By Meghann Ferguson Gazette intern reporter
It is harvest time on the Palouse, and growers are seeing results that contrast with last year’s dry growing season. Reports from the west side of the county carry a lot of promise as harvest moves across the county. “This is a very unusual harvest,” said Phil Bowman at LaCrosse Ritzville Warehouse. “It’s phenomenal!” Harvesters in the LaCrosse area normally expect yields of 35 to 45 bushels per acre, and this season they are getting up to 80 bushels per acre, he reported. “We’re located in a more desert-like area,” said Bowman. “So it is expected to only have 35 to 60 bushels per acre average for where we are. With the last couple of years, the yields have been especially low. This year though, it’s a big crop year.” At Whitgro in Endicott, harvest started Monday, July 11, and is expected to pick up in other parts of the county by Monday, Aug. 1, according to Steve Yorke with Whitgro. “In this area, it started week ago and we’re on schedule,” Yorke said. “The quality is great, yields are good and protein levels are normal, too.” Whitgro mainly is receiving barley and white wheat and is seeing from 60 to 100 trucks per day, a total volume Yorke estimates to be around 100,000 bushels per day. “Space is our only foreseeable problem for this season, because we are seeing a steady increase in bushels per day,” he added. At LaCrosse, Bowman noted growing conditions have been ideal, but sporadic showers could put a dent in things as harvest advances. Bowman estimates they are at the one-third mark. Harvest in the LaCrosse area started July 1. “This is a good year, a lot more bushels that come in versus not a whole lot coming in,” said Bowman. He noted the combines which were cutting 1,000 to 3,000 bushels an hour last year are cutting 8,000 to 10,000 in the same general locations this year.
By Kara McMurray Gazette Reporter
Some area farmers were recently surprised when their yearly assessed land value was returned to them: the value had gone up, a lot. “Most of my friends were shocked,” said Sandy Ridlington, who lives in Oregon but owns farm land which she rents out near Thornton. “It was across the board. There was no warning.” Ridlington told the Gazette it was shocking to see such a drastic increase. “In 2014, it hadn’t changed. In 2015, it was the same,” she said. “And in 2016, it went up 36 percent.” County Assessor Joe Reynolds told the Gazette that in the last few years he has raised the values by about $40 per acre to try to keep up with what the state wanted to see for increases. “It just wasn’t enough to keep up,” he said. Ridlington said she was told by Reynolds when she inquired further about the drastic increase that this has been a long time coming. “The assessor told me the state pressured him to up it, and he’s been resisting for a long time,” she said. Reynolds told the Gazette that though it may seem like a drastic increase, it is actually bringing the figures more in line with actual value. “It happened because we’ve been falling behind the last couple of years,” he said. Though the increase did happen, it still was not as high as the state would have valued the land. “The state wanted me to put it at $1,771 an acre,” said Reynolds. “I put it at $1,100. I think I was more than fair with the farmers, but we had to get it up.” In an e-mail to Ridlington, which she shared with the Gazette with Reynolds’ permission, he explained the process for assessing the land. “The state did a study and said we were way, way too low on our land values,” he wrote. “This program is figured on income and expense for a landlord. We are forced to use the state’s figures for price per bushel of wheat.” Reynolds explained to her the formula used for the assessing process. “We did talk them into a 10-year average to help keep this figure down. We are allowed to off one third of the cost for fertilizer (and) weed spray, and we are allowed a five percent management fee,” he explained. “I have always tried to keep these figures on the low side, and even though this is a huge increase, the values I have come up with are still way below what the state says they should be.” Reynolds then explained that the value depends on how many bushels per acre are produced. “The state says that land that produces 80 to 90 bushels per acre should be assessed at $1,771 per acre. I have $1,100 on land that produces 70 to 79 bushels,” he wrote. Ridlington told the Gazette that while the land value went up, farmers are not actually seeing more revenue per bushel. “We aren’t getting any more per bushel,” she said, adding, “an acre can produce so much more. There isn’t the same desperate need for acreage.” Ridlington said for the increased land value to be positive, there also needs to be a different tax rate. “If the tax rate stays the same, it would make a difference for me. I can’t imagine any farmer whom this wouldn’t affect if the tax rate isn’t adjusted.” Reynolds said he cannot be certain if the property tax rate will go up or not. “We don’t know until we see the levies next year,” he said. “What’s going to happen, we won’t know until everyone votes on the levies.” Reynolds said the county has promised to keep its levy rate at $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed land value, but it is not certain what other entities, such as school districts, will do. He added that anyone who is concerned about the assessed value can contact him at the assessor’s office. “Everyone’s welcome to come in and talk,” he said. “Anyone can give me their actual bushel yields, and I’ll re-do it. Most of them are going to find out it’s actually higher than what I assessed.”
By Kara McMurray Gazette Reporter
The ownership of the Rialto Tavern in St. John has changed hands, passing from previous owners Ward and Kathy Pierce to Marc and Kayla Howard. Marc Howard told the Gazette he and his wife took over Wednesday, July 20, and they have enjoyed it so far. “We saw a really successful Friday night,” he said. “A lot of people said it was the busiest Friday night in a long time.” The Pierces owned and operated the tavern for 20 years, with Ward operating it with the help of employees for much of the first 16 years. A stroke left him unable to continue as the sole operator, and Kathy left her job as produce manager at Safeway in Pullman to operate the tavern with her husband and part-time employees. “We’re just retiring,” said Kathy Pierce. “Just time for somebody else to take it on.” The Howards and their three children, plus one on the way, moved to St. John from Coeur d’Alene three weeks ago after the sale was final. “We love it,” Marc said, “It’s a little bit slower pace, and everyone kind of knows each other.” He said his parents, Butch and Judy Howard, are originally from St. John and moved back to retire in the area. “We’re looking forward to the change of pace and lifestyle and getting to know all the locals,” Marc said. “It’s a little bit different. It’s a great different!” Marc said he has been involved with corporate restaurants most of his career, and he is excited for the change of pace and environment. “We came in and worked with Kathy Pierce for a couple of weeks to see how everything ran,” he said. “We’re taking it slow and seeing what people want.” He added that right now hours at the tavern are flexible as he and Kayla work out their schedules and hire more employees. He said those interested in being employed with the tavern can contact him there. Kathy Pierce told the Gazette she believes the tavern has been in St. John since the ‘30s and has operated under different owners and names over the years.