Today on the Land Use Trail: Sherman County Wheat

We’re continuing our tour of our Land Use Trail. Today, March 3: Sherman County’s wheat fields, a core economic driver of “The Land Between Two Rivers.”

About: Wheat fields are the essence of lightly-populated Sherman County’s landscape and economy. With over 90 percent of the county’s 300,000 acres of tillable land planted in wheat each year, local farmers produce astounding quantities of grain using expert methods of dry farming. Most of it is shipped out of the country on massive Columbia River barges, which move about one million bushels a day to Portland in the harvest season. Altogether, wheat accounts for $29 million of the county’s $31 million in 2007 farm sales—value compounded by the economic activity of farm supply stores, shipping, and other support industries in toe county’s towns. Although wind power has recently emerged as an industry in Sherman County, it is still a place fundamentally defined by wheat.

Key Fact: Sherman County receives only 11 inches of rain a year, and much of the county sits atop a high plateau between the John Day and Deschutes Rivers where irrigation is impractical. For this reason, the county’s farmers have adopted expert dry farming techniques including the “summer fallow system,’ in which only half the farm is actively farmed in any given year. This allows the land to store as much as 42% of a year’s moisture for the next year’s crop.

Another Cool Fact: Sherman County’s soil is so productive because it is loess: glacially tilled soil blown in by the strong winds that have buffeted this plateau for a long time. It is a rare soil, also found in the Palouse region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho, northern China, western Iowa, and few other places around the world. Because it is very susceptible to erosion, farmers must take great care in plowing and planting to avoid losing it.


Those who love big sky, open vistas, and sunny weather will find a lot to love about Sherman County. The county also has several interesting small towns, including Moro (Oregon’s smallest county seat) and Wasco.

Taking a scenic drive or bicycle ride are good ways to see the county. A great place to plan a visit is Sherman County’s official website.

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See the whole Land Use Trail, featuring exceptional Oregon natural places, communities, and working lands from every corner of our state.

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Photo credit: Erin Seale, via Flickr. Creative Commons.