Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

Farmers, neighbors avoid worst


October 24, 2019

The late pulse crop harvest – garbanzos and lentils – continues on the Palouse, with some fields abandoned, some seeded right over the top for next year's wheat and some cut.

The delays were due to waiting out moisture; farmers hoping that beans would dry out enough to reach standards at the grain elevators for sale.

“It was a testament to the three to four neighbors, five to 10 combines on a field on those few afternoons they could go,” said Allen Druffel, a farmer outside Colton and chairman of the Washington Pulse Crops Commission.

Once cut, many growers took trucks of garbanzos to rented (corn) dryers in the Moses Lake area, Lewiston or otherwise. Others now store their harvests in aerated bins on the farm, drying them out, waiting on better prices.

“South of Pullman, it turned out far better than feared,” said Druffel. “These farmers would not get stopped. People found a way. There's definitely garbs and lentils still in the field, but a lot of them got cut. The ingenuity of a Whitman County farmer really showed.”

After the snows of February and early March, planting went in late this spring. A high-yield growing season followed, then rains in September and October – with the arrival of dew in the mornings – limiting chances to cut what was grown, and have it still be a quality crop.

Much of the garbanzo beans in the past month were harvested in the 16-18 percent moisture range.

The market generally calls for no higher than 13 percent.

Suddenly dryers

Rectangular metal (corn) dryers use fans to blow heated air down the middle as grain is sifted through.

A garbanzo field of 100 acres would fill three large semis for a trip to the dryers. Lentils generally take less space.

“If it means getting ¾ of your price instead of zero, it's worth it,” said Fred Hendrickson, director of the USDA Farm Service Agency office in Colfax.“This really hasn't happened to us on this scale. We are running out of days now. But we're doing okay, another week or 10 days will tell us a lot.”

For each local grower that brought in the legumes harvest, some have not.

“Elevators didn't want to take in the (higher-moisture beans) but toward the end we were forced to,” said Kyle Hinrichs, vice president of Hinrichs Trading Company in Pullman, citing drying costs and more. “We're here to serve the farmers, and we need the crop to come in as much as they do. We were hoping for the weather to turn around.”

Ultimately, Hinrichs company rented a corn dryer from the Columbia Basin and pulled two old dryers from a farmer's “bone yard” near Pullman and restored them for use.

“We're going through 2,000 gallons of propane per week,” said Hinrichs.

The propane heats the dryers, which Hinrichs estimates will be done in early December.

A truckload of garbanzos may take eight to nine hours to dry.


October 15 was the end of the garbanzos /lentils crop insurance period, for most policies, with some extensions granted.

At that point, for uncut fields, a third-party adjuster went out to appraise what was still standing. They took samples and discounted the production, based on quality damage. The final number is then used toward a claim.

For example, if a damaged field of 100 acres of garbanzos is given a certain grade, it is considered a field of 75 acres. A crop guarantee is based off a 10-year average. If the appraisal falls below, then the grower is eligible for a claim.

Many policies set the crop guarantee at 85 percent of a farm's 10-year average.

“It's a really hard spot to be in,” said Jordyn Hutton, crop insurance agent for Northwest Farm Credit Services, who works out of the Spokane office – sometimes Colfax. “We wish we could do more but how the policy is written for garbs, there's not a lot we can do. It's been a learning year for everyone.”

Nonetheless, if weather had held for cutting, the yields were not an issue.

“The growing season was great, the harvest season wasn't,” Hutton said. “The yield would have been very high.”

Spring wheat has been affected too.

“It's very unusual to have guys get seeding done before they've gotten their harvest done,” said Hutton.

The price

North of Pullman has the highest-concentration of pulse crops grown in Whitman County.

“In our area, most all that would be harvested has been harvested,” said Aaron Flansburg, who grows garbanzos near Palouse, citing more rains predicted. “I kind of think that harvest is probably over now for garbs. I could be wrong.”

Flansburg cut his 400 acres and put much of the beans in a grain bin at the farm with aeration.

“They should store at 13-14 percent and slowly dry down,” he said.

The next issue, which is the reason he is storing what was not grown on contract, is the price, which has dropped from 43 cents per pound, in 2017, to 13 cents now, due in part to new tariffs and India cutting back on pulse imports.

The price itself has played a role in all of this – as the market for higher moisture-beans is less than it would be, and the subsequent cost to dry them factoring in.

“It's hard to eat those costs, for everybody,” said Erica Anderson, agent/owner of Nielsen Insurance in Colfax. “The elevators are in the bind as well.”

Of her clients growing legumes, most were able to harvest, with one getting an extension – but finishing a day after the Oct. 15 deadline.

“It was much better than I thought three weeks ago,” said Anderson. “I was surprised how many got in toward the end. They just waited it out long enough. The nice thing is a lot of people would then move over to their neighbor's property. We really do have a great community here.”

Tight windows

Near Colton and Uniontown, some farmers with specialized equipment seeded winter wheat right over the top of abandoned garbanzo plants.

“They didn't want to lose two crops,” Druffel said. “The standing garbanzos will decay.”

He noted that in the last three to four weeks, just a few days were clear to cut.

“And because of the dew, you couldn't start until the afternoon,” said Druffel.

One farmer's field was finished with help from a group of neighbors at 4 a.m. one early morning before a big rain.

A major push occurred Oct. 6-7 before the snow of Oct. 8.

“A lot of guys felt it was their last opportunity to do it,” Druffel said. “I'm not sure there's been another opportunity.”

Druffel's wife had a baby Oct. 8. He had harvested the last of his field in mid-September – by luck of geography.

“The spirit of rural America really shown bright with neighbors helping neighbors,” Druffel said.


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