Contact Us I Subscribe I Advertisers

Barns are a common sight across farm country.
This one sits outside of St. John.

Photo by Amy Swannack

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player


Watershed gets funding boost

RCPP kicks in $5.5 million in matching dollars to help soil health, water quality, habitat

July 2015
By Trista Crossley

Voluntary, incentive-based conservation funding in the Palouse River Watershed is getting a boost in funding to the tune of $11 million, thanks to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Landowners should start to see some of that money flowing later this year.

Authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, the RCPP is designed to focus on public-private partnerships by contributing matching funds put forward by various organizations, such as agricultural associations; private companies; nonprofit organizations; and state, local and tribal governments, who design and implement conservation projects. The program will be implemented through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). See more


Yemen: Another market bites the dust

June 2015
By Scott A. Yates

Towering over the landscape, it’s easy to understand why fighters in Yemen used a flour mill’s grain elevator as the vantage point to set up a sniper nest and just as easy to understand why the elevator was subsequently shelled.

Yemen, which ranked fifth on a list of countries importing soft white wheat, taking 353,000 tons in 2013/14, is in the midst of a civil war. The rebel side, made up of members of the Houthi Tribe, is operating as a proxy for Iran. Those fighting in support of the government are operating under the protection of Saudi Arabia. Following Houthi gains which forced Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee, the Saudis launched an air war, using U.S.-supplied fighter jets to pound the opposition.

A very poor country of 24 million, Yemen has served as the base of several terrorist attacks against the U.S. and elsewhere. Nevertheless, it is also a cash market for soft white wheat. As recently as 25 years ago, there were no flour mills in the country. All wheat shipped in was bagged and sold to customers who liked the color of the white bran. The wheat was stored in homes as food security and ground into flour as needed at small mills which exist in each village.

Such sales still happen, but several large flour mills have also been constructed in the country, and for them, the exterior look of the wheat is not so important. As Vince Peterson, vice president of overseas operations for U.S. Wheat Associates pointed out, milled flour is white regardless of where it comes from. And that change was already having an effect on sales of soft white into the country. See more


Chronicling changes, challenges

Fragile wheat market is just a crisis away from breaking open

June 2015
By Scott A. Yates

The goal of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is not to export more wheat. The goal is to provide farmers the highest degree of profitability possible. So, the fact America lost long-held bragging rights as the world’s top wheat exporter the last two years and is again expected to be denied this marketing year is not as important to Vince Peterson as ensuring that exports provide farmers the best value possible.

Besides, said Peterson, vice president of overseas operations at USW, on a country-by-country basis, the U.S. remains far ahead of any individual competitor. It’s that pesky European Union (EU) with 28 member countries that has usurped America’s title.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has forecast that wheat exports from the U.S. in 2014/15 will total 25.2 million metric tons (mmt), the smallest amount in five years, but still impressive given the lopsided value of a surging dollar. The EU, with France as its leading light, is expected to ship 32.5 mmt.

“We’ll be in second place pretty solidly. Nobody else is pressing that hard. The question is, how seriously do you want to mourn being No. 1 or No. 2? In the end, it’s just a number and doesn’t change the economic circumstances,” Peterson said, adding that the U.S. doesn’t market itself as the largest exporter anyway. “What we say is we are the most reliable supplier, and that is what’s important in the market anyway.” See more


Playing the numbers game

Eastern Washington has to look westward to find influence in the state legislature

June 2015
By Trista Crossley

When you are speaking about the Washington state legislature and how it does business, the whole discussion comes down to the votes—either you have enough or you don’t.

And Eastern Washington is lacking in votes.

A look at the numbers confirms this. When Washington state was first split into districts, there were 19 in Eastern Washington. Now there are just 11 out of a total of 49 districts. In the past, there were 24 or 25 districts that had a considerable amount of agriculture in them. Today, there are approximately 14. According to Jim Jesernig, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) lobbyist, there are three main wheat-producing districts:

• 9th District, which includes Adams, Franklin, Whitman, Garfield and Asotin counties and the southern portion of Spokane County;

• 13th District, which covers Lincoln and Kittitas counties and most of Grant County; and

• 16th District, which covers Columbia and Walla Walla counties and much of Benton County.

Other districts, such as the 12th District, which includes Douglas County, and the 14th, which includes Klickitat County, also have wheat grown in them, but not to the same extent.

“The legislators representing those three districts work very hard and are incredibly effective in supporting agriculture and the wheat industry,” Jesernig said. “But it is unrealistic for wheat farmers to expect them to do all of the heavy lifting alone.” Read more


Taking the reins

Washtucna farmer assumes national leadership role

May 2015

Brett Blankenship, a farmer from Washtucna and a past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), was recently named president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). Between flights to the east coast and points in between, Brett agreed to answer some questions about his new role and the role NAWG plays in the Washington wheat industry.

What do you see as the biggest national challenge facing the wheat industry?

The complex challenge facing the national wheat industry is the lack of competitiveness of growing wheat vs. corn or soybeans. This competition for acres does not expose itself to wheat growers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW)—because wheat is king in the Pacific Northwest—but declining acres is a long-term trend nationally that must be reversed.

Declining acres erodes political influence, and declining acres results in fewer assessment dollars at the state commissions, which of course causes declining research dollars, declining promotional dollars and declining investment in the industry. This downward spiral must be reversed.

As a point of reference: in 1990, wheat led the way in planted acres at more than 75 million acres. Today, wheat is at 55 million acres, corn is at 89 million acres, and soybeans are at about 85 million acres. The missing wheat acres have moved to the corn and soy column.

We have to commit to increasing wheat’s productivity to allow growers to choose to have wheat in their crop rotation. Read more


A different kind of rust belt

May 2015
By Scott A. Yates

By the time you read this, Eastern Washington will either be in the midst of one of the worst stripe rust epidemics in years—or not.

By the time you read this, farmers will have either tank mixed a fungicide in with their spring herbicide application—or not.

By the time you read this Xianming Chen, Agricultural Research Service scientist and national rust expert, will either be basking in a glow of vindication for his mathematical-based stripe rust model forecast—or not.

Let’s back up. On March 4, Chen reported finding stripe rust in a field near Walla Walla. That’s early. In three of the last five years, rust didn’t show up around the southeast Washington community until late April. The early appearance of the disease along the state’s southern border, combined with a relatively mild winter and an early warm up, has Chen estimating losses on stripe rust-susceptible wheat varieties could run as high as 60 percent without a fungicide spray. That’s about how bad stripe rust was in 2010 when Eastern Washington farmers spent $27 million on fungicide applications to save an estimated 13.7 million bushels of grain worth nearly $100 million. See more


In April's issue of Wheat Life, in the story on drones and agriculture, we wrote that a private farmer can purchase (or lease) a UAS and deploy it at attitudes below 400 feet over his own property without concern for regulatory constraint.

It has come to our attention that this is incorrect. There are two ways a farmer can use an unmanned aerial system (UAS). 1. For hobby purposes only. They cannot use any images to make management decisions. 2. If they hold a Certificate of Authorization (COA) that allows FAA Section 333 exemption holders to fly at 200 feet or lower above ground level. The name of the person or company has to be on the COA. The regulations governing unmanned aerial systems are complex and changing, and we encourage anybody interested in UAS to contact their local authorities.

Thank you to those readers who caught this error and for alerting the staff at Wheat Life.


Dollars & Sense

With funding up in the air, the future of the Voluntary Stewardship Program remains uncertain

April 2015
By Trista Crossley

Update: As of April 22, 2015, the Washington State House, Senate and Governor have all agreed to fund the Voluntary Stewardship Program from the same source. Supporters of the program are cautiously optimistic that the final budget will include the money needed to get the program up and running.

Unlike many other issues moving through the Washington state legislature this session, the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) has broad, bipartisan support. Unfortunately, disagreements over how to fund the program may ultimately doom it, exposing farmers in the state to an onslaught of regulations meant to protect critical resource areas.

The legislature has until July of this year to provide “adequate” funding for VSP before the program expires. Ron Shultz, director of policy at the Washington State Conservation Commission (WSCC), the agency tasked with implementing and overseeing VSP, said in this case, adequate funding means approximately $7.6 million over the next two years.

“There’s lots of support in the legislature to fund VSP, but the big question is where to fund it out of,” Shultz said. “That’s the debate." Read more


An overseas reminder

Southeast Asian trip provides chance to connect, reconnect

April 2015
By Mary Palmer Sullivan

From the offices of the Washington Grain Commission, we never forget that numbers representing soft white wheat exports are part of a vital industry made up of thousands of people feeding millions more. But it’s important to be reminded.

Which is probably why Glen Squires, the grain commission’s CEO, suggested I take part in U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) board team travel to Taiwan and the Philippines earlier this year. These trips, organized by USW, occur annually and are intended to provide board members and select state staff with the opportunity to evaluate the overseas personnel and the programs being implemented on behalf of America’s wheat farmers.

As I traveled, I did so with an eye focused on Pacific Northwest wheat interests. Let me say up front that I was very impressed by the caliber of USW’s overseas staff and the relationships they have with our customers, not to mention their attention to detail and unfailingly positive attitude.

Casey Chumrau, a policy analyst with USW, led our team, which also included Leonard Schock of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee and Bob Delsing of the Nebraska Wheat Board. It was quite a group, and while a business trip can’t ever be considered “fun,” it came pretty close at times. See more


Getting a head start

AMMO workshop caters to young, beginning producers

March 2015
By Trista Crossley

For most young producers, finding the financial help to get started farming, whether it’s for purchasing land and equipment or as an operating loan, is one of the biggest obstacles they’ll face. The Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO), recognizing this fact, added a workshop to its 2015 schedule where young and beginning producers could talk directly to lenders and government agencies about programs and products. Twenty-seven people attended the conference in mid-January at the Red Lion Hotel in Kennewick. See more


Building on the shoulders of giants

WSU's 100th variety to be released this spring

March 2015
By Scott A. Yates

Wheat farming may have started 10,000 years ago, but it’s only been within the last 115 that scientists have begun to understand enough about the plant’s genetic machinery to improve upon it through breeding.

One of the first to perceive this remarkable ability was William Jasper Spillman, the 11th of 15 children born to Missouri farmers Emily and Nathan Spilman (William changed the spelling in college). Arguably the world’s first wheat breeder, Spillman was definitely the first to breed wheats at Washington State University (WSU). His 1901 paper, “Quantitative Studies on the Transmission of Parental Characters to Hybrid Offspring,” played a major role in the acceptance of Gregor Mendel’s lost Laws of Inheritance. It also laid the groundwork for his departure from Pullman to Washington, D.C., where he served in influential positions within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and became known as the founder of agricultural economics.

But, it was during Spillman’s brief, seven-year sojourn (1894-1901) at what was then called the Washington Agricultural College and School of Science, that he established the foundation for the improvement of wheat varieties within the state, the nation and throughout the world. Not to mention, he served as coach of the school’s first football team, the Farmers.

Spillman’s legacy is being honored this spring with WSU’s release of a new winter wheat variety targeted for the 12-to-18-inch precipitation zone as a replacement for Xerpha and several private varieties. Named “Jasper,” the variety (formerly known as WA8169) is not just noteworthy for its namesake, but as the 100th cultivar released from the Pullman campus since Spillman’s hard white club, Hybrid 60, was introduced in 1905. See more


World commodity requires world traveler

February 2015
By Randy Suess

When you’re dealing with a world commodity like wheat, customer service involves travel—sometimes to the other side of the world—which is where I found myself in early December.

Cape Town, South Africa, was the location for the 25th anniversary of the International Association of Operative Millers, Mideast and Africa (IAOM MEA) district meeting. IAOM, founded in the U.S. in 1896, is now an international organization with meetings in different districts around the world each year. Comprised of flour millers and allied trade representatives, its purpose is to advance technology within the milling and seed processing industries. More than 100 exhibitors set up shop, and the 700 people who registered had to be housed in five different hotels.

Although South Africa is about as far away from my home outside of Colfax as you can get, the conference provided the perfect opportunity to “kill” many birds with one stone. That’s why the Washington Grain Commission sent me. Among the countries represented at the event, plenty were purchasers of soft white wheat in the past, including Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Iran, a major soft white buyer before their 1979 revolution, was also present. See more


Filling up a fuel plan

Confusion still lingers around SPCC requirements

February 2015
By Trista Crossley

More than six months have passed since Congress passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that included an exemption from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC). But based on the number of people attending Kenneth Mattson’s convention breakout session on SPCC plans, confusion lingers on who needs a plan and what that plan should look like.

Before the exemption was passed, any farmer who had a total of 1,320 gallons or more of aboveground fuel storage was required to have a SPCC plan. If a single tank had 5,000 gallons or more of capacity or the total storage capacity was 10,000 gallons or more, farmers had to have a professional engineer certify their plan.

Under the 2014 exemption, operations that have less than 6,000 gallons of total aboveground storage capacity and no history of a spill are exempt from having to have a SPCC plan. In addition, tanks of less than 1,000 gallons do not have to be counted in the total. Farmers with more than 6,000 total gallons of fuel storage will need either a self-certified plan or a plan certified by a professional engineer. See more


Puzzling out program options

December farm bill workshops give producers an opportuity to see online decision aids in action

January 2015
By Trista Crossley

December is usually the season to be merry, but in 2014, it was also the season to work through the farm bill program options available to farmers. A series of workshops held throughout the month by Washington State University (WSU) Extension, with cooperation from the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), aimed to shed a little light on the process.

More than 540 people took part in five workshops held across Eastern Washington. Randy Fortenbery, a WSU ag economics professor, talked about factors that can influence wheat prices and the perils of trying to forecast those prices more than a couple of months into the future. Shannon Neibergs, WSU Extension economist and the director of the Western Extension Risk Management Education Center in Spokane, gave an overview of the new programs: Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC). Rounding out the workshops was Aaron Esser, county director for Lincoln-Adams WSU Extension, who walked attendees through one of the online decision aids. See more



Genetic diversity is key to crop improvement

January 2015
By Trista Crossley

Thomas Clemente, a professor of biotechnology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), closed out the 2014 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention with a simple message about crop improvement: it’s all about genetic diversity.

“We need to improve upon genetic diversity, and historically, how did we improve genetic diversity? Through conventional crop breeding,” he said. “Whatever the traits are within a wheat population, that’s what we were restricted to. A soybean population? That’s what we were restricted to. A corn population? That’s what we were restricted to. But with the tools of biotechnology, it is now unlimited.”

Clemente called biotechnology a complement to traditional plant breeding, explaining that it doesn’t speed up the process of developing a new variety, it just provides breeders with more access to genetic diversity. One gene, one protein is a simple concept that’s at the heart of genetic engineering, he said, crediting that idea to George W. Beadle, a corn geneticist who won a nobel prize for the discovery. Read more


Running out of room?

Convention panel considers capacity issues in Northwest rail and river systems

December 2014
By Trista Crossley

There’s no doubt that raising and harvesting wheat is half the battle, but moving the crop to market is what allows farmers to get paid. Here in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), we’ve got transportation options—rail, river and road—but is the system in danger of running out of capacity?

One of the break-out sessions at the 2014 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention put that question to four experts representing the river and the rails. From the river’s point of view, it’s clear sailing. The railroad’s answer, however, was a little more murky.

The transportation panel consisted of:

• Gregory Guthrie, director of marketing for agricultural products from BNSF Railway Company

• Terry Whiteside, Whiteside & Associates, a transportation consulting firm based in Billings, Mont.;

• Rob Rich, vice president of marine services for Shaver Transportation and president of the Columbia River Towboat Association; and

• Heather Stebbings, government relations manager for the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA). Read more


Perseverance was key ingredient to Orville Vogel's success

November 2014
By Scott A. Yates

It’s interesting to speculate whether Orville Vogel would have ever become the renowned wheat breeder, plot equipment designer/fabricator and general all-around great guy were it not for a slip of the tongue as a 12 year old.

An oral history Vogel recorded in 1984 refers only to his parents separating when he was in the seventh grade. That’s about as much as Richard Vogel, Orville’s son, knew most of his life. Then, in the 1980s, on a drive to Spokane from Pullman for a medical visit, the elder Vogel explained what happened and why his son never had relatives on his father’s side of the family.

Around 1919, young Vogel, who lived with his parents and four siblings on a farm outside Pilger, Neb., accompanied his father, William, to Omaha to sell cattle. When he returned, Vogel told his mother he had gone with his father to a house of ill repute. It’s not hard to imagine a 12 year old failing to understand the significance of that comment, but his mother, Emelia did not. With that, she sent her husband on his way, never to be seen again.

The man who became the father of semidwarf wheats—without which Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” would not have been possible—didn’t go to the seventh grade much on account of his being the oldest son and it falling on him to look after the farm. After a year, however, his mother made the decision to sell and move the family to town.

In Pilger, Vogel got a job from his uncle for a $1 a day and room and board and entered eighth grade. He had already made the decision he wasn’t going to high school “because I felt pretty dumb,” but a friend asked for his help tutoring math. When Vogel found out the boy had passed his algebra and beginning Latin classes, he says on the oral history, “I thought of all the dumb guys— here I helped him and he made it, so I’m going to go to high school.” He never missed a day in four years. Read more


Lessons learned

After six years, private strip trial is signing off

October 2014
By Trista Crossley

According to Paul Porter, this year’s AgVentures NW/JR Miller strip trial in Ritzville was a true demonstration in farming.

“We don’t always get it right,” he said. “A plugged drill stopped us from getting all the data that we wanted. We had already made the first pass before we figured it out.” Because of the planting problem three varieties—Otto, SY 107 and Roslyn—were unable to be harvested and were left out of the results.

Of the seven varieties that were harvested and tested, WSU 8143 Curiosity was the highest yielder at 42.93 bushels per acre with LCS 10-1073 coming in a close second with 42.88 bushels per acre. All varieties were tested for falling numbers with the lowest, OSU’s Bobtail, clocking a 341. See more


Destination Costa Rica

Latin America demanding more U.S. grain

October 2014
By Glen W. Squires

More than 40 percent of U.S. wheat found its export home in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean last year. If that’s not a growth market, I don’t know what is.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) expects that export number will continue to grow, and to assist in that growth, the organization recently sponsored a Latin American Buyers Conference in Costa Rica. More than a hundred individuals representing 18 countries and 49 companies attended the meeting.

The venue, located an hour and a half from the nearest airport and large city, created a captive audience which provided ample time for interaction with buyers. Back in Spokane, I have worked by email to solidify the connections that were established.

Topics at the late July meeting ranged from wheat-class-specific information focusing on quality attributes, supply and demand, global grain trends, freight issues, trade constraints, finance and the impact of changing weather patterns. The Wheat Foods Council provided an update on the gluten-free situation in the U.S., a concern that a Mexican participant echoed. See more

WAWG, WGC comment on APHIS report

More than 18 months after genetically engineered wheat was found on an eastern Oregon farm, a 12,000 page report released by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS) on Sept. 26 has determined the event was an isolated occurrence.

Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, expressed satisfaction with the conclusions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture agency report.

“The WGC is pleased by the results and I’m sure our customers will also be pleased,” he said, adding that while the investigation contained no bombshells, it does put to rest certain questions.

“APHIS compared the wheat volunteers found on the Oregon farm to 191 known and commercially available varieties of wheat and found they were not related to any known wheat cultivar,” Squires said. “APHIS was unable to determine exactly how the GE wheat came to grow in the farmer’s field. There was no indication any wheat with the regulated traits entered the commercial supply chain.”

Nicole Berg, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, said the investigation supports what growers have long suspected.

“We are grateful the report confirms the wheat’s industry’s contention that this was an isolated occurrence. At the same time, we believe APHIS’s scrutiny will provide our customers here in the U.S. and overseas with full confidence in our food chain,” she said.

For more information, contact Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, at 509-659-0610 or Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, at 509-456-2481. The APHIS report is available here.


Wireworms take bite out of winter wheat crop

August/September 2014
By Aaron Esser, David Crowder, and Ivan Milosavljevic

Wireworms continue to be a persistent pest in cereal grain systems in the Pacific Northwest, but unlike previous years when most reports of severe damage were in spring wheat, damage to winter wheat took center stage this season.

The increased damage could be the result of greater farmer awareness, severe growing conditions that limited winter wheat’s ability to outgrow wireworm pressure, inadequate carryover of seed treatments or a combination of all three. Research efforts will begin expanding into winter wheat cropping systems this fall.

Currently, research continues to focus on controlling wireworms with seed-applied insecticides in spring cereal grain systems. This spring, we examined 46 different seed-applied insecticide treatments at two locations. These treatments are either new products being examined for efficacy or reformulations of current products. A second study was also established examining the tolerance of wheat, barley and oats to wireworms with or without seed-applied neonicotinoid insecticides. Preliminary results show that barley and oats are more tolerant of wireworms than wheat, and thus, a better fit under heavy infestations. Read more


A look at how the NRCS uses science to set standards

August/September 2014

Back in May, several top Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) officials spent a day touring Spokane County and getting a first-hand glimpse of what incentive-based conservation programs are accomplishing (see the June 2014 issue of Wheat Life). Some of the discussions during that trip touched on how NRCS uses science to set their standards and where that science comes from. Curious for more, we sent a list of questions to C. Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D., NRCS’s deputy chief for Science and Technology. Read more


Calling all counties

County associations are critical to WAWG's success

July 2014
By Trista Crossley

Anybody will tell you that effective communication is a two-way street, and one of the ways the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) communicates with its members is through the county associations.

Members in each of the 13, wheat-producing counties that make up WAWG elect a representative to the state board of directors. Each county association also elects a president, vice president and secretary/treasurer. Some counties are very active, holding meetings each month and rotating members through leadership positions regularly, while other counties only meet once or twice a year with the same person acting as the state representative as well as president for multiple years.

The role the county associations play in WAWG is critical. They are the primary source of new members, they bring local issues to the attention of the state board, and they help disseminate information from the state board back to individual members.

In order to bolster member involvement in the county associations, WAWG returns 15 percent of membership dues back to the counties. While part of the money is meant to be used as operating funds, it can also be used to fund scholarships and other agricultural programs. Some counties have used part of their funds to help support agricultural research or to contribute to items to auctions that benefit agriculture. Read more


Falling Numbers

Research strategies to stay out of the red

July 2014
By Camille M. Steber, Arron H. Carter, and Michael O. Pumphrey

Farmers who already balance a myriad of factors when choosing a particular wheat variety to plant now have a new concern to consider: a variety’s susceptibility to low falling numbers (FN).

Depending on an elevator’s discount schedule, varieties with an FN below 300 seconds can be discounted 25 cents per bushel for every 25 seconds they fall below 300. In 2013, such discounts cost Washington farmers millions of dollars. The Washington Grain Commission-funded project, “Developing Washington Wheat with Higher Falling Numbers,” is aimed at reducing the risk of low FN by breeding for genetic resistance. The data from this project can also help farmers choose cultivars with more resistance to low FN. For a more in-depth review of low FN and its causes, see the 2013 Wheat Life article at Read more


The man at ground zero of the GMO wheat event

One year later, biotech wheat found on Oregon farm is still raising questions

June 2014
By Scott Yates

It’s doubtful Blake Rowe would have been many people’s first choice to helm the wheat industry’s response to the discovery of GMO wheat plants in an Oregon field a year ago.

That’s not saying anything against the CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission and the Oregon Wheat Growers League. A former timber executive, he has been a quick study, picking up the arcane language of the wheat industry faster than most and fitting in well among the company of men and women who make their living from nature. He is the first to admit, however, he had more to learn about a complicated industry when news broke that genetically engineered wheat plants had been found in Oregon.

A morning phone call from the head of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Oregon State University (OSU) on May 1, 2013, thrust Rowe center stage in the biggest wheat industry story since Karnal bunt (a quarantined disease, its discovery threatened U.S. exports) was discovered in Arizona in 1996.

Although the public learned of the mystery of the genetically engineered plants on May 29 by which time the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had confirmed the initial tests conducted at OSU, industry insiders had several weeks to digest the news, worry about markets and prepare a response. Rowe’s days were a blur of conference calls, many of which included his counterparts at the Washington Grain Commission and the Idaho Wheat Commission. Read more


Seeing is believing

NRCS officials tour Spokane County wheat farms and hear stories behind incentive-based conservation programs

June 2014
By Trista Crossley

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but experiencing something first hand can be priceless. That’s what the Washington Association of Wheat Growers was hoping for when they invited top state and federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) officials to visit Spokane County and see what’s happening on the ground with incentive-based conservation programs.

Ann Mills, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment; Wayne Honeycutt, NRCS deputy chief for science and technology; and Astor Boozer, NRCS regional conservationist for the West, made the trip from Washington, D.C., to join Roylene Rides At The Door, NRCS’s Washington state conservationist; Sherre Copeland, NRCS partnership liaison; and Shaun McKinney, leader of the NRCS National Water Quality Team who is based in Portland. They were joined by local wheat farmers, conservation district staff and representatives from state congressional offices. Invitations to the tour were sent to Washington state tribes, but they were unable to attend.

The first stop on the tour was at the Emtman Bros. farm in Valleyford, where Jeff Emtman spoke to the group about direct seeding using a Cross Slot drill and using crop residue to control erosion in an area that receives an average of 16” of rainfall a year. Mills asked Emtman if using precision technology helped him save money. Emtman explained that by reducing the amount of overlap that occurs when spraying or seeding, he saves not only money on inputs, but also reduces potential runoff, which helps with water quality.

“Direct seeding has made a big impact,” WAWG President Nicole Berg added, explaining that at her farm near Paterson, they only receive about 6” of rainfall per year, so the fewer passes they have to do over the fields, the better. “In our area, air quality due to dust is what we have to address. Here, it’s more water quality.” Read more


Feet on the ground

Field days and plot tours give farmers a chance to grow their knowledge

May 2014
By Trista Crossley

Download a schedule of this year's field days and plot tours here.

The proof is often said to be in the pudding, but for wheat farmers, it’s what’s growing out of the soil that matters. That’s why there’s no substitute for the field days and plot tours that allow growers to get up close and personal with new varieties and the breeders responsible for their development.

“A critical management function growers have is choosing a variety that performs on their farm in their area,” said Stephen Guy, Washington State University (WSU) Extension agronomist. “We are trying to give them that kind of variety performance information. Something that is pertinent to their growing environments.” Read more


Breathing life into barley

Highland Specialty Grain takes on a tall task

April 2014
By Scott A. Yates

Dan McKay may be a businessman, but he’s a businessman with a soft spot for barley. That helps explain why, in an era of falling barley acreage and prices, he bought WestBred’s barley program from Monsanto.

The giant seed company purchased WestBred LLC in 2009 as a way to quickly get back into the wheat market after mothballing its Roundup Ready wheat program in 2002. Uninterested in the company’s barley program, Monsanto sold it to McKay who got WestBred’s germplasm and other considerations for his money. He established Highland Specialty Grain in 2013 to develop and market the grain.

McKay, who served on the Washington Wheat Commission from 1998 to 2003, also operates McKay Seed Company with offices in Almira, Moses Lake and Rosalia. He will serve as chief operating officer of the new company.

Don Sloan, who has an ownership share, will be CEO in charge of logistics and will remain manager of McKay Seed’s Moses Lake operation. McKay’s two sons are also involved as owners. Mike McKay is Highland’s barley breeder, and Bryce McKay is the company’s commercial manager. Read more


All in the family

Confronting the tough questions before a family business runs into them

April 2014
By Trista Crossley

In the farming community, handing down productive, healthy land from generation to generation is the goal most people work towards. It seems like an ideal cycle: children return to the farm after school and work for a few years under the guidance of parents until the older generation slows down and retires. The reality is usually far messier, with siblings fighting amongst themselves, parents unwilling or unable to relinquish control and the family farm in danger of going under or being split into pieces.

After all, very few things can untie the family knot faster than money.

So how does a family go about keeping the dirt in the field instead of piling it around the kitchen table? How do you separate personal relationships from business ones, and is it even possible to do that when your partner is also your father who grounded you or your sister who you once teased mercilessly? Read more


After Egypt

U.S. Wheat Associates' marketing plan for the future

April 2014
By Scott A. Yates

A dozen years ago when Russia and other “Black Sea” countries began selling large quantities of wheat into the Egyptian market, there was much hand-wringing across U.S. farm country. After all, Egypt was and remains the world’s largest wheat importer, taking about 10 million metric tons of the grain a year.

Much of that trade has included millions of tons of soft white wheat which has made the 8,000-mile journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Port of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea. Additional millions of tons of U.S. hard and soft red wheat have traveled 6,500 miles from Gulf of Mexico ports over the years. Read more


Much ado about compromise

Why the Voluntary Stewardship Program was such a critical turning point in water quality negotiations, and how it got stakeholders working together

March 2014
By Kara Rowe
WAWG Director of Affairs and Outreach

If you mention the term Voluntary Stewardship Program, or VSP, in the state of Washington, you may be met with eye rolls and deep breaths. That’s because the negotiation behind the program wasn’t a very pretty process, but it led to solutions that work.

In Washington, the state Growth Management Act (GMA) requires counties to designate and protect critical areas, which include wetlands, flood plains, aquifer recharge areas, steep slopes and riparian areas (especially salmon habitat). Agriculture is not exempt from the GMA critical areas requirements, and a property rights initiative in 2006 failed to move through the state legislature. Read more


Wading through water quality in Washington state

Jay Gordon, the Washington State Dairy Federation's executive director, on how his industry is working to keep the state's water clean

March 2014

Jay Gordon has been knee deep in Washington’s water quality issues since he became executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation (WSDF) more than 13 years ago. With many people pointing to the state’s dairy industry as a major contributor to water pollution and nutrient runoff, Wheat Life wanted to find out how he and his industry are dealing with the issue and what lessons other ag industries in the state can take from them.

While the 1974 Boldt decision wasn’t directly related to water quality, it seemed to kick start the issue in Washington state when some of the language in the decision tied it to water pollution and salmon habitat. Are there other decisions or events related to water quality that stand out in your mind?

• The 1996 Clean Water Act Enforcement actions by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) against dairy farms in northwest Washington. On a Sunday, the EPA flew over Whatcom County and took pictures of farms they thought were discharging pollutants into water sources. The next morning, the EPA knocked on the door of 11 of those producers and said they had pictures of waste being discharged. The EPA eventually took enforcement action against several of those farms. That was a wake-up call for us.

• The 1998 passage of the Dairy Nutrient Management Act which established a technical assistance and inspection program for dairy farmers.

• The 1999 ESA listings of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and Chinook and Chum salmon in Puget Sound.

• Last year’s decision in the Lemire case when the state supreme court confirmed the State Water Pollution Control Act (RCW 90.48) which allows the Department of Ecology to enforce against farms that either pollute or have the potential to pollute. Read more


WSU Extension enters small grains future

Website puts info at farmers' fingertips

March 2014
By Scott A. Yates

Eastern Washington wheat farmers who stood at railway sidings 100 years ago listening to Washington State University (WSU) educators conduct seminars from the back of flatbed rail cars wouldn’t recognize the school’s latest delivery system, but the goal is the same.

It should come as no surprise that the effort to revitalize Extension’s role as the trusted source of small grain agricultural information is computer-based. The surprise may be that it took so long to create the one-stop web presence grain farmers could easily access.

Rich Koenig, associate dean and director of Extension, said for many years the organization’s emphasis was on survival and preserving core areas. It was only after emerging from five years of drastic budget reductions that the unit has been able to pull out of its downward spiral. Now, Koenig said, the singular question facing Extension is how best to communicate the enormous content that has been amassed by WSU researchers and educators.

Two events occurred nearly simultaneously to make the new initiative possible. Koenig was promoted from chair of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences to his current post in October 2012, and Drew Lyon came on board in November of the same year as the endowed chair in small grains extension and research, weed science. Read More


Flying under the radar

Wheat Foods Council counters gluten-free claims

February 2014
By Scott Yates

Judi Adams is no stranger to fad diets, but no, thank you very much, she doesn’t need to lose weight. Adams’ exposure to various weight-loss and health-inspired diets comes as part of her job as president of the Wheat Foods Council (WFC), a national organization created in 1972 to promote wheat-based foods.

In her nearly 17 years with the organization, Adams has seen fad diets come (Scarsdale, Atkins, South Beach) and fad diets go (Scarsdale, Atkins, South Beach). After all, they aren’t called fads (“intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities”) for nothing.

It may be Adams’ legacy of experience that helps explain her unflappable calm in the face of the wheat industry’s latest adversity. Beginning in 2009 with the publication of the “G-Free Diet” by Elisabeth Hasselbeck and continuing with the 2011 release of “Wheat Belly” by William Davis and 2013’s “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, the wheat industry has faced a slew of challenges. But Adams sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but I’m seeing a lot more articles being written that are looking at gluten-free claims using good science,” Adams said. “The gluten-free market, which grew by 44 percent between 2011 and 2013, is not going to continue growing. The studies I have seen show it leveling off around 2015.”

Last year, Packaged Facts, a market research company, estimated the gluten-free market in the U.S. at $4.2 billion with an expected expansion to $6.6 billion by 2017. That’s because food manufacturers, always on the lookout for the next big trend, have joined the gluten-free bandwagon as a way to pad their bottom lines. Read more