Scenic USA - Washington

Douglas County Farm

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Douglas County Farm - Washington

Photos by Jim Stiles
Jim Stiles Photograpy

     A lonely stretch of S.R. 172 crosses Abandon Farmhouse - Douglas County, Washington through central Washington, an area encircled by the large, sweeping Columbia River, layered in fertile farmland and lying near dead center of the state. Douglas County was created in 1883 and named for the famous U.S. Senator from Illinois, Steven Douglas. With less than 18 people per square mile, you may imagine the county is focused on agriculture. Almost a third of the population either tends, ships or packages the county’s fruits and grains.
     A huge contributor of hydroelectric power in the United States, the Columbia River also provides irrigation to the east side of the state. Stretching from north to south, and east of the I-5 corridor, the peaks of the Cascade Range essentially strip moisture from the atmosphere on the western side leaving the east side with plenty of sunshine, but very little rainfall. Here in eastern Washington, irrigation is a necessity for the production of most orchards and crops. Noted for its orchards in the Columbia River Basin, Washington is number one in apple and pear production in the United States. Because the region receives an average of 6 to 8 inches of rain per year, cherries, grapes, peaches, pears and apples would not survive on area rainfall. For example, an apple orchard in the Wheat Field - Whitman County, Washington Columbia River Basin needs an additional 40 inches of irrigation water every year.
     Huge exceptions to this high usage of water are the high plains. With a steppe-like climate, area farmers are still very successful with cattle and grain production. This chilly scene where the view extends for miles, wide open snow-covered fields will soon bring on spring’s array of vivid greens. Called dryland farms, most wheat farms in Washington rely completely on rainfall for crop moisture. Here in these low rainfall areas, farmers allow some of their ground to rest for a season and store moisture for better yields. During late summer, these same fields of wheat will have turned a golden brown, ready for harvest. Washington State agriculture, with over 15 million acres in farmland, adds 49 billion dollars to the state's economy and employs nearly 160,000 people.

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