PENDLETON In 2008, wheat prices soared to a whopping $16 per bushel and then plummeted to $5.50 by the end of the year. Prices currently hang at $5.28, below the break-even mark, leaving farmers facing an uncertain future.
Farmers break even at about $6 per bushel, according to Kevin Porter, former president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League. Shipping to Portland from Eastern Oregon costs an additional 70 cents. “It doesn’t take a calculator to figure out that’s a loss.”
“I have very few complaints because it was a tremendous pricing opportunity, if you played your cards right,” said Craig Reeder, vice president of Hale Farmers near Echo. “The only thing about the market that’s troublesome is the volatility — and the attitudes of farmers have been as volatile as the market.”
In Reeder’s opinion, the farmers who got burned sold too early in 2007 and too late in 2008. But in general, farmers are approaching the 2009 harvest with a positive, albeit cautious, attitude.
Tammy Dennee, executive director of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, says fuel and fertilizer prices were “unpredictably high” and an extra burden on farmers. According to Pendleton Grain Growers, a 2,500-member cooperative that operates a 12-million bushel capacity system, the price of fertilizer tripled in price between 2007 and 2008.
Porter thinks the recession has actually helped rather than hindered farmers, because it instigated the fall in fuel and fertilizer prices. Though fuel and fertilizer prices came down in late 2008, they didn’t drop as rapidly as the price of wheat.
There are strong indicators that fuel and fertilizer prices will be heading back up before the 2009 harvest. When fuel prices dropped, Porter filled all his storage containers in preparation for the 2009 harvest; just one way farmers are trying to pare down their input costs.
“The euphoria of last year sure faded quickly,” says Porter.