The Wallowa County Grain Growers is going out of the grain business.
In May it informed growers it would no longer be accepting grain for open grain storage. The farm cooperative decided to give up their warehouse license after losing the remainder of its government storage wheat earlier this year.
However, Pendleton Grain Growers has agreed to lease the former WCGG grain elevator in Wallowa, now owned by Henderson Fuel Co., in order to insure local services are not lost. The Pendleton-based coop, which already has services in Island City, was approached by a number of producers in this area concerned about losing local grain handling and storage services.
According to Jon Sperl, PGG commodity marketing manager, PPG feels it can offer competitive market prices, low storage rates, unique marketing contracts, niche commodity markets, quick turnaround and good service.
There is no doubt that the need for grain storage has declined from the past.
One local grain farmer, Don Stonebrink, said that grain production in recent years has dipped partially because of the advent of the Conservation Reserve Program, which takes highly erodible cropland out of production.
Also cutting into the grain storage need here has been a change in the grain market. Stonebrink said that in the past the best wheat prices usually came around February or March, making it desirable to store wheat. He said many grain farmers now have their wheat hauled directly from the field to market in Lewiston at harvest time.
However, Sperl said that it has made a committment to Wallowa County for five years. "We'd like to see what we can do there," he said.
One possibility is that the Elgin-Joseph branch railroad will be able to haul grain, especially malt barley, on its line. "Should the railroad be competitive, and we think we will be, we are absolutely interested," said Mike Bagwell, director of the Wallowa Union Railroad Authority, about PGG as a new customer.
Sperl said that since the Wallowa elevator has no scale, one ideal candidate for rail freight is malt barley, which grows well here, since it is light enought that rail cars can't be overloaded.
PGG will locate employees here during the harvest season, but for the most part the staff at the Island City facility will also serve Wallowa County. Paul Porter, grain buyer in Island City, 541-786-3133, is the PGG contact person for Wallowa County.