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Early spring on Throop Farm north of Davenport.
Photo by Taylor Throop

ALPINE

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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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Ag mets STEM at Almira Elementary School

July 2017
By Trista Crossley


Anybody involved in agriculture knows it is a highly technical field, so it will come as no surprise that the industry is fertile ground for STEM education.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific areas—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and focuses on an interdisciplinary, applied approach. Susan Douglas, the kindergarten through fifth-grade math and science teacher at Almira Elementary School in Almira, Wash., wanted a way to show students how this knowledge could be used in real life. She found the answer just about as close to home as was possible—Douglas and her husband are also wheat farmers.

“I think of all the different things my husband has to do to do his job,” she said, pointing out that to farm successfully, farmers—and the people and industries that support them—draw on a wealth of technical knowledge, most of which is based in STEM. “I can’t think of a more perfect match than agriculture. These students sit in the midst of a constant experiment. Farming is an experiment. Everything is always changing, such as the weather. And then there’s the application. How do we interact with our natural resources to reduce our impact and make things better? Farmers are doing that all the time.” See more


POLICY

Changes proposed for pesticide rules

WSDA hoping to consolidate and simplify some regulations

June 2017
By Trista Crossley

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


Although proposed changes to the state’s use-restricted pesticide rules will be available for public comment later this summer, the overall goal of consolidating and simplifying the state’s use-restricted pesticide rules remains elusive.

In 2015, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) formed an industry stakeholder workgroup that included representation from the wheat, potato, wine and juice grape sectors; pesticide dealers and aerial applicators to review the regulations and provide input on simplifying them. According to Joel Kangiser, policy assistant in WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division, despite the good-faith efforts of the workgroup, consensus on several major issues remained out of reach. See more


POLICY

Progress Report

Construction in central Washington irrigation project continues to advance

June 2017
By Trista Crossley


While irrigators in the Odessa Subarea aren’t quite ready to cap off their irrigation wells yet, progress in the latest expansion of the 82-year-old Columbia Basin Project continues on schedule and under budget.

Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the Columbia Basin Development League, a nonprofit group that advocates for development of the Columbia Basin Project, said there’s about a year of work left on the East Low Canal, which is the backbone of the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP). The East Low Canal will bring Columbia River water from Banks Lake to approximately 87,700 acres in central Washington, replacing irrigation wells that currently rely on the declining Odessa Aquifer. The construction is being overseen by the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) and has been primarily funded by a 2013 $26 million Washington State Department of Ecology grant. Initial estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) put the cost of the completed canal work at more than $58 million; actual costs are less than half that at just more than $28 million. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Managing the time, costs of farm labor

May 217
By Trista Crossley


Editor’s note: This topic was presented in both Airway Heights and Walla Walla, Wash. This article covers the workshop in Airway Heights.

The Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization wrapped up its 2017 winter series in February with a workshop on labor management, including wages, overtime laws and worker protection standards.

Paul Neiffer, a principal with CliftonLarsonAllen, kicked off the day by discussing changes in minimum wages and sick leave rules that could affect Washington farmers. In 2017, the Washington minimum wage was set at $11 per hour. By 2020, the minimum wage will have increased to $13.50 per hour. Employees under 16 years of age are to be paid at $9.35 per hour in 2017, increasing to $11.48 per hour in 2020. While there are certain ag positions that are not required to be paid minimum wage, such as temporary harvesters, Neiffer said that due to a shortage of laborers, employers are finding that they have to pay more to attract enough workers. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Students join falling numbers discussion

Liberty High School FFA team tackles issue for state competition

May 2017
By Trista Crossley


Still confused about preharvest sprout? Alpha-amylase? The Hagberg-Perten test? Give the Liberty High School FFA Ag Issues team about 14 minutes, and they’ll unscramble falling numbers for you while debating the merits of testing for this quality issue.

The seven members of the ag issues team have been working on their presentation since September, interviewing farmers and industry representatives up and down the grain chain to understand falling numbers, the testing method and what the test results mean. They’ve invested hours of research and attended meetings where falling numbers was being discussed. They’ve also practiced their presentation in front of different audiences, refining their talking points and polishing their delivery. All that work is in preparation for the 87th Washington FFA Convention May 11-13 in Pullman, Wash., where the Liberty FFA group will go head to head with other high school teams during the Agricultural Issues Forum that is part of the convention’s leadership development events. See more


POLICY

Getting to know Hilary Franz

Fires, rural economies top new commissioner's list of priorities

April 2017

In November, Hilary Franz was elected as the next commissioner of public lands. Previously, she served as the executive director of Futurewise, a statewide environmental conservation organization. She has also served as a Bainbridge Island City councilmember and on numerous conservation, management and economic development boards. She was appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire to the Washington state’s Climate Action Team IWG on the State Environmental Policy Act. As a lawyer, she has represented local governments, nonprofit organizations and citizen groups on land use and environmental law issues. Franz graduated from Smith College and the Northeastern University School of Law. The new commissioner agreed to answer some questions from Wheat Life regarding her new position and priorities and how the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages leases on state lands. See more


POLICY

Forecasting ag policy, yield factors

April 2017
By Trista Crossley


This winter, two topics have dominated many of Eastern Washington’s news outlets. First, of course, was the weather (Wind! Cold! Snow! More snow! More wind!), and second was the election and what it might mean for agriculture. Both of those topics came together in February thanks to the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization.

Whether the weather

Dr. Elwynn Taylor, an Extension agronomist and climatologist from Iowa State University, tackled how growing conditions affect yields, and the importance of plotting yield data to understand volatility for crop insurance purposes.

Taylor recommended growers view a climate graph of their nearest city at yourweatherservice.com that shows average temperatures and precipitation by month. Using graphs from Spokane, Pullman and Connell, he pointed out the on-average 25 degree difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures at those locations. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

A HUNGRY HORDE

Farmers in Asotin County search for solutions to elk problems

April 2017
By Trista Crossley


For most Eastern Washington wheat farmers, the pests they have to worry about tend to be small, if not microscopic. For farmers in Asotin County, those pests are coming in on four legs, weighing hundreds of pounds, and the options for dealing with them are limited.

Elk aren’t new to the Cloverland and Anatone ridge areas of Asotin County; they’ve been in the Blue Mountains for decades, and farmers occasionally had problems with them, especially in fields near timber. But for the past six or seven years, farmers have had groups numbering in the hundreds moving through their land and fences, trampling plants and eating acres of canola and other rotational crops. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is the state agency that manages the area’s elk herd and works with farmers when the animals cause problems. Growers say most local WDFW employees understand the issue and are trying to work with them, but frustration levels are rising, and the growers feel not enough is being done.

“They (the local WDFW employees) want to help, I think for the most part, but sometimes the system moves pretty slowly. That’s where frustration comes in,” explained Bruce Petty, a wheat farmer whose family has farmed on Cloverland for more than 130 years. “It’s hard to relate to folks that have never had to deal with this situation what a detriment it is. If you had a raccoon or a rat infestation, you’d call an exterminator or get traps and take care of them. In this scenario, we don’t have that option. When it’s your livelihood, it’s hard not to take it personally and get wound up.” See more


WDFW's response to the elk problem in Asotin County

April 2017
By Trista Crossley


While Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Stephen Pozzanghera acknowledges there are conflicts between elk and landowners in Asotin County, he describes it as a distribution problem, rather than a population problem.

“If you think about the Blue Mountains as an overall ecosystem, I think what you’ll hear from a population standpoint is that we like where the Blue Mountain herd is as a whole. What we have in the Cloverland area is a distribution problem. We know that elk are not scattered across the landscape evenly, so because of landowners in ag businesses and attractive crops close to both the wildlife area and the U.S. Forest Service’s National Forest, we have a distribution problem,” he said, adding that the distribution problem was made worse this winter by significant snow depths that pushed elk onto private land. See more


TRADE & MARKETS

Around the world markets

AMMO workshop mixes economic grain outlook with marketing advice

March 2017
By Trista Crossley


What do you get when you mix a world economic grain outlook with marketing information? For attendees at the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s second workshop of 2017, they walked away with a clear-eyed view of the current global wheat situation and how to determine whether an offered price is fair under current market conditions.

Mike Krueger, founder and president of The Money Farm, a grain marketing advisory service located in Fargo, N.D., covered the world production vs. demand portion of the workshop. He told the audience that while he thought the market had hit bottom for the year, there probably wasn’t much of an upside in the short run.

Randy Fortenbery, the Thomas B. Mick Endowed Chair in the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University, talked about how producers should assess their price risk and use current and historical market information to start thinking about whether it’s a good time to consider a sale or not. See more


RESEARCH

Just the facts

AMMO workshop serves as a one-stop-learning shop for falling number issue

March 2017
By Trista Crossley


Harvest may be long over, but discussions about quality issues that plagued the 2016 crop haven’t fallen silent.

The Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO) tackled falling numbers—causes, testing and impacts on flour quality and marketing—in its first workshop of 2017 last month. Using experts from several different fields, the session served as a one-stop shop for all things falling numbers (FN). See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Rules of the road

March 2017

Editor’s Note: This is only a partial listing of the rules and regulations governing agricultural and commercial vehicles. For more information, readers can search the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) at apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/ or contact their local port of entry. The Washington State Patrol has published several brochures related to commercial vehicles and farm:

WSP Ag Rules Brochure
WSP Vehicle Guide
WSP Farm Implement Brochure


With snow-covered fields and most large farming equipment tucked away for the winter, it might seem like a strange time to discuss some of the Washington State Patrol (WSP) transportation guidelines farmers need to be aware of. But before you know it, summer will be here with harvest just around the corner and making sure you and your drivers comply with the rules of the road is one thing you can check off your harvest to-do list early.

We asked Linda Powell, a WSP commercial vehicle enforcement officer for more than 27 years, to answer some questions for Wheat Life. Powell currently oversees the two ports of entry on the west side of the state and is the facilities coordinator for the 53 scales and weigh sites throughout the state. Prior to working for the WSP, she was a commercial vehicle owner/operator for five years. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

A spoonful of sugar helps medicine go down

A new Spokane Conservation District program aims to take some of the sting out of buffers

February 2017
By Trista Crossley


For many producers, buffers are a foul-tasting medicine they have to swallow in order to protect water quality. One group is hoping that a spoonful of sugar makes the practice go down a little easier.

In November, the Spokane Conservation District (SCD) began accepting applications for their new commodity buffer program, which aims to compensate producers for the value of the crops the buffers displace. The idea was hatched several years ago when employees of the SCD were meeting with other conservation districts and producers about how to work with regulatory agencies on the practices producers were being asked to implement.

“Buffers are the big talk out there, so we had been brainstorming, and we came up with this concept of needing to pay the producers what the value of that land truly is,” explained Ty Meyer, SCD ag manager. “For a regulatory agency or anyone else to ask producers to set aside their most productive ground when prices are low is a very tough thing.” See more


POLICY

Retirement comes calling

After more than seven years, FSA's Judy Olson steps down

February 2017
By Trista Crossley


For the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Washington state office, January brought more than just a new year. It brought a vacancy in the top spot as Judy Olson, state executive director since 2009, retired.

Olson is well known to the farmers of the Evergreen State, especially wheat farmers. Before her time at FSA, she was the Eastern Washington director for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) for more than a decade. Before that, she served as president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and before that, she was the first female president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) in 1990/91. But even before all those titles, she was a Whitman County farm girl who wanted nothing more than to raise crops.

“Agriculture has been my whole life. I’m a fourth-generation farmer myself. Some of the oldest memories I have are walking out across the fields in February and March with my dad to see the condition of the winter wheat,” she said. “I remember jumping across erosion ditches that were part of the wheat-fallow rotation we had and hearing him talk about how bad those were. As the wheat grew bigger and we did the spring planting of crops, I could hardly wait to get home from school, change into pants and see if I could ride a tractor. Agriculture is in my blood.” See more


POLICY

Covering crop insurance

Convention panel discusses threats to farmers' safety nets

January 2017
By Trista Crossley


Folklore says things happen in threes, so perhaps its no surprise that an expert in defending crop insurance has identified three areas where the program is likely to come under fire.

Tara Smith, vice president of federal affairs with Michael Torrey & Associates, a governmental affairs firm in Washington, D.C., that represents the crop insurance and reinsurance bureau, said private sector delivery, means testing and cuts to the premium discount are the areas she expects to see targeted in the coming year.

“I think as we look at the budget process and the appropriations process next year, we see three big buckets where you could end up seeing attacks to crop insurance, because, for better or worse, this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve seen these attacks on crop insurance in the past, so we sort of know where those hits are going to come,” she explained. See more


POLICY

The ties that bind

Eastern Washington legislator works to defend small businesses, agriculture

January 2017
By Trista Crossley


Although Washington Sen. Judy Warnick isn’t primarily a producer, she has deep ties to the agricultural industry, and she’s known throughout the state as a stalwart champion of farmers.

Warnick (R-Moses Lake) first entered public service in 2007 when she was elected as a state representative for the 13th District. In 2014, she ran to fill the state senate position being vacated by Janéa Holmquist Newbry. Warnick easily won the seat with more than 80 percent of the vote. The 13th District includes all or parts of Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln and Yakima counties. Warnick and her husband, Roy, own a small business in Moses Lake, and it was that business, she said, that propelled her to first run for office.

“A lot of regulatory issues that the government decides impact our small businesses. That was the first thing that got me interested in state government and going over to Olympia to advocate for small businesses,” she explained. “Since I’ve been there, I’ve realized how the ag community is really impacted as well. We are in need of legislators that understand what farming is all about.”

Warnick’s ties to Washington agriculture began with her maternal great-grandparents who homesteaded in the late 1800s near Edwall. That farm remained in the family until the 1980s, and Warnick, herself, grew up on a small farm in Deer Park. Besides their small business, the Warnicks also own a farm in Grant County that they lease out. That background, Warnick said, gives her a connection to agriculture. She referenced a drawing she has hanging in her office of her uncles bringing in grain in horse-drawn wagons in the 1920s. See more


RESEARCH

The down low on GMOs

Examining some of the science behind genetic engineering

December 2016
By Trista Crossley

Can you pick out which of these plants are genetically modified according to the definition used by U.S. regulatory agencies?

1) Grapefruit mutagenized with thermal neutrons;

2) The fusion of cells from two different plant species to generate a hybrid with both sets of chromosomes;

3) Doubling the number of chromosomes in a cell/species; or

4) Reduced expression of a specific gene in a species through silencing.

Despite all four sounding like something that would happen through genetic modification (GM or GMO for genetically modified organism), only the last one would actually fall under the definition of a GM plant according to most U.S. regulatory agencies (and to much of the public as well). The other three options are classified as conventional breeding techniques despite the fact that in breeding, conventional or otherwise, DNA is being modified. That idea was one of the main points of the presentation given by Joseph Kuhl, a plant molecular biologist from the University of Idaho, at the 2016 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention last month.

Kuhl’s presentation, “The Dilemma: The Science behind GMOs,” focused on what GM crops are and how they fit with conventionally bred crops. Among other topics, he talked about different types of genetic engineering, common ways researchers insert DNA into cells and his belief that GM products are misunderstood.

“One point I really want to make is that GMO plants and animals are not defined by what they are or what traits they carry, they are defined by the process through which they are generated. It is the method of breeding that is used to generate them that has given rise to this term GMO,” he said. See more


POLICY

Crop insurance fight goes on

WAWG joins with Oregon, Idaho grower organizations, industry supporters and legislators to ask RMA to waive reporting rule in some low falling number cases

November 2016
By Trista Crossley


For many producers, finding out they had low falling number wheat was only the first punch in a double whammy. The second blow landed when they brought their elevator receipts to their crop insurance agents. It turns out that those falling number discounts from the elevators were going to be counted against growers’ actual production history, even if no crop insurance claim was made.

“Things are tough in the wheat industry right now,” said Michelle Hennings, Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) executive director. “With the price of wheat so low, many producers are already struggling to stay afloat. Then you add falling number (FN) discounts on top of low prices, plus getting dinged at the crop insurance level, and it hurts. For some farmers, the crop insurance issue might be the last straw because with the possibility of a declining actual production history (APH) from year to year, crop insurance becomes a less effective risk management tool.” See more


RMA explains falling number policy

Wheat Life reached out to the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to help clarify questions regarding RMA’s falling number policy. The questions and RMA’s answers are below. See More


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

LEASE LETDOWN

DNR terminates farmers' contracts early in wake of planned irrigation project

October 2016
By Trista Crossley


For many farmers in Benton County, the land they lease from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is a vital part of their business plan. So when a group of five dryland wheat farmers in the Horse Heaven Hills were informed that their leases were being terminated early to make way for a large irrigated project, they felt like the proverbial rug had been pulled out from under them.

David Moon is the farm manager for G&D Moon Partnerships. He and his uncle, George, started hearing rumors about a planned DNR irrigation project in his area about six years ago, right after he renewed his 10-year leases on 1,200 acres of DNR ground. Moon, a 4th generation farmer, said his family has grown dryland wheat on these sections for more than 30 years. He said after those initial rumblings, he didn’t hear anything until last year when word on the street was DNR wasn’t allowing growers to renew Conservation Reserve Program contracts. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

2016's harvest in photos

We spent time this summer traveling throughout Eastern Washington documenting the 2016 harvest season. Here's some of the photos we took:


See more photos from the 2016 harvest in Eastern Washington.


POLICY

A different perspective

The Washington Policy Center brings a credible, free-market approach to policy issues

August/September 2016

When it comes to agriculture and food, even the most scientifically solid argument can be choked by an emotional response to the messenger. Fortunately, Washington state’s farmers and ranchers just got a heaping spoonful of good fortune.

The Washington Policy Center (WPC), regarded by the public, legislators, stakeholders and the media as an organization that can be relied on to research and report on issues from a nonbiased, fact-based standpoint, recently created a position to investigate Washington’s agricultural issues and policies. The agricultural research arm joins six other key areas of research focus including education, environment, government reform, health care, small business and transportation. Chris Cargill, WPC’s Eastern Washington director, took a moment to answer some questions about WPC’s mission and its new ag position. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Conservatively speaking

The latest CRP general sign-up saw a 40 percent drop in Washington state's acceptance rate. What happened?

August/September 2016
By Trista Crossley


For some Eastern Washington producers, the latest conservation sign-up left them holding dust instead of a new contract.

In the past few years, Washington state has averaged a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acceptance rate of about 90 percent, but for the 2016 general sign-up, that rate plummeted to approximately 50 percent. In fact, several counties had no acres accepted. The pain was felt across the U.S., where the average acceptance rate was 23 percent. According to the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers CRP, Washington state had the highest number of acres accepted at 116,000. The next highest state was Colorado with 48,000 acres accepted.

“I think there are areas in the state that have natural resource concerns and need CRP in their business plan,” said Nicole Berg, Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ Natural Resource Committee chair. “So when a county doesn’t get anything in CRP, especially when it’s land that’s been in CRP before, I think we really need to take a step back at the state level and figure out a way to get this conservation tool back into those farmers’ toolboxes.”

For Berg, one of her biggest concerns is land that is highly erodible and hard to grow crops on didn’t get accepted into the program.

“CRP did a lot for air and water quality and to take that tool away is not in the best interests of Washington state,” she explained. “That those lands didn’t get back in with a resource issue like that gives me great concern.” See more