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Wheat plays important role in Idaho County, state economy

Wheat field pictured outside Cottonwood.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Wheat field pictured outside Cottonwood.

Items don’t just appear in a neat package on the store shelf for consumers to buy. With the holiday baking season upon us, take a moment to think about how much work was put into producing each ingredient, and appreciate the agriculture producers in our area.

Wheat production plays an important role in Idaho’s economy, creating jobs and income, not only in the production process, but also in transportation, storage, milling and input supply industries.

Idaho usually produces 100 million bushels of wheat annually, with more than 78,000 acres of wheat grown in Idaho County alone.

According to the Idaho Wheat Commission, Idaho is one of the few places in the world where buyers can find several different classes of wheat in one place.

Five percent of Idaho’s wheat production is purchased by Taiwan.

Bill Flory, Idaho Wheat Commission vice chairman, had the opportunity to join Governor Butch Otter and Taiwanese officials Sept. 20 in a ceremony held at the state Capitol when a half-billion-dollar wheat deal was signed with the Taiwan Flour Mill Association.

“The partnership between Taiwan’s millers and U.S. wheat producers is enduring and very successful,” said Flory, “The importance of maintaining a trade relationship with this valued customer can’t be overstated.” (Idaho Farm Bureau Producer/October 2017)

Idaho is best known for its soft white wheat production that is used primarily to make noodles, cookies and crackers.

Wheat class is determined by kernel hardness and color, and by its planting time. Each class of wheat has its own characteristics related to milling, baking, and agronomic needs.

The United States Department of Agriculture defines eight official classes of wheat: durum wheat, hard red spring wheat, hard red winter wheat, soft red winter wheat, hard white wheat, soft white wheat, unclassed wheat and mixed wheat.

“Idaho County grows mostly soft white wheat with around 10-15 percent spring and winter red wheat,” said Brian Lorentz, Grangeville area manager for Columbia Grain.

Formed in 1978, Columbia Grain, Inc. is a leader in Pacific Northwest grain markets, creating a superior source of western grain for domestic and export markets using rail, barge, truck, or vessel transportation.

In northern Idaho, about twice as much soft wheat is planted on an acre-basis than hard wheat, with most of this production exported via the Columbia River system and the Pacific Northwest ports.

Lorentz said, “Ninety percent or more Idaho County wheat crops are marketed overseas, being handled at the Port of Wilma and the Port of Lewiston.”

The Idaho Wheat Commission was established in 1959 by the Idaho Grain Growers Association to help maximize profitability for Idaho wheat producers by investing funds in market development, research, information and education.

“The Idaho Wheat Commission and other Northwest commissions are serious about quality, and that’s not going to change,” said Flory, a fourth generation Palouse farmer.

-- Shelley Neal is a resident of Lucile.


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