of a harvested crop for its fertilizer value, which will be lost by burning.
“But that’s about my only option,” he said.
But he keeps on keeping on.
“We don’t dwell on the past,” McLaughlin said. “We just keep moving on.”
This story is a pre-print release and may be updated.