Did Oregon’s Drought Hurt Grande Ronde Valley Farmers?

On June 9, 2021, Union County declared a drought for Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley. Six days later, on June 15, fire regulations began two weeks ahead of the normally scheduled date. As farmers started to worry about the lack of rain and the scorching heat, snowpack levels were measured and found to be nonexistent in some locations, or “zero percent of normal,” according to La Grande Observer.  Since 2015, Union County has not declared a state of emergency due to drought-like conditions.

This year, pivots and wheel lines were put into use early and many ran around the clock until harvest season. Wheat and grass crops were harshly impacted, which make up many crops in the Grande Ronde Valley. Wheat kernels shriveled, while grass fields produced well below farmers’ expectations. A mechanic for a farm located in Cove said, “I thought that some [farmers] were going to be forced to file a claim to cover their losses and then they were just going to turn their fields under. Some of the crops did not seem like they were worth harvesting [due to how little they produced].” If something disastrous happens, farmers who insure their crops can file a claim if natural disasters, or more localized events like hail, negatively impacts a crop’s yield. It is important to note, however, that crops cannot be turned under before a loss adjuster has inspected them. 

On the left: Wheat kernels from 2021. On the right: Wheat kernels from 2020. 
Picture by Jillian Hoefer

Bill Merrigan with Blue Mountain Seeds said, “Drylands produced roughly a quarter compared to normal. Irrigated crops were also hurt due to lack of water, [and an inability to keep up with the amount of water that a field requires in dire heat], but I don’t have an estimate for that. What hurt crops the most was the few hot days right at the end of June. We had several days there that were well into the hundreds.” Blue Mountain Seed contracts with farmers to produce seed. Bill concluded by saying, “I hope we don’t have to have this conversation again next year.” 

It is safe to conclude that the drought in Oregon did hurt our Grande Ronde Valley farmers, those who contract with the farmers, and the amount of crops produced. Since dryland crops (such as wheat) rely on water stored within the soil to produce, it comes as no surprise that they were impacted the most. As Bill Merrigan said, let us hope that we do not have to talk about a drought in the Grande Ronde Valley again next year. 






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