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Grace Bennett, 9, granddaughter of Tony and Sheri Viebrock, plays in the mud at her house north of Almira.
Photo by Alison Viebrock Steveson



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POLICY

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


TRADE & MARKETS

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


TRADE & MARKETS

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


POLICY

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


POLICY

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


Correction

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.


POLICY

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


TRADE & MARKETS

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


RESEARCH

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


TRADE & MARKETS

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


RESEARCH

Biotechnology

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


POLICY

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


RESEARCH

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

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


TRADE & MARKETS

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