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Gracie Pfaff (5) riding her horse, Hannah, while celebrating America in Garfield.
Photo by Stevie Pfaff

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RESEARCH

Agriculture by the numbers

USDA releases census data on the state of farming throughout the U.S.

May 2019

It was a few weeks later than planned, but in mid-April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

The new census spans 6.4 million new points of information about America’s farms and ranches and those who operate them. Information for the census is collected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) by surveying farmers and ranchers. The Census of Agriculture is done every five years and includes national, state and county-level statistics.

“The importance of the census and the need for growers to accurately fill out the surveys can’t be underestimated,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). “Many USDA agencies, such as the Farm Service Agency, use census data to develop and administer farm and conservation programs, and lawmakers use the data to help inform policymaking decisions. We know growers are busy, but WAWG encourages them to participate in NASS surveys to the best of their ability.”

According to the 2017 census, the number of farms and the amount of land in farms has declined slightly since the last census in 2012. There also are fewer middle-sized farms with the largest and smallest farm operations growing. Finally, the average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise. Read more


POLICY

Planting woes?

Tough field conditions leave farmers facing crop insurance decision

May 2019
By Trista Crossley

In some years, just getting seeds planted is a struggle for farmers. The fields may be too wet, or, conversely, too dry. The fields may be fine, but access to those fields may be blocked, thanks to flooded roads or washed-out bridges.

In any case, the longer a farmer has to wait to plant, the more likely it is that they’ll run afoul of the Risk Management Agency’s (RMA) final planting deadline, and when that happens, farmers will need to make a choice: forego planting altogether and receive a crop insurance payment (called prevented planting coverage), which is 60 percent of their total insurance guarantee, or plant late and take a deduction on their crop insurance production guarantee. For many Eastern Washington wheat farmers, neither of those choices makes them particularly happy. Read more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Overcoming production challenges

Workshop focuses on using variety selection, proper chemicals for pests

April 2019
By Trista Crossley


Production challenges and options to overcoming them was the topic of the final session of the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s 2019 winter schedule in February. Ryan Higginbotham from HighLine Grain Growers talked about disease pressure and how choosing the right variety can help address those issues, while James Zahand of James Zahand Consulting talked about herbicides and weed resistance. See more


MARKETING

Working out the global wheat market

Soft white wheat is only bright spot in outlook

April 2019
By Trista Crossley


According to Darin Newsom, when you talk about wheat, you can’t just talk about U.S. wheat, because out of all the grains, wheat is the most global market of all.

“There’s always a major wheat crop hitting the market somewhere in the world,” he explained. Newsom was the guest presenter at one of February’s Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO) seminars. Newsom is a former senior analyst with DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He now owns his own marketing company. “The bottom line is the world is oversupplied with wheat, and there’s a lot of competition out there. Everybody is growing wheat.” See more


POLICY

To burn or not to burn

Washington state farmers use Ecology, Ag Burning Task Force to answer that question

April 2019
By Trista Crossley


For more than two decades, the Ag Burning Task Force has been quietly going about its business helping keep the air over Eastern Washington clear. They’ve had to balance the impacts of air pollution on public health with the needs of growers who rely on burning as part of a successful farming operation. These days, maintaining that balance is more difficult thanks to a wildfire season that is starting earlier with bigger, more intense fires. Read more


POLICY

Data dispute

Growers get a victory in 2018 Farm Bill, but industry still fighting to correct past years

March 2019
By Trista Crossley

In the struggle to help growers maintain their livelihoods, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) was able to help win one battle in the 2018 Farm Bill, but the war isn’t over yet.

In the past year, growers have been raising a red flag about why farm payment programs haven’t been triggered in spite of below-average yields, especially for the Agricultural Risk Coverage-County (ARC-CO) program. Growers in Spokane County had poor spring wheat yields in 2017, but no program payment was triggered. The average winter wheat yield in Benton County in 2017 was reported to be 82 bushels per acre, a total unlikely in an area that averages 8” of rain a year.

The culprit eventually turned out to be the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) data used by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In order for NASS to publish a number, they have to have at least 30 reports or reports that cover 25 percent of harvested acreage. In the Spokane County case, NASS was unable to collect enough spring wheat data through grower surveys to determine a spring wheat yield, so the much higher winter wheat data was used instead. In Benton County, NASS doesn’t differentiate between irrigated and nonirrigated wheat, resulting in a county average that doesn’t accurately reflect dryland yields. Read more


POLICY

Rail funding finalized

$5.6 million BUILD grant will help stabilize Washington's PCC Shortline Rail

February 2019
By Trista Crossley


For the state-owned Palouse River and Coulee City (PCC) Shortline Rail in Eastern Washington, the path to a well-maintained, stabilized system just got a little smoother.

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that $1.5 billion in discretionary grant funding would be awarded through the Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development Transportation Discretionary Grants Program—otherwise known as BUILD grants. The PCC was one of 91 projects nationwide to be awarded a BUILD grant; it will receive $5.6 million, which will be matched with $5.6 million of state and private funding. The money will be used to replace or rehabilitate approximately 10 bridges, replace about 4.5 miles of rail and rehabilitate nearly 16.3 miles of track. The repairs will increase operating efficiency on the shortlines by allowing heavier freight cars to be moved faster.

“The Department of Transportation statewide could submit only three grants,” said Ron Pate, the Washington State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) director of rail, freight and ports. The project proposals weren’t limited to rails, but could include any transportation project. “In a department as big as we are, with as many road miles, bridges, airports and infrastructure projects as we have, the secretary of transportation decides which three grants get submitted. The secretary supported this project wholeheartedly. He understands the PCC moves a lot of wheat, which is very important to the east side of state. We wanted to make sure that as a transportation organization, we weren’t just looking at highways.”

WSDOT is in the process of developing a construction plan using the grant money, and Pate said they hope to begin work on the PCC this summer. However, if the government shutdown continues, it could cause delays in getting the paperwork signed. Read more


MARKETING

Tracking the tariffs

Current trade environment theatens stability of Washington state's agriculture industry

February 2019
By Trista Crossley


Trade, to put it lightly, is a pretty big deal in the Evergreen state.

More than 300 crops are grown here, worth $10.6 billion in 2017. The processed foods sector, in 2016, generated more than $20 billion in revenues, and the value of food and ag products that were exported overseas in 2017 was approximately $6.7 billion.

The current trade environment puts all of that on uncertain ground. Rianne Perry, manager of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) International Marketing Program, said in regards to the retaliatory tariffs from China, many of Washington’s agricultural products are on at least one of the lists of targeted products, if not more than one. WSDA estimates that approximately $1 billion worth of Washington agricultural exports are at risk from retaliatory tariffs, including those from China, Mexico, Canada, the EU and India. See more


POLICY

Dowsing for water

State agency balances developing new supplies for thirsty fish, farmers, families

January 2019
By Trista Crossley


Water is never far from the surface when you talk about the Columbia River Basin, and one state program is doing what it can to make sure there’s enough to meet users’ needs now and well into the future.

Established in 2006 as part of the process to solve the Columbia River water rights gridlock in the 1980s and 90s, the Office of Columbia River (OCR), part of the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), is primarily tasked with the development of water supplies in the Columbia River Basin that benefits both in-stream users (ecosystem, fish) and out-of-stream users (irrigators, industry, municipalities) through storage, conservation and voluntary regional water management agreements. Read more


TRADE, TARIFFS, FARM BILL

2018 convention keynote speakers, panels focus on issues facing ag industry

December 2018
By Trista Crossley


For a few days last month, wheat farmers from the Pacific Northwest traded in the farm for a convention center in Portland, Ore., where trade, tariffs and other ag-related issues featured prominently on the menu.

Two panels of experts and presentations from top officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative detailed the state of agriculture and the issues the industry faces, both nationally and at home. Read more


POLICY

SOLAR ECLIIPSE

A new type of business could supplant some of DNR's grazing, crop leases

November 2018
By Trista Crossley


In the last year, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has seen increasing interest in state lands from a new sort of lessee—solar farm companies.

According to Kathryn Mink, DNR’s agriculture assistant region manager for the southeast region, the interest is coming from both in state and out of state companies. Those companies have identified approximately 30 parcels of DNR-managed, state-owned land with solar farm potential—about 16,000 acres—that also have easy access to the electrical grid. The land is located in Adams, Asotin, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Whitman and Yakima counties. In many cases, the solar farm companies are also interested in surrounding parcels that are privately owned, Mink said. Out of the 16,000 acres, less than 2,000 acres are currently in dryland wheat; the majority is in grazing. DNR has sent a letter to the current lessees of those 30 parcels notifying them of the solar farm potential. Read more


POLICY

RATE SHOCK

New CRP payment rates leave many Eastern Washington growers scratching their heads

November 2018
By Trista Crossley


Earlier this year, some Washington producers got a shock when they went to renew their Conservation Reserve Project (CRP) contracts. The rates had changed, and in many cases, not for the better. One farmer in Franklin County reported that his rate dropped by more than $20 per acre. In Asotin County, farmers saw their rates drop by more than half from last year.

The cause appeared to be twofold. First, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) changed their soil rental rates, but not all Washington county rates went down. Some even went up from last year (see Chart 1). The second change, and the one that might have hit harder, was the FSA’s change in their soil productivity factors. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

HARVEST 2018

Harvest 2018 is over and farmers are now working on planting for harvest 2019. During the summer, Wheat Life staff were out and about taking pictures in as many counties as we could get to. We showed some of those photos in our October 2018 issue, but here's a bunch we couldn't fit. See more


POLICY

Mr. Northy goes to Washington

USDA undersecretary spends weekend in Evergreen state visiting with producers

August/September 2018
By Trista Crossley


In the last month, Washington state has been a popular place for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to visit. Fresh off the heels of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, Bill Northey, undersecretary for farm production and conservation, spent several days in Benton and Spokane counties, talking to producers about conservation practices and programs, crop rotations and trade.

In Benton County, Northey was joined by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Derek Sandison, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, as he toured the farm of Nicole Berg, National Association of Wheat Growers secretary. The group discussed USDA customer service and the U.S. wheat trade, among other topics. The next day, Northey travelled, well, north to Spokane County. He was joined by Vicki Carter and Ty Meyer, both from the Spokane Conservation District (SCD), and Mike Poulson, ag and natural resource policy director for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The group started the morning out by talking about no-till and direct seeding with Bob Sievers, a farmer near Spangle. On the way to Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Marci Green’s farm near Fairfield, the group stopped to see the results of a SCD buffer program that pays farmers to put in buffers along streams based on the value of the crop the buffer replaces. See more


POLICY

'Roots' tour stops by Washington

'Sonny' weather during ag secretary's Pacific Northwest visit

August/September 2018
By Trista Crossley


To be a farmer means living with uncertainty. But over two days at multiple events last month, Washington state growers made sure to impress upon U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that uncertainty in trade threatens their livelihoods.

Perdue was visiting the Pacific Northwest as part of his “Back to Our Roots” tour. Besides Washington, he also spent time in Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. While in Eastern Washington, he held a breakfast and fireside chat hosted by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in Spokane, ate lunch with producers at The McGregor Company in Colfax and toured Washington State University’s (WSU) agricultural research facilities. The next day, before heading to Oregon and the ports in Vancouver, he and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) held a farm hall breakfast in the Tri-Cities hosted by the Washington Farm Bureau. See more


POLICY

Powered by water

August/September 2018
By Trista Crossley


In a very literal sense, the Columbia River System fuels life in the Pacific Northwest—growers rely on it to water their crops, and residents depend on it to help power their homes and businesses. As Columbia River Treaty (CRT) renegotiations between the U.S. and Canada continue, two more industries with distinctly different vested interests are closely watching.

Watts up?

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is a nonprofit federal agency that markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydroelectric dams throughout the Columbia River Basin, including Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams on the Columbia River and Lower Granite and Ice Harbor dams on the Snake River. Created in 1937, BPA currently provides approximately 28 percent of the electricity used across 300,000 square miles in eight western states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. It also owns more than 15,000 miles of transmission lines and employs almost 3,000 people full time. While there are other power generating companies who are directly impacted by the CRT, BPA is arguably the biggest, not only in terms of size, but also because it is directly responsible for fulfilling one of the basic conditions of the treaty, the Canadian Entitlement. See more


Andy M. Rustemeyer
January 14, 1935 - July 12, 2018

A celebration of life service will be held in honor of Andy on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. at Strate’s Funeral Home in Davenport, followed by a reception at the Davenport Memorial Hall

Andy M. Rustemeyer passed away peacefully at his home near Sprague, Wash., on July 12, 2018. The youngest of six children, Andy was born on Jan. 14, 1935, in Asotin, Wash., to Peter and Ora Rustemeyer. In 1939 the family moved to the small lumber mill town of Old Lincoln, Wash. After the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, the family moved to the new Lincoln mill site which was relocated 11 miles north of Creston, Wash.

Andy graduated from Creston High School in 1953. Following high school, Andy moved to Chicago, Ill., where he attended electronics school. Within one year, Andy was drafted into the army and was accepted into the army security’s electronics program and eventually trained in classified communication. He spent the next three years stationed in Germany during the occupation of Germany following WWII. Upon his discharge from the army in 1957, he attended Gonzaga University. In 1957, Andy married his wife, Edith (Rosman). He and Edith were classmates at Creston school through elementary and high school and both graduated together. Andy graduated with honors from Gonzaga in 1961 with a double major in education and philosophy and a minor in math. Following graduation, he taught at Glover Junior High in Spokane, Wash.

In 1962, Andy and Edith returned to the Creston area and began farming and ranching. In 1966, they purchased a wheat and cattle ranch south of Creston, which proved to be one of his greatest joys, where they raised their three children. They relocated the farming operation to the Sprague area in 1992 where he and his wife resided until his death.

Andy’s love for his family, his faith and service to his community and country gave him tremendous joy. He was an avid reader, writer and musician. For many years, Andy’s family was blessed to enjoy the lively and beautiful music he would play either on the piano or his guitar.

Throughout Andy’s life, he served on many local, county and state boards and committees. Andy founded the Lincoln County Tax Board. He also served on the East Banks Development Association; the Upper Columbia River County Board; the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council; the steering committee of the Lake Roosevelt Forum; the Eastern Regional Board of the Job Training Partnership Act representing eight counties; and served with the Lake Roosevelt Coordinating Committee of the Multi Party Agreement between the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Colville Confederate Tribes, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service and the Upper Columbia Counties. Andy served two terms as Lincoln County Commissioner and served on the County Road Administration Board. Additionally, Andy was a past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, a member of the Washington Farm Bureau and Washington Cattlemen’s Association.

He is survived by his wife of almost 61 years, Edith Rustemeyer, and three children: son Bill Rustemeyer and his wife Kay; daughter Beth (Rustemeyer) and her husband Mike Finch; and son John Rustemeyer and his wife Annette. He is also survived by six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; two sisters, Ardel Morgan and Jo Robertson; and numerous nieces and nephews. Preceding Andy in death were his parents, two brothers and one sister. A beautiful private inurnment was held on July 19 at the Washington State Veteran’s Cemetery.

A celebration of life service will be held on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. at Strate’s Funeral Home in Davenport, Wash., followed by a reception at the Davenport Memorial Hall.

Memorials can be made to Lincoln County Historical Society Scholarship, P.O. Box 585, Davenport, WA 99122; Big Bend Historical Society, P.O. Box 523, Wilbur, WA 99117; or Department of Veterans Affairs Volunteer Services, Veterans Medical Center Mann-Grandstaff, 4815 N. Assembly Spokane, WA 99205.

Editor's note: A much shorter obituary with incomplete information for Andy Rustemeyer ran in our August/September issue. Out of consideration for the family, we have decided to run the complete obituary here. The staff of Wheat Life regrets the error.


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Ag tour is in session

Legislators, staff spend day learning about challenges industry faces

July 2018
By Trista Crossley


State legislators got a little taste of agriculture in June during the all ag legislative tour in Prosser, Wash., where pesticides, labor needs and environmental stewardship were all on the menu.

“This was a great opportunity to bring legislators out to the farm to see first hand the challenges and opportunities faced by growers,” said Marci Green, president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). WAWG was one of the sponsors of the tour, along with other commodities such as potatoes, wine, tree fruit, dairy and asparagus. “No matter what we are growing or where we are growing it, we all face similar issues, whether those are regulatory, environmental or workforce related. Legislators were able to ask questions directly to farmers and see the problems or solutions rather than just hearing about them.” See more


POLICY

Going with the flow

Treaty's results have steered development of navigation, transportation industries

July 2018
By Trista Crossley


It’s accepted wisdom that rivers shape the landscape, but in the case of the Columbia River, that landscape includes more than just rock and dirt. It has also shaped the commercial and urban environment that has grown up around it. This is especially true for the navigation and transportation industries.

For more than 50 years, the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) between the U.S. and Canada has regulated the river’s flow by storing water behind Canadian dams in the spring as the snow melts and releasing that stored water in the fall when the river level tends to drop. That regulated flow has given the river system some predictability that it otherwise wouldn’t have, reduced flooding and allowed both nations to maximize hydropower production. The treaty has also allowed the navigation and transportation industries to develop their business infrastructure to take advantage of a more predictable river system. See more


POLICY

Looking for solutions 60 years in the past

Is now the time for the federal government to finish the Columbia Basin Project?

June 2018
By Trista Crossley


From the very beginning, concerns about the cost of surface water have dogged the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project and sent invested parties scrambling for funding alternatives. One group of farmers think they’ve found a viable lead by going back more than 60 years—asking the federal government to finish the Columbia Basin Project.

In 1943, Congress authorized the Columbia Basin Project (CBP), which was intended to use Columbia River water to irrigate 1.1 million acres of cropland in central Washington. To date, only 671,000 acres have access to that water with the rest of it relying on deep-water wells that tap the Odessa Aquifer. That aquifer is now running dry, threatening not only irrigated cropland, but towns and residents who rely on it for drinking water. The Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP) hopes to move more than 87,000 acres off those wells to relieve the pressure (see related article on page 22), but there are fears that the project will be too expensive to meet its goal. See more


POLICY

State funnels funds to irrigation project

Capital budget included $15 million for Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project

June 2018
By Trista Crossley

When the state legislature passed last year’s capital budget in January of this year, it included a $15 million funding boost for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP).

The funding will be split, with $5 million earmarked for increased delivery capacity in the first distribution system slated for construction, the 47.5. The other $10 million will be used to continue East Low Canal expansion work, specifically the two Kansas Prairie siphons, said Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the Columbia Basin Development League, a nonprofit group that advocates for development of the Columbia Basin Project. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

AMMO: Putting nitrogen management in the spotlight

AMMO session focuses on inputs to influence yield, protein

May 2018
By Trista Crossley


At the last Agricultural Marketing and Management (AMMO) winter workshop of 2018, Dr. Romulo Lollato, Extension wheat and forages specialist and assistant professor from Kansas State University (KSU), tackled nitrogen management and explored current research on intensive wheat management.

Because wheat kernels are 60 to 70 percent starch and only 8 to 15 percent protein, yield is mostly a function of starch, while nitrogen availability impacts protein. Lollato explained that the more starch a kernel has, the less percent protein and vice versa. Protein starts to accumulate in the kernel about 10 days after flowering with significant starch accumulation beginning a few days later. About 20 days from flowering, the kernels have nearly half of their protein (see slide 1). Conditions late in the grain-filling period, such as drought or heat stress, can impact starch accumulation and therefore the ratio of protein to starch. See more


POLICY

Ecology settles Hangman Creek lawsuit

Agreement likely to bring extra scrutiny to Spokane County growers

May 2018
By Trista Crossley


A recent agreement between the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the Spokane Riverkeeper will likely bring a renewed focus on agriculture as a source of nonpoint pollution in the Hangman Creek Watershed in southern Spokane County.

The agreement settles a lawsuit brought by the Spokane Riverkeeper in 2015 that claimed Ecology wasn’t doing enough to clean up the Hangman Creek Watershed fast enough. In 2009, Ecology published a report setting total maximum daily loads for the watershed to bring it into compliance with the state’s water quality standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed off on the report and Ecology’s plan to address the watershed’s problems. The lawsuit claimed that Ecology couldn’t provide reasonable assurances that it could meet the standard in the clean-up plan.

“There’s certainly been some work done in the watershed,” said Chad Atkins, Ecology’s acting watershed unit supervisor for the Hangman Creek Watershed. “But some of that work takes a long time to see in terms of water quality benefits in-stream. It takes time for trees to grow; vegetation to get established; and some tillage practice improvements to show up in the water column. It’s also fair to say that progress has been slow to date. This provides an opportunity to work with our partners and make some additional progress.” See more


POLICY

AMMO: Counting on crop insurance

Ag economist Art Barnaby emphasizes importance of harvest price option

April 2018
By Trista Crossley


While Dr. Art Barnaby, an ag economist from Kansas State University, addressed a wide variety of topics related to crop insurance at the second of 2018’s Agricultural Marketing and Management seminars, it was the potential impact of losing the harvest price option (HPO) that he wanted to drive home.

“If that option is taken out of insurance, it affects this part of the country because they are settling their claims based off Portland prices, and you can’t effectively do that with hedging on the board. There’s not enough of a relationship between those two numbers,” he said in an interview after his presentation. “These guys are farmers, and they are all well aware of how these things work, so it’s a pretty easy group to explain to why the harvest price option is important to them. I wish it were that easy to explain to the policymakers who are talking about removing it.” See more


MARKETING

FROM FIELD TO FLOUR

April 2018
By Michelle Hennings, WAWG Executive Director


I’ve been working with the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) for 14 years now, and I’ve seen the importance of not only educating consumers and policymakers, but our own industry as well. For many growers, wheat’s story ends at the local elevator, but there’s a much larger picture that all farmers should be aware of. I see a disconnect between the people who are growing wheat and the people and countries who are buying and using it, especially those farmers who aren’t actively engaged in our wheat organizations. In today’s uncertain climate of trade disputes and attacks on agriculture, I think it is more important than ever to appreciate the whole story, from field to flour as it were.

In January, I was given that opportunity by the Washington Grain Commission (WGC) and invited on a trip to the Philippines and Japan. Advocacy is the foundation of WAWG, so I was excited to see firsthand how our customers view the U.S. wheat industry and bring that information back to our growers and policymakers. I was also excited to experience the work U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) does and see how the WGC puts growers’ assessments to use promoting and supporting our industry. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Keeping the dust down

Pilot program encourages alternative tillage methods for former CRP land

March 2018
By Trista Crossley


For years, farmers have been able to protect erosion-prone lands by enrolling them in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). But now, thanks to a CRP enrollment cap, some of the most fragile soils in Eastern Washington are in danger of blowing away. A new pilot program in Benton, Franklin and Klickitat counties is hoping to help farmers keep that soil on the ground instead of in the air.

“In the past few years, we’ve had major dust storms that have overwhelmed the controls that are already in place,” said Brook Beeler, Eastern Washington communications director for the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology). “We are concerned that if the lands come out of CRP and go back to conventional tilling, it could make the problem worse in the future.” See more


MARKETING

AMMO: Marketing at three speeds

Ag economist Dan Manternach discusses his approach to selling wheat

March 2018
By Trista Crossley


The Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s 2018 schedule kicked off in high gear last month with ag economist Dan Manternach speaking in front of a packed house. Manternach reviewed current wheat markets, previewed the 2018 growing season under three different weather scenarios and showed producers a three-speed approach to marketing.

“The main takeaway is that it is very, very important to have a marketing plan that is flexible and where you can shift gears, because this early in the season, nobody knows what kind of weather we are going to have,” he explained in an interview after his presentation. “Everybody always tells farmers you want an average price in the top third of the price range for the year. Well, any farmer that knows farm-boy math can figure out what the thirds are if you tell them what the range is going to be. That’s the hard part because that range is a moving target. It keeps shifting around with Mother Nature.” See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Searching for a cure

Health insurance, or lack thereof, drives a myriad of farm decisions

February 2018
By Sue Lani Madsen


Insurance is vital to every farmer’s risk management strategy. And a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded survey of farmers and ranchers found it’s not just crop insurance that counts. Health insurance is key to a viable ag economy, with significant impacts on succession and retirement planning.

A sample of 1,062 farmers and ranchers in 10 states, including Washington, were surveyed in 2016-17 as part of a study titled “Health Insurance, Rural Economic Development and Agriculture” by HIREDnAg. Seventy-three percent of farmers reported that health insurance is an important or very important risk management strategy.

The HIREDnAg research team included university extension faculty and staff across the nation, led by Shoshanah Inwood, Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont. “We had farmers on phone interviews thanking us for finally asking the questions,” said Inwood. “They are highly cognizant of how important health insurance and their health is to their operation.” See more


POLICY

Taking the helm

New FSA state executive director brings passion for agriculture to the job

February 2018
By Trista Crossley

Brian Dansel has had a lot of titles in the past eight years: Ferry County commissioner, state senator, special assistant to the U.S. secretary of agriculture. In November 2017, he added one more: state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Dansel grew up in Republic, Wash., where he still lives with his wife and son. His first foray into public service, prompted by a property rights issue, happened in 2010 when he was elected as a Ferry County commissioner.

“I got into public service because I did not like the Growth Management Act, and I wanted to make some changes,” he explained. “I never felt really super political. I was a more of a mind-my-own-business type of person, but when other people stuck their nose in my business, then it was time to get involved.”

Dansel moved on to the state legislature in 2013, becoming a senator for the 7th District. While in the Senate, he was an advocate of agriculture, serving on both the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee. In January 2017, Dansel resigned his Senate seat to take a position as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as part of the Trump Administration’s initial “beachhead” team. He said he spent much of his time in Washington, D.C., focusing on rural infrastructure. See more


POLICY

Drowning in water issues

Convention breakout session puts Snake River dams, other water concerns in spotlight

January 2018
By Trista Crossley


While breakout sessions at the annual grain growers convention cover a myriad of topics, farmers can usually count on at least one session being focused on water. This year, the 2017 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in November put the Snake River dams at the center of that current.

Todd Myers, director for the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment, gave a breakout session titled, “Dams and Wells: The Future of Water and Farmers.” As Myers said, breaching the Snake River dams is a topic that never goes away. A 2016 federal court ruling directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to look at scenarios to protect salmon and steelhead, including tearing down four dams on the lower Snake River, despite the fact that fish counts are slowly increasing.

While some irrigation and flood control is provided by the dams, they are used mostly for navigation and to generate electricity. Myers said that most parties recognize there are economic problems involved in tearing down the dams. See more


POLICY

Weed concerns

A year after leases terminated, Benton County DNR land is sitting idle

December 2017
By Trista Crossley

In the year since several Benton County farmers had their leases terminated early by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), little progress has been made in turning the land to a “higher and better use.”

According to Katie Mink, assistant region manager for DNR’s southeast region, the project was put out for auction in April of this year, but received no qualified bids. DNR has been reaching out to parties who had expressed interest in the project but didn’t submit a bid in an effort to understand those parties’ concerns. In most cases, Mink said, the cost of the project was the primary obstacle. DNR estimates that the cost for installing the pipeline and related on-farm infrastructure to be upwards of $17 million.

“We are in conversations with a few parties who have expressed interest in working with us to make this project happen in a manner that is beneficial to both them and the school trust,” Mink said.

At this time, DNR hasn’t set another auction date. See more


POLICY

A harvest of a different sort

November 2017
By Trista Crossley


Mike Poulson is a familiar face in Eastern Washington agricultural circles, but the crops he harvests don’t come from seeds. Instead, Poulson gathers information, passing the concerns and worries of farmers to his boss, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

Poulson, the agriculture and natural resource policy director for McMorris Rodgers, hasn’t always been in the business of politics. His father, a veteran, moved the family to a Columbia Basin farm when Poulson was 14, and he grew up like every farm kid, helping out before and after school. He attended Washington State University before returning to the farm full time.

“My second grade teacher thought I should be in math or physics,” Poulson recalled. “I told her I wanted to be a farmer, and that never changed. When you grow up on a farm and your dad farms, then there’s a strong likelihood you’ll end up farming. I’ve heard people say that farming is a way of life, and I guess that’s true.” See more


POLICY

Different sides, same struggles

Tour gets legislators out of Olympia and onto the farm

November 2017
By Trista Crossley


There aren’t many places in Eastern Washington that can compare to the climate (30” to 35” of rain) and the range of crops (80 different ones) that are grown in the Skagit Valley, but the struggles farmers face are the same on both sides of the state.

In September, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) participated in a legislative ag tour that brought elected officials and aides out of their offices and onto the farm to help them understand the real-world impacts of legislation. A team of WAWG officers and staff participated in the tour along with representatives from the potato, shellfish, dairy and wine industries; Washington Friends of Farms and Forests (WFFF); and the Western Washington Agricultural Association, among others. Despite a long day that began with a 5 a.m. flight, the WAWG representatives returned home having found solid common ground with western Washington farmers.

“When I look around the state, we grow different crops and our farming practices are different, but the frustrations and issues we face are similar,” said WAWG Vice President Marci Green. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

West meets East in combine seat

October 2017
By Trista Crossley


Learning about wheat harvest in a classroom is much different than experiencing it from the field. Just ask Chris Cocklin-Ray, a fifth-grade teacher from Mercer Island, Wash.

Cocklin-Ray and her husband, Tom, spent part of their Labor Day weekend in Eastern Washington, riding shotgun with Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ Past President Kevin Klein as he harvested spring wheat at his family’s farm in Edwall. Cocklin-Ray’s classroom has been participating in the Franklin Conservation District’s popular Wheat Week program in which educators use a series of lessons to teach fourth- and fifth-graders about water, soil, watersheds, energy and wheat. Every year, the program reaches more than 25,000 students, many of them on the west side of the state. Wheat Week is primarily funded by the Washington Grain Commission. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

SAFETY FIRST

Understanding the rules and regulations governing utility vehicles on the farm

October 2017
By Trista Crossley


These days, all terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility task vehicles (UTVs), including rangers and other side-by-side vehicles, are as common on farms as tractors are. They can also be just as dangerous.

According to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry (L&I), there have been five Washington agricultural fatalities involving ATVs and UTVs since 2008. Jesus Valdovinos, an L&I safety and health specialist in Moses Lake, said the use of these types of vehicles has increased as the cost of doing business has gone up since they are often cheaper to purchase and maintain than a pickup truck. While most of the rules and regulations governing the use of ATVs and UTVs are common sense, there is one over-riding principle when it comes to how L&I investigates and issues citations in industrial accidents: what does the manufacturer recommend in the operator’s manual? See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

2017's harvest in photos

Harvest 2017 is in the books, but while it was happening, Wheat Life staff were out and about taking pictures. We featured some pictures in our October 2017 issue, but here's some of the ones we couldn't fit in the magazine.



See more photos from the 2017 harvest in Eastern Washington.


POLICY

Under cover

RMA adds triticale, uninsured third-party damage to crop insurance

August/September 2017
By Trista Crossley


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has rolled out two new types of coverage for the 2018 crop year that will have some farmers sighing in relief: coverage for triticale and relief from uninsured, third-party damage.

Triticale

Sales closing date for fall- and spring-planted triticale for the 2018 crop year is Sept. 30. The new coverage is a result of a private development under the Federal Crop Insurance Act’s 508(h) process and is available in select counties in seven states across the nation. In Washington state, coverage is available in Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Douglas, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Skagit, Spokane, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties. Counties not currently covered will not be eligible to be covered under written agreement, said Ben Thiel, director of RMA’s Spokane Regional Office, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Little indication of a falling numbers repeat in 2017

August/September 2017
By Trista Crossley


Update: With harvest more than halfway over—and completely done in the southern part of Eastern Washington—there have been no reports of widespread low falling numbers, and many elevators have suspended testing for the quality problem.

As the 2017 Washington wheat harvest hits its stride this month, there will be more than a few anxious moments as the industry waits to see if bad luck is going to strike twice.

Last year’s wheat harvest was notable not only for its near-record size, but for being plagued by low falling numbers that hit more than 40 percent of tested wheat and cost Pacific Northwest wheat growers more than $30 million in discounts. The main culprit was likely multiple, large temperature fluctuations in June. Those sudden swings started an enzymatic process called late maturity alpha-amylase (LMA), which causes starch degradation. Most overseas buyers will only accept wheat with a falling number score of 300 or higher. That number represents the amount of time it takes a plunger to drop through a flour/water slurry. Some of the problems with low falling number were also caused by rains in July triggering preharvest sprouting, the initiation of germination in mature grain that hasn’t been harvested yet. See more