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Latah County a great place to grow dryland crops

MOSCOW — With deep, fertile soils and consistent rainfall, Latah County produces an abundant supply of several crops, including soft white wheat, garbanzo beans, peas and lentils.


This year could be a little different as the county has been hit hard by drought conditions. That’s bad news in a dryland area where crops are grown without irrigation.

Normally, the region gets an ample amount of rainfall, “so we can put up 100-plus-bushel wheat with no irrigation,” says Latah County Farm Bureau President Zane Garner, who runs a small cow-calf operation.

Winter moisture was good but the lack of rainfall and unusually high early season temperatures are threatening to have a major negative impact on this year’s harvest, says Craig Fleener, who grows garbanzo beans, lentils and wheat.

“Agronomically, the big challenge we face this year” is the lack of normal rainfall, he says. “We’re looking at half a crop potentially, depending on what happens in the next couple of weeks.”

This year is one of the driest in memory in the area but it is a blip year when it comes to rainfall and the county’s farmers can normally depend on an adequate supply of rainfall. That makes Latah County a great place to grow crops, especially wheat, Garner says.

“Wheat is and always has been king in Latah County,” he says. “Wheat is the big money crop in this county.”

According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, there were 92,720 acres of wheat grown in Latah County in 2017. Garbanzo beans were second at 44,531 acres, followed by hay (40,878 acres), lentils (10,722 acres) and barley (6,028 acres).

There were a small amount of cattle and calves – 2,451 according to the 2017 Census.

“We run cows out here in farm country and it works out OK for us,” Garner says.

Garbanzos, also known as chickpeas, are one of the main rotation crops out of wheat in Latah County because they fix nitrogen levels in the soil.

“Chickpeas are probably the most consistent rotation out of wheat in this area,” Garner says.

There were 1,041 farms in Latah County during the 2017 Census of Ag year but the average size of 336 acres was smaller than the state average of 468 acres.

According to the Census of Ag, there are 507 farms in the county less than 50 acres in size and 132 farms greater than 500 acres in size, including 95 bigger than 1,000 acres.

“There are some big farms here … but it’s predominantly smaller, family-owned stuff,” Garner says.

Latah County is home to the eastern portion of the Palouse, a picturesque region dotted with lush, rolling hills with nutrient-rich soils.

Latah County is home to Idaho’s land-grant university, the University of Idaho. Washington State University, that state’s land-grant university, is located just eight miles from the U of I, making the region unique in having two land-grant universities located so close to each other.

Garner and Fleener, who is also a member of the Latah County Farm Bureau board of directors, said the main focus of the county’s Farm Bureau organization is youth.

“It has been one of our main focuses; trying to get more young people involved in agriculture,” Fleener says. “Getting young people involved in agriculture is really important for Farm Bureau and agriculture in general.”

According to the Census of Ag, 681 of the county’s 1,877 total producers in 2017 were over the age of 65 and only 145 were younger than 35.

Besides providing money for scholarships, LCFB also provides stipends to every school’s ag program in the county, Garner says.

“We put most of our efforts into supporting youth in any avenue we can,” he says. “The bulk of our board is on the older side (and) developing our youth and providing them opportunities to get ag experience and the desire to come back to agriculture is of the utmost importance to everybody here.”