1408 WheatHarvest.GL_1253 ID.jpg

Combines on a steep wheat field between Waitsburg and Dayton. 

More farms operated in Walla Walla County a century ago. But they weren’t as large as those we have today.

Thus acreage of agricultural land is only slightly different today than it was when the 1919 Tractor Demonstration came to Walla Walla.

Getting a handle on how exactly the crop acreage has changed is difficult, agriculture officials from numerous agencies say. Some of this has to do with the way records were kept 100 years ago versus now.

Anecdotally, we know the production of asparagus and green peas that moved to South America and the closure of what had been a thriving cannery industry marked one of the biggest contemporary shifts in local farming.

In Walla Walla, though, wheat remains the uncontested king of crops, said Leslie Druffel, communication and recruiting coordinator for The McGregor Company.

According to figures from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the most recent data available, Walla Walla County accounts for 5% of state agriculture sales.

In 2017 there were 903 farms in the county, a drop of 4 % from 2012, when there were 943 farms. However, the average size by acres per farm was 778, a 14% spike from 2012, when the average farm size was 684 acres.

Comparatively, Census data shows Walla Walla County had 1,383 farms in 1910 with an average of 534.9 acres per farm.

The market value of agricultural products sold from Walla Walla County was over $526 million in 2017, the information shows.

Druffel pointed out that efficiencies and mechanization led to a fundamental change in the agricultural landscape. With food as a necessity and the labor needed for harvest, more people were needed for farm labor 100 years ago than today.

“We’ve definitely changed in how many people one particular farmer can feed,” she said.

In the 1910s — even up to the 1930s — she said, an individual farm could feed the family that owned it and up to 30 other people. But with mechanization and efficiencies, one farmer can essentially produce enough food for more than 150 people, she said.

Top crop acreage for Walla Walla County in 2017 remained wheat for grain at 188,653 acres. Harvested vegetables totaled 20,456 acres, according to the Census data. Forage crops, such as hay, accounted for 16,563 acres, just ahead of dry edible peas at 13,016 acres. Apples rounded out the top five at 11,658 acres.

Of the 1,567 total producers counted in the county, 937 were men and 630 were women. The vast majority — 965 — are between 35 and 64 years ago. Only 47 are younger than 35. Another 555 are 65 and older.

New and beginning farmers account for 432 of the total number.

The county’s profile also shows that just 1% of the farms are organic. Ten percent of them sell directly to consumers. Eighty-five percent of Walla Walla County farms have internet access. The vast majority, 93%, are family farms, while 35% of them hire farm labor.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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