Harvest begins for plateau farmers

Peas are unloaded into a truck on a field owned by the Mittelstaedt family July 23. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

Miles Mittelstaedt, a 2018 Waterville High School graduate, stands next to his combine after unloading harvested peas. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

The Mittelstaedt family of Waterville began their harvest July 20 with a field of about 80 acres of dried peas.

The local family is part of a growing trend in the area that is planting rotations of peas between crops of wheat. Each crop requires different nutrients and giving the soil a chance to rest from one crop is a good general strategy for farmers. Peas also fix nitrogen in the soil, reducing or eliminating the need to fertilize before the next wheat crop is grown.

A combine driven by Miles Mittelstaedt returns from a field west of Waterville with a load of peas July 23. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

Paul Katovich, general manager of HighLine Grain Growers, said that the company has been working hard over the past few years to create varieties of peas that do well in this climate. They have simultaneously been working to develop markets for the peas. So far, the peas are sold in this country as a protein source in animal feed. In the future, they could be sold as dried peas to countries like India that have larger vegetarian populations.

He said that the amount of acreage in peas has been steadily increasing each year. He expects a 33 percent increase in the amount of peas that will be planted this fall, and harvested next summer.

Miles Mittelstaedt, a recent Waterville High School graduate, has driven a combine on his family farm during harvest for a number of years, but in his second day of harvesting peas he found them to require a lot more patience than wheat.

He needs to drive through the fields very slowly. If he drives too fast the pea vines get caught in the combine causing the blade to stop rotating.

Lisa Qualls reads a book in the truck cab July 23 as she waits between loads of peas from the combine. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

The slower harvesting time has also changed the job for Lisa Qualls, a Waterville native, who has returned from Coeur d’Alene each summer since 2005 to drive a truck during harvest. Qualls said that wheat harvest is usually quite quick and there is not much time for anything but getting her truck filled and delivering the harvest to the silos. She has been bringing a book with her while she has harvested peas in order to pass the time that she needs to wait for the combine to return and fill up her truck.

Mittelstaedt said that the family would begin harvesting wheat as soon as they were done with the pea field, which was only expected to take one or two days.

The family has a tighter timetable this year as Mittelstaedt will be leaving to attend Washington State University by Aug. 16.

“We’re really kicking it into overdrive,” Mittelstaedt said.

Katovich said July 24 that the wheat harvest was getting off to a slow start, which is typical for the end of July. He said that the busiest week at the silos is typically the first week of August.

Wheat yields from the small amount that has come in have been above average, and the general expectation is that, despite several frost events late in the spring, it will be an above average crop.