Puzzling out program options
December farm bill workshops give producers an opportuity to see online decision aids in action
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
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
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
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 learnedAfter six years, private strip trial is signing off
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
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
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
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
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
Research strategies to stay out of the red
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 public.wsu.edu/~csteber/publications.html#WheatLifeMagazine. Read more
TRADE & MARKETS
The man at ground zero of the GMO wheat event
One year later, biotech wheat found on Oregon farm is still raising questionsJune 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
POLICYSeeing is believing
NRCS officials tour Spokane County wheat farms and hear stories behind incentive-based conservation programs
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
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
TRADE & MARKETS
Breathing life into barley
Highland Specialty Grain takes on a tall task
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
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
TRADE & MARKETSAfter Egypt
U.S. Wheat Associates' marketing plan for the future
By Scott A. Yates
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
POLICYMuch 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
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
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 TOOLBOXWSU Extension enters small grains future
Website puts info at farmers' fingertips
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
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