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Randy Fisher (front), son Blake Fisher (middle) and
hired hand Joe Putman during harvest 2012 on Evergreen Farms in Farmington.

Photo by Tim Michaels








TRADE & MARKETS

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

POLICY

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


POLICY

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

FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


RESEARCH

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

POLICY

Getting the work done

Washington's freshman congresswoman goes to bat for agriculture, immigration

January 2014
By Trista Crossley

Suzan DelBene, U.S. representative from Washington state’s 1st Congressional District, hasn’t had time to rest on her laurels. In her first year as part of Washington’s national delegation, she’s dealt with a missing farm bill, a government shutdown over an unresolved federal budget and a tangled immigration reform bill.

“It’s been an eventful year,” DelBene said in a phone interview in early December. “I’m proud that the agriculture committee was able to pass a bipartisan farm bill out of committee. I feel we made a good move there. Having it fall apart on the house floor was a big disappointment. I wished we could have had this done by now.”

DelBene was hopeful that the week leading into the Holiday recess would see some farm bill action, but she was doubtful that a final bill would be passed before the end of the year.

“The principles, staffs of the conferees have been working together for the last few weeks for the final deal, addressing issues between the House and Senate, talking to members,” she explained. “The farm bill is incredibly important, and conversations have been happening on a regular basis. We are slowly working through issues and will continue to work through issues and try to get things wrapped up.” Read more

RESEARCH

Herbicide-resistant weeds coming to a field near you?

January 2014
By Drew Lyon and Ian Burke


Glyphosate-resistant weeds are making headlines in the Midsouth and Midwest where the use of Roundup Ready® corn, soybean and cotton have created the perfect conditions for selecting weeds resistant to this “once in a century” herbicide.

On a global basis, weeds such as rigid ryegrass (a close cousin of our local Italian ryegrass), goosegrass and johnsongrass have also evolved glyphosate resistance. Do wheat growers in the PNW need to be concerned? The short answer is yes. Globally, weeds have evolved resistance to 21 of the known 25 herbicide sites of action and to 148 different herbicides.

There are currently 13 different species with “known” herbicide-resistant biotypes in the PNW. Combined, these biotypes are resistant to a dozen different mechanisms of action. As opposed to “mode of action” which refers to all the plant’s processes affected by a herbicide, the “mechanism of action” refers to the biochemical site within a plant that a herbicide directly interacts with. It is highly likely resistance biotypes exist that we know nothing about. Read more

FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Getting up from falling numbers

Is there anything farmers can do?

December 2013
By Trista Crossley

In some years, wheat farmers have to worry about disease destroying their crops. In other years, it can be pests, drought or other weather-related events. In really bad years, it can be all of the above. This year, the big bad in the Pacific Northwest was low falling number scores likely caused by preharvest sprouting due to rain.

Wheat begins to sprout when wet weather breaks mature kernels out of dormancy and germination begins, degrading the kernel’s starches. If this process happens before harvest, the quality of the wheat is downgraded and discounted.

While wheat that has sprouted can be identified visually, the earliest stages of sprout initiation, indicated by increased alpha-amylase activity inside the kernel, cannot. That’s where the falling number test comes in. The test uses a slurry of boiling water and flour to measure how long it takes a plunger to move through it. The faster the plunger moves, the more alpha-amylase is present and the lower the falling number score. A number below 300 for soft white can result in producers receiving discounts for their wheat. In other classes, discounts kick in at 300 for hard red winter and 330 for hard red spring.

The amount of alpha-amylase is important because too much of the enzyme breaks down the wheat’s starches which can adversely affect the flour’s end-use qualities. In other words, bread won’t rise properly, cakes collapse and noodles turn mushy. Bakers can compensate for flour that has too little alpha-amylase (a high falling number score), but they can’t remove existing enzymes from the flour.

The problem with the falling number test is that it can be inconsistent (different tests on the same batch of wheat can yield different scores), and other factors besides the presence of alpha-amylase can sometimes trigger a low falling number.

“Falling Number Blues” was the name of an educational breakout at the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention. Five panel members from various parts of the grain industry addressed different aspects of the falling number test and its effect on both buyers and sellers. Read more

RESEARCH

One gene good; two gene better

WSU's next generation Clearfield varieties play catch up with two-gene releases

December 2013
By Scott A. Yates


Will the release of two, two-gene, herbicide tolerant varieties from Washington State University (WSU) reinvigorate the fortunes of the Clearfield technology?

Although the No. 1 variety in Washington for the last three years has been ORCF 102, an Oregon State University (OSU) herbicide-tolerant cultivar, its acreage may have peaked. It’s estimated that Washington farmers planted 234,508 acres of 102 in 2013, enough to keep it in first place, but down from 320,269 acres in 2012. The same trend is in evidence for its cousin, ORCF-103, which has fallen from its peak of 118,406 acres in 2012 to 81,850 acres in 2013. Read more

FARMERS TOOLBOX

Changes ahead for WSCIA, farmers

Growers should brace for a "heck of a ride" as variety choice widens

November 2013
By Scott Yates


Jerry Robinson was just two years old when his father caught the entrepreneurial spirit, left his job as a production manager at a Moscow-based farm business and headed to Southern Idaho to try his hand at growing seed crops on 92 irrigated acres.

Ten years later, the owner of a seed pea business asked his dad to come back to Moscow to run it. They offered him $600 a month. Given that this was the same amount his father had cleared the previous year farming made the decision easy.

Robinson was working with seeds while he was still a sprout himself. Officially, he worked for his father for 24 years, eventually buying Stubbs Seed and running it another five years. Before he was 49, he had been in the seed business for 30 years. The downturn in the pulse market in the 1990s, however, scrambled the family’s heritage, and Robinson closed Stubbs in 2000.

He then worked for two years for Columbia Grain, building its pulse acreage before an opening as foundation seed manager at the Washington State Crop Improvement Association (WSCIA) in 2003 again changed the direction of his life. In 2007, he was hired as general manager of the not-for-profit association which ensures the genetic purity of the seed farmers buy and certifies the fields where the seed is grown. Read more

RESEARCH

Getting back to basics

With no field day this year, private strip trial focuses on useful results

October 2013
By Trista Crossley


Although this year’s strip trial was decidedly lower key than last year’s, with no field day and fewer varieties tested, Paul Porter, seed division manager at AgVentures NW, said the goal of his private trial is still the same, making sure the results are useful.

Seeded on Sept. 5, 2012, seven varieties were tested, down from 15 last year. Washington State University’s (WSU) Otto was the top yielder at 58 bushels per acre (see chart). Each variety was planted in a quarter-mile strip, 8 feet wide, on Mike Miller’s dryland farm in the Ritzville-Odessa area.

“The WestBred and Limagrain current varieties are maybe not well adapted to this area,” Porter said, “But they have both entered one new variety for this year.”

While Porter said there weren’t any surprises in this year’s results, he was impressed with how well USDA-ARS’ Cresent has held up, coming in second. Last year, Cresent was the highest yielding club variety and third overall. Read more

TRADE & MARKETS

Shining a light on Japan

October 2013
By Scott Yates

Year in and year out, Japan has been a consistent customer of U.S. wheat, tendering for around three million metric tons annually. And in most years, 800,000 metric tons of that is U.S. soft white wheat produced in the Pacific Northwest.

This remarkable consistency comes against the backdrop of a society that has endured an economy stuck in neutral, even slipping into reverse, for the last 20 years. Even with a soaring stock market the last six months, the Nikkei Average stands at around 14,000, down from 38,957 at its peak on Dec. 29, 1989. Read more

POLICY

Washington Association of Wheat Growers strongly opposes Initiative 522

Poorly written initiative would provide consumers with misleading information while increasing costs for consumers and farmers

Sept. 9, 2013

On behalf of more than 1,800 members, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers is strongly opposed to Initiative 522 on the November statewide ballot.

I-522 would force Washington farmers and food companies to implement costly new labeling, packaging, distribution and recordkeeping requirements that do not exist in any other state – whether or not they grow or produce genetically engineered crops (GE) or food products.

“I-522 is a costly and misleading measure that would hurt Washington’s family farmers and consumers,” said WAWG Past President Eric Maier of Ritzville. “While there is currently no commercially available GE wheat, I-522 would still impose new bureaucratic requirements on our members who grow and process wheat products for sale in Washington and around the world.”

Family farmers, food producers, grocers and retailers would have to implement distinct systems to grow, handle, process, transport and sell food and beverage products in Washington. Farmers would also have to create extensive new recordkeeping systems to track all food products -- foods that contain GE ingredients (so they can be properly labeled) as well as foods without GE ingredients.

These new requirements would add millions of dollars in costs for Washington farmers and food companies, and make Washington products more costly than in other states.

“I-522 is misleading. Requiring mandatory labeling of foods produced through genetic modification that are indistinguishable from foods produced through traditional methods would mislead consumers by falsely implying differences where none exist,” said WAWG President and Touchet area farmer, Ryan Kregger. “And, I-522 is so poorly written that it would provide consumers with inaccurate information about which foods may or may not contain GE ingredients. I-522 is so full of contradictory rules and exemptions that consumers would not get reliable information they can count on. I-522 is simply bad policy.” Read More

RESEARCH

Preventing those falling numbers blues

September 2013
By Camille M. Steber, Arron H. Carter and Michael O. Pumphrey


Let’s say you’re a farmer who has planted a first-rate variety with an excellent disease resistance package, the correct nutrients have been applied, insects have been kept at bay, and Mother Nature has cooperated with fine weather.

At this point, only one last obstacle lies between the farmer and a healthy bottom line: the Falling Numbers (FN) test which measures whether incipient sprout has started to develop in an otherwise bountiful crop. In the marketplace, a falling number below 300 can result in stiff discounts.

The Washington Grain Commission-funded project, “Developing Washington wheat with Higher Falling Numbers” is working to reduce the risk of low falling numbers by breeding for tolerance to environmental triggers. First, some background. Read more


POLICY

Carving out the future of GM wheat

At USW Joint Biotech meeting in South Dakota, hurdles to genetically modified seed discussed

August 2013
By Scott A. Yates


After Mount Rushmore, the place to be during the recent U.S. Wheat Associate’s (USW) summer board meeting in Rapid City, S.D., was a meeting of the Joint Biotech Committee.

There was a standing-room-only crowd of farmers at the meeting from parts of the country that haven’t been directly impacted by the discovery of genetically engineered (GE) wheat on a farm in Oregon. They were brought up to speed on what most Northwest wheat farmers, landlords and other associated industry types already know.

Made up of representatives of USW and the National Association of Wheat Growers, the Joint Biotech Committee is responsible for guiding the industry toward a genetically engineered future. It wasn’t always this way. Part of the reason Monsanto pulled its plug on the Roundup Ready Wheat program in 2004 was at least partly due to a wheat industry that couldn’t make up its mind on how to proceed.

Since then, however, farmers from North Dakota to Kansas have accelerated switching their acreage out of wheat and into corn and soybeans, causing the industry to re-evaluate its GE ambivalence. It isn’t genetic engineering that has farmers making the switch from wheat, though most corn and soybeans are “GMO.” It’s about the bottom line. Read More

POLICY

Looking back: WAWG year in review

August 2013

WAWG is nothing without member participation, and this year’s line officers, committee chairmen and committee members spent the past 12 months traveling from Olympia to Washington, D.C., and points in between to advocate for Washington’s wheat growers. Trading tractors for planes and fields for meeting rooms, these leaders stepped up to the plate. Here’s a small sample of the trips, meetings and issues that were dealt with over the past year. Read More

POLICY

Leading the way in conserving Washington's natural resources

July 2013
By Trista Crossley


Besides the State Conservation Commission (SCC) and the individual conservation districts that play a role in protecting the state’s natural resources, there's another organization worth mentioning. The Washington Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) is a nonprofit organization that represents the 45 conservation districts throughout the state and is maintained and operated by those conservation districts. According to David Vogel, WACD’s executive director, the WACD’s role includes:

• To represent all the state’s conservation districts and serve as the collective voice for them;

• To influence policy both internally and externally;

• To promote and advance the locally led principle and promote the role for conservation districts in nonregulatory, incentive-based programs and services;

• To provide specialized member support and services to support unity of purpose and action by the conservation districts; and

• To facilitate information sharing and effective communication among the conservation districts and with their elected leadership.

The WACD is governed by an executive team made up of five elected officers: president, vice president, secretary/treasurer, WACD national director and immediate past president. In addition, each of the state’s 45 conservation districts belongs to one of six area associations, which elects two area directors to serve on a board of directors for two years. An executive director and a small staff is responsible for carrying out the day-to-day business of the WACD.

Participating in the state’s conservation districts and the WACD takes a large amount of time, not to mention a huge commitment to the local community and the state’s natural resources. Here’s a look at four of those individuals. Read more