Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Legume crop harvest faces uncertain finish


September 26, 2019

Garbanzo harvest equipment waits in a partially cut field as the 2019 garbanzo and lentil crop remains uncertain with growing moisture and decreasing warmth.

September's wet weather has prompted questions about the fate of this year's garbanzo beans and lentil crops grown mainly on the east side of Whitman County.

With an unknown quantity yet to be harvested, if conditions persist, including dew in the mornings, legumes become harder to harvest.

"The vines and pods when damp and wet, they don't thrash out. You can't get that little pod to separate," Fred Hendrickson, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency Whitman County office, explained.

Storage is also a concern. One wet load can spoil a whole bin.

It is possible that some local fields of garbanzos and lentils will not be harvested. Instead, they will be mowed, burned or tilled under to clear ground in time for fall wheat planting.

"We're not gonna know for another week or two where we are," said Hendrickson. "The longer it's out there, the more danger of quality decrease. We're just gonna wait to find out if this is a major issue or not."

Fall wheat planting occurs from mid-September to about Oct. 20.

If some garbanzos are not harvested, a field may first be assessed by a crop insurance adjuster before being abandoned. Many crop insurance policies have a harvest-by deadline, such as Oct. 15.

"The pods are a little moisture-retaining greenhouse," said Aaron Flansburg, a garbanzo grower outside Palouse. "Then it's a question of whether you can store them in that shape."

'A huge amount still out there'

Flansburg has 35 acres of garbanzos left to cut of 400 on land he farms with has parents, Doug and Pat.

"Thirty-five acres isn't bad," Flansburg said. "I'm hearing reports of numbers as high as 80 percent of the crop uncut in Whitman County. There's a huge amount still out there."

He cut some Monday and now has a truck full which he put in a shed with heat to start a process to dry them out. After a night in the shed, he pulled out the truck to sit in the sun, and turned the load with a shovel.

The U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council estimates 131,220 acres of pulses were planted in Whitman County in 2019. That includes garbanzos/chickpeas, lentils and dry peas. Garbanzos are affected the most by current conditions as they are generally the last to be harvested.

Lentils are affected less while dry peas are harvested early enough they were in the clear.


Garbanzos and lentils are part of a group of plants known as pulse; rotation crops with winter wheat to follow in a year-to-year sequence.

"This is a big concern right now," said Allen Druffel, 35, a farmer outside Colton and the chairman of the Washington Pulse Crops Commission. "Several farmers in my area are just waiting on harvest."

He pointed out that with shorter days and longer nights – and morning dew – extended sun may not be enough to solve this.

"If you have dew every morning, a week of sunshine won't dry it out," he said.

Druffel completed harvest Sept. 15.

"For me, its uncharted territory. I don't ever remember this. If it happened in my dad's generation, I would've heard about it," Druffel said. "And he'd have known if it happened in his dad's generation."

So how uncommon is this?

"I don't really remember the last time," said Hendrickson, who has worked for FSA Whitman County since 1979.

One thing seems certain.

"Every week you have more rain, it decreases your chance of having a good ending," Hendrickson said.

Neighbors ready

The trouble began with lingering wet weather and melting snow from February and March, which pushed back traditional planting of legumes by three to four weeks, not to mention other spring crops.

Summer weather was not unusual, but after a later planting, the ripening went farther into September.

"These beans were just about ready to harvest when we got the first rain," said Druffel. "It's just a circumstance in an odd year."

The dew followed.

Druffel attributes being able to cut his own garbanzo field already to "luck and geography." The field was on drier ground than otherwise.

"There's not a farmer with beans left without a neighbor set up to help cut if we get an opportunity," Druffel said. "That dew's a killer this time of year."

Dew is caused by a combination of temperature and humidity, for which conditions increase in the fall.

"It's stressful," Druffel said. "You see a lot of long faces now. The mood in local agriculture is sour."

Could all of this affect planting decisions for next year or the year after?

"Next spring, harvestability will definitely be on our minds," said Druffel. "But also, you like to think lightning won't strike twice."


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