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Hagen Carlson (5) supervises during harvest
near Ritzville.

Photo by Chauna Carlson






What the growers have to say about the plan to replace groundwater with surface water in the Odessa Subarea

April 2016

Brad Arlt

Despite an estimated cost of $250/acre, Brad Arlt and his brother-in-law, DeWayne Kagele, are leaning towards accepting a water contract when surface water becomes available to their 2,700 acres of irrigated ground 20 miles east of Moses Lake. They are counting on being able to grow more high-value crops to offset the water costs.

“While we are okay with that price, it’s going to be pretty tough to manage,” Arlt said. “We are between a rock and a hard place. We need water, and electricity prices are sky high. We can’t afford to pay electricity on our deep wells anymore.” See more


Sticker shock?

Odessa Subarea groundwater replacement project moves forward, but some growers worry that the cost of water is too high

April 2016
By Trista Crossley

As progress on the Odessa Subarea groundwater replacement project flows forward and water contracts are being made available, some growers have expressed concern over high assessment fees. But figuring out how high is too high, like beauty, might be based on the eye of the beholder.

The Odessa Subarea straddles portions of Lincoln, Adams and Franklin counties in central Washington. The area’s main economic activity is agriculture—both irrigated and dryland—and food processing with an annual economic value estimated at close to a billion dollars. The problem is much of that irrigated agriculture relies on deep wells that tap into the Odessa Aquifer. Many communities within the area also rely on the aquifer for drinking water, but the aquifer has been drained to the point where wells are failing and what water is left has high sodium concentrations. Some studies estimate that at the current rate of decline, if no action is taken, 35 percent of the wells in the subarea could cease production by 2020. The state and federally approved solution is to expand the Columbia Basin Project’s (CBP) network of canals and pumps to supply surface water to groundwater-irrigated acres of the Odessa subarea that are within the CBP’s boundaries.

Work on the project began in earnest in 2006 when the Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) to find alternatives to groundwater in the Odessa Subarea. Ecology partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), which administers the CBP and has final say over projects using CBP water and infrastructure, to develop a plan that delivers the most surface water to as many acres as possible in the most cost-effective manner. In 2013, Reclamation decided on an $800 million plan that uses Columbia River water pumped into Banks Lake to provide surface water to approximately 70,000 acres north and south of I-90 by expanding the East Low Canal and installing additional pumps and pipeline. The irrigation district most affected by the project, the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID), took on the task of implementing the project. See more


Bidding bugs goodbye

State commission helps minor crops deal with pests, register pesticides

March 2016
By Trista Crossley

There’s another state entity in Washington that directs its efforts to putting out fires, only instead of flames, these fires are made of pests.

The Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration (WSCPR) was created through legislation in 1995 as a response to the tightening of pesticide registration requirements in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Amendments of 1988, which required that all pesticides had to be reregistered and meet new safety standards. Rather than spend the time and money to maintain those pesticide registrations, many companies instead elected to drop them, especially for limited-use pesticides and products intended for minor crops. WSCPR filled that gap, funding the research and studies necessary to reregister limited-use pesticides for use in Washington state.

“Washington is an intensely minor cropping state, third in the nation after California and Florida,” explained Alan Schreiber, WSCPR’s administrator since 1995. In fact, minor-use crops such as cranberries, spinach, lentils and chickpeas comprise more than half of Washington agriculture, even though they are produced on a limited number of acres. In 1999, the state legislature expanded WSCPR’s mission beyond pesticide registration to tackling any kind of problem that involved pests.

“We put out pest management fires,” Schreiber said. “If a crop has an unmet pest management need, we could help out. We can figure out a research solution. We can line up a lab, a scientist.” See more



State agency attempts to put a price tag on 2015 water shortage

March 2016
By Trista Crossley

A recently released report from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is attempting to put a price tag on how much last summer’s drought cost farmers.

Back in the spring of 2015, WSDA calculated that the drought’s worst-case scenario could cost the state $1.2 billion, a number touted by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when he made a statewide declaration of drought in May. At that point, about one-fifth of the state’s rivers and streams were at record lows, the snowpack was nonexistent, and many areas of the state were already experiencing hotter-than-normal temperatures. By the last week of August, at the peak of the drought, 85 percent of the state was categorized as being in “extreme drought.” To add fuel to the fire, the state was experiencing wildfires on a historic scale, and exports were still recovering from a midwinter port slowdown. Agriculture, it seemed, was taking hits from all sides, and except for WSDA’s worst-case scenario estimate, the true impact of the drought was still up in the air. See more


WSDA reworks pesticide rules

Stakeholder workgroup offers advice on potential changes

February 2016
By Trista Crossley

Editor’s note: Throughout this article, we use the term “pesticide” to include herbicides.

Rules and regulations seem to be the bane of growers, so when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced they were planning on consolidating and simplifying the use-restricted pesticide rules, stakeholders took notice.

Joel Kangiser, policy assistant in the WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division, said the current rules are complex, confusing and out of date. In fact, some sections are so out of date that applicators can’t follow a pesticide label and still be in compliance with the rules. So even though the department hasn’t seen an uptick in problems or incidents involving use-restricted pesticides and sensitive crops, they’ve decided the time is ripe to review current regulations. See more


Will agriculture save the planet before it destroys it?

At the 2015 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, Intrexon's Jack Bobo asked a question that had growers buzzing

January 2016
By Trista Crossley

Jack Bobo started and ended his 2015 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention speech somewhat provocatively.

Bobo is a senior vice president at Intrexon, a synthetic biotechnology company that owns, among others, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which is the company behind the nonbrowning, GMO Arctic Apple, and AquaBounty Technologies, which raises GMO salmon. He began his speech by asking the question, can agriculture save the planet before it destroys it? He ended his speech with this statement:

“The next 35 years are not just the most important 35 years there have ever been in the history of agriculture…They are the most important 35 years there will ever be in the history of agriculture, and that’s why now matters.” See more


A familiar face

Long-time political activist Mary Dye takes on a new role

January 2015
By Trista Crossley

Mary Dye might be (relatively) new to the Washington State Legislature, but with more than 20 years of political activism behind her, she’s already a name to be reckoned with in most Eastern Washington GOP circles.

Dye was appointed to fill Susan Fagan’s 9th District House seat last May and was re-elected in November’s general election.

From the time she was young, growing up in southeast Idaho, Dye said she’s loved all things agriculture. After graduating from the University of Idaho with an agronomy degree, Dye spent several years in Thailand with the Peace Corp before landing back in the Pacific Northwest as a fieldman for a crop development company. It was during this time she met her husband, Roger Dye, and became part of his family’s wheat farm near Pomeroy.

“They knew I was going to stick around when we had his and hers tractors. For a wedding present, he got me a new Morris HR 36 Culti-Weeder,” Dye said, laughing. See more


It's all in the numbers

Panel paints a picture of future wheat exports

December 2015
By Trista Crossley

For Pacific Northwest wheat farmers, the world export market is more than just a vague idea of customers outside America’s borders. With 85 percent of our wheat exported overseas, what happens in countries on the other side of the world directly affect our ability to make a living. So understanding how those markets work is as important as knowing how to balance the books.

Growers at the 2015 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention had the opportunity to get better acquainted with what’s happening in the export market through a world wheat markets panel featuring two experts: Vince Peterson, vice president of overseas operations for U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), and Joe Sowers, USW assistant regional vice president in the south Asia region. The panel was moderated by Randy Suess, a Washington Grain Commissioner and retired wheat farmer from Whitman County. See more


Sowing the best

County associations help select, spread certified seed

November 2015
By Trista Crossley

It doesn’t matter what kind of crop you grow, if you don’t have good seed, you can’t have a good crop. And making sure that Washington farmers have the best seed available are the Washington state county crop improvement associations, which work under the umbrella of the Washington State Crop Improvement Association (WSCIA).

WSCIA is a nonprofit organization that works with Washington State University (WSU), the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington state seed growers to develop, produce and distribute certified seed throughout the state. It was established in 1946 and incorporated in 1951. Jerry Robinson, manager of WSCIA, said that from the beginning, every county had a crop improvement association with its own board of directors and its own set of bylaws. Each county elected a representative to sit on the state crop improvement board. When WSU developed a new variety of a crop, it allocated only a certain amount of seed to each county, leaving it to the county crop improvement association to distribute that seed to growers. See more


Checking in with the Corps

A new commander answers questions on projects, funding and the unique challenges facing the Columbia-Snake River System

November 2015

To call the Columbia River the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest isn’t much of an exaggeration. It’s the fourth largest river in the North America and drains an area of about 259,000 square miles. The river and its tributaries have to fill numerous roles, from transportation artery to recreational playground to providing a home for fish and wildlife. The responsibility for overseeing this watery network and the infrastructure that has grown up on it has been given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

Back in July, Brigadier General Scott A. Spellmon took command of the Northwestern Division of the Corps, one of the agencies that manages the water resources infrastructure in the Columbia and Missouri river basins. Spellmon He oversees a program of more than $3 billion in civil works, environmental restoration and military construction. There are five operating districts: Portland, Ore.; Seattle and Walla Walla, Wash.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Omaha, Neb., employing a workforce of nearly 5,000 people. See more


Reaping the benefits

Program will certify farmers' environmentally sustainable efforts

October 2015
By Trista Crossley

Getting consumers, environmental groups and government agencies to understand and acknowledge farmers who grow food in environmentally sustainable ways often feels like an uphill battle. But a group of Pacific Northwest direct seeders is hoping to add a little traction to those efforts.

Farmed Smart is a sustainable farm certification program developed by the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association (PNDSA), a nonprofit group formed in 2000 that focuses on environmentally sustainable and economically viable direct seed cropping systems. PNDSA is active across Washington, Oregon and Idaho and has approximately 270 members. According to PNDSA Executive Director Kay Meyer, the Farmed Smart program is aimed directly at Pacific Northwest dryland wheat growers and wraps up PNDSA’s mission statement and objectives into one package.

“Farmed Smart is a positive way to support conservation practices, to promote them and to help consumers, policy stakeholders and retailers understand the benefits these farmers are providing for the environment,” she explained.

Originally conceived by the PNDSA board of directors as a way to identify and define direct seeding beyond just the drill, Farmed Smart has been in the works for nearly three years. It has received grant funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), Northwest Farm Credit Services, the Grant County Conservation District and, most recently, the Palouse River Watershed Implementation Partnership which recently received $11 million through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. See more


In Ocober's issue of Wheat Life, in the WAWG@Work section, we had a short story on USDA's release of crop insurance harvest prices. We incorrectly stated that these were harvest prices for 2016, when in fact, they are for the 2015 crop year. Below is the corrected story.

USDA releases crop insurance harvest prices for 2015

USDA’s RMA recently announced approved harvest prices for the 2015 crop year for revenue protection insurance plans within the Common Crop Insurance Policy for wheat, barley, fall canola and rapeseed located in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

For producers who bought either of the revenue protection plans, the harvest price is used to determine the calculated revenue. The harvest price is multiplied by the appraised and/or harvested production to determine the calculated revenue. The calculated revenue is subtracted from the final revenue guarantee to determine possible indemnities (insurance losses).

 A list of crop insurance agents is available at all USDA Service Centers and online at the RMA Agent Locator. Growers can use the RMA Cost Estimator to get a premium amount estimate of their insurance needs online. Learn more about crop insurance and the modern farm safety net at


The search for a new deep furrow drill

August/September 2015
By Trista Crossley

What do you do when a vital piece of farm equipment is no longer made, and replacement parts are nearly impossible find? You figure out a way to have somebody build it. That’s exactly what a group of Eastern Washington dryland farmers and WSU researchers have done with a deep furrow drill.

Deep furrow drills were introduced in the mid 1960s and revolutionized dryland wheat farming in east-central Washington where average rainfall is less than 12 inches a year. The drills allow farmers using a winter wheat-summer fallow rotation to place seed deep into stored soil moisture. Unfortunately, those drills have a tough time working through residue, making farmers reluctant to leave heavy stubble on the ground, which can protect the soil from erosion.

“My grandad scattered seed on the ground, harrowed it in and hoped the rain would bring it up,” said Chris Herron, a farmer from Connell, Wash., who is one of the primary forces behind the search for a new deep furrow drill. “Single disc drills planted seed one or two inches deep. If you had moisture you planted. If you didn’t have moisture, you dusted it in and let the winter rains get it. The deep furrow drills stopped that, and instead of waiting for rain, they let you seed deeper into moisture earlier in the fall.” See more


Taking the lead

Derek Sandison settles in as WSDA's new director

August/September 2015

When Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Director Bud Hover announced he was stepping down in March, the search was on to find a replacement.

Enter Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) employee Derek Sandison, the director of the Wenatchee-based Office of Columbia River. With long experience overseeing complex, large-scale water supply development projects along the Columbia River Basin, Sandison looks to be a good fit at WSDA where he will oversee an agency with a staff of 750 employees and a budget of more than $150 million. The department is responsible for supporting Washington’s agriculture industry, ensuring the movement of agriculture products both at home and abroad and managing the use and registration of pesticides, among other responsibilities.

Even before he officially assumed the mantle of WSDA director in June, Sandison was traveling around the state, meeting growers, stakeholders and industry groups. He has also been invited to speak to wheat growers at a future Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ board meeting. Sandison took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions from Wheat Life about his new position and address some growers’ concerns about his Ecology background. See more


A rail plan for repairs, rehab

WSDOT releases 10-year strategic guide for PCC shortline rail system

August/September 2015
By Trista Crossley

In May, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released the Palouse River and Coulee City (PCC) Rail System Strategic Plan, a document expected to guide the next 10 years of shortline rail operations.

PCC's Bob Westby“We think going forward, this is a great road map to ensure the long-term viability of the system,” explained Bob Westby, WSDOT’s PCC Railway System manager. “We’ve broken the plan down into three needs. There’s a need on the capital improvement side. There’s a need to do some policy things, and there is a need for economic development. All those things feeding together are going to make a shortline rail system that is absolutely an asset to Eastern Washington.”

Covering 2015-2025, the plan identifies $58 million in capital projects and infrastructure needs in order to ensure three key goals: safe operations, efficient operations and economic development. The strategic plan was compiled with input from the PCC Rail Authority, shippers, operators and the public.

The top capital project priorities identified in the strategic plan are rail replacement and track rehabilitation on the CW line from Cheney to Geiger (often referred to as the Geiger Spur) at a cost of just more than $7 million. The other project is replacement of 11 bridges and repair of four bridges on the P&L line from Marshall to McCoy for a cost of nearly $6 million. Finally, the plan suggests almost $40 million in track rehabilitation, mostly in curves, on all of the lines. Westby said WSDOT has identified track replacement projects on every branch of the PCC system, but has not prioritized those projects yet. See more


Serving those who served

New program uses agriculture to help veterans find a new mission

July 2015
By Trista Crossley

Spokane Conservation District Director Vicki Carter is on a mission to help military veterans. And judging from the response she’s gotten so far, that mission has touched a cord within Eastern Washington’s agricultural community.

“I feel like I’m on the right path because every time I’ve had to go through a door, it’s been opened wide for me,” she said. “It’s been, ‘Yes we can do this.’ ‘Yes we want to help.’ I’ve yet to have anybody turn this down. It’s been amazing.”

Two years ago, while watching the documentary, “Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields,” about using agriculture to help military personnel who were struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their return to civilian life, Carter was inspired to do something. The film hit particularly close to home, because seven of Carter’s family members, including her son, are serving or have served in the military.

“You can’t watch the film without being moved to tears,” she said. “I felt I needed to do something. It just spoke to me.”

Pat Munts, the small farms acreage coordinator for the conservation district and a Washington State University Extension employee, told her about a “cultivating success” curriculum offered in conjunction with Spokane Community College that taught agricultural entrepreneurship to small farm and ranch owners. Carter began exploring the notion of putting veterans into the course and giving them the opportunity to explore a new career in agriculture. Her program, Vets on the Farm, would focus on four components: education, partnership, employment and outreach. See more


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