In an occupation that is far more a way of life than just a profession, Dave Harlow has something in common with many other farmers.
“I remember not particularly enjoying some of the jobs on the farm in my youth, but a few years later, my perspective had changed. Now, I can’t imagine any career other than my life in farming,” Harlow said.
Born and raised near Pullman, Wash., Harlow graduated from Pullman High School and headed across the state to the University of Washington. He earned his business degree with an emphasis on finance and economics in 1967. Not finished, he then earned an MBA in 1969. After interviewing with several large companies and seeing what they had to offer, Palouse country farm life began looking a lot better to him.
“Some of those chores that had seemed mundane when I was a teenager took on more importance with a more mature viewpoint. After I came back to the farm, my father, Merle, continued to guide the management of our farm until I was ready to take the reins. We always worked well together,” he explained.
Harlow never studied agriculture in college, but he dove into learning more once back on the farm with seminars, workshops and conferences. He cited the Washington State University Extension service as providing very good learning opportunities.
With a sizable acreage farm, Harlow feels fortunate to have two very dependable employees with plenty of experience.
“Kelli Weber hails from a Tennessee farm family, and she can handle most any duty,” said Harlow. “Mike Cochran is a Colfax native, and between them, they perform the day-to-day work on the farm. I’m primarily running for parts and handling the bookwork until Mike is ready to take that over. Mike has established a farming operation of his own, and as that grows, I expect to hand over more of our management duties to him.”
Also potentially in the wings is Harlow’s grandson, Eden Harlow. Still in high school, he has a keen interest in the family farm. He will get a taste of the farm this year to see how that works out, mostly loading, unloading and hauling grain.
The Harlow farm employs a three-year rotation: winter wheat, spring wheat and pulse crops. Lately, they have been growing mostly club wheat. They have also gone almost exclusively to garbanzo beans for the pulse crop rotation. Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, have worked out better than peas and lentils in recent years. They employ a two-pass system of farming, applying fertilizer with either a chisel plow or cultivator application, depending upon the amount of stubble. They have an AGPRO air drill that has worked out well for seeding their crops. Harlow has been planting Crescent winter wheat and JD spring wheat, but may be looking at updating his wheat varieties going forward.
Harlow first got involved with the wheat growers association (Washington Association of Wheat Growers or WAWG) at the Whitman County level, encouraged by Jim Miller (WAWG president 1982-83). Along with Tedd Nealey, those three worked to increase the participation of Whitman County growers at the local and state level. After serving in the Whitman County leadership, Harlow went through the WAWG chairs, serving as president in 1987-88.
One of the high points of his time as WAWG president was in the overwhelming passage of the assessment increase from one-half to three-quarters of 1% of grains at the first point of sale.
“Tedd Nealey and others worked diligently with my leadership team on informing and educating the growers on the importance of increasing the funding for the commission,” recalled Harlow. “The efforts were successful, and we were very grateful to the growers for supporting it.”
Along with experience chairing several WAWG committees, Harlow pointed to his participation in the AgForestry Program as excellent training for ag industry leadership. He was a graduate of the second class, completing his two-year stint in 1981. In addition to WAWG, Harlow has also served on the Washington Grain Commission, the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Association, the Washington State Crop Improvement Association, and other boards. He was personally involved in the farm-city swap program back in the 1980s and made some excellent connections with west-side people and politicians, including former Lt. Governor Brad Owen.
Harlow believes more interaction with urban west-siders visiting Eastern Washington agricultural communities would be a positive thing.
“The transition to higher-capacity farm equipment and larger farms has been a tough transition for many rural communities. There are fewer farmers, residents and merchants in the towns, and that also means smaller schools. Most of our rural towns have quite a few empty buildings. Most urban folks in Western Washington really don’t understand our issues and concerns.
“One bright spot, the City of Palouse has had a bit of a revitalization with some new businesses and services setting up shop in Palouse. The downtown area is looking pretty good.”
Looking to the future, Harlow sees the need to get as many active farmers involved with the WAWG organization as possible.
“In many ways, the education and lobbying work of the association is just as important as our fieldwork on the farm,” he noted. “We have to continually be present and make our voices heard in Olympia and in Washington, D.C.”
Harlow is truly sincere about recruiting members; both of his employees are WAWG members.
“Unfortunately, many of the problems we face are at least, in part, from over-regulation at the state and federal levels. If we don’t effectively inform and advocate for our industry, no one else will.”
One major challenge to all farmers is the increased input costs for fuel, seed, fertilizer and herbicides, said Harlow. A similar increase in the price of wheat and other grains has not happened to mitigate those higher costs.
“The push to breach the Snake River dams at the same time there is a campaign to build millions of electric vehicles, increasing the need for electrical power, seems to lack common sense,” Harlow said. “Wind and solar power are not going to replace the clean, efficient water power that the dams provide any time soon.”
Harlow is perfectly happy with his current farm duties, mostly paperwork and parts running. He looks forward to the younger farm generation to continue the consequential work accomplished by the Washington Grain Commission and WAWG.