Outside of Winchester, Idaho. Eric Haselstrom is working long hours in the combine. Not only is he driving the combine but he and wife Sheila take turns driving the grain trucks too because his labor force has gone back to school. We caught up with him in the cab of his truck hauling just harvested wheat to the elevator.
Farm Bureau: How is harvest going?
The harvest is going pretty good. We had rain that slowed us down in Nez Perce. It was earlier and we were afraid of falling numbers. The hard red winter had a 400 in falling numbers. Protein was a little off because of all the early rain this spring. It was 10.5 but they wanted 11.5. Of course, hard red winter prices have dropped. It was decent and the test weights were good. We cut some white wheat in Craigmont but don't have the grades back on it. Now we're back in Winchester and it's just barely dry enough to cut. We are just trying to chew through these fields, get them in the bins before the next rain. FB: What are the challenges you are facing this year? The labor issue is huge. It’s to the point that getting help is difficult, both seasonal and full-time workers. Just today, we’re in the middle of harvest but it's back to school and there’s just not the number of workers we need to get a harvest in. I have to park one of the combines just to drive a truck. I can’t find people to operate the equipment. With the boom in construction, you can’t find people to work. Even my son, he’s 21 years old. He can go out, working construction at $30 an hour with per diem and benefits. With the way Agriculture is right now we can’t compete, we lost him to a construction job.
FB: What’s the wheat market like right now?
The price is horrible. They’re at least a buck below break-even prices on wheat and its worse with winter wheat because you put more fertilizer on and it's worthless. Then you have input costs they don’t go down at all. You can cut back on input costs but that kind of hurts you too in yield and maybe some chemical, not as good of control by trying to cheapen it up. You pay either way.
FB: Are you feeling the effects of the Trade War?
Hopefully, this trade situation will get straightened out. I support Trump trying to get better trade deals. We really have the short end of the deal. I’m most disappointed in the lack of support. Some say the Trade War with China makes them nervous, I'd say it’s frustrating. I’m disappointed. The biggest thing is this: You have someone like the President that is trying to do something to get a better trade deal. I do think in the long run that it will benefit agriculture in this country but we have Congress dragging their feet and don’t support him. We can't even get the Canadian-Mexican trade deal ratified and it's done. The House and Senate are stalling and don’t support him, so I blame it all on Congress for not standing behind the President and helping him get it done.
FB: What will you remember about the 2019 harvest:
The biggest thing is the lack of help. I can’t find anyone to drive tractors or get seed or help during haying. Just like today when had to get a combine part, I had no one to drive a truck. The biggest thing is labor and the second is commodity prices, the input costs being high. Then the whole political trade deal. Even if it doesn’t look bad, perception hurts the market. I still back Trump's idea of negotiating a better deal but I throw the blame back on Congress for not supporting him. If other countries backed him he’d have more leverage to get something done with all the trade agreements. If congressmen were our kids, we’d beat their ass and sit them in a corner, but we can’t do that with them. They don’t realize the damage they’re doing.