Contact Us I Subscribe I Advertisers


For his 70th birthday, Harold Hennings of Ritzville spent time doing what he loves, harvesting wheat on his family farm.

CLS

DOW

ALPINE

CLS


OXARC

NWFCS

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Finding a way to farm

A letter, luck and some strategic planning helped Harrington couple

July 2016
By Trista Crossley


Josh Steward didn’t know what to expect when he wrote the letter as a sophomore in college. All he knew was that he wanted to farm, and the letter seemed like a place to start.

“At the beginning of my freshman year in college, I tried some different routes (to get into farming) but they didn’t work out,” he explained. “I thought, well, I have nothing to lose, so I wrote a letter to Jim Els explaining our situation.”

The situation was that Josh, who grew up in Odessa, Wash., and Katie (his future wife), who grew up in Harrington, Wash., both came from families involved in dryland wheat farming, but neither one of them were in a position to inherit land or join a family operation. Josh knew of Jim Els, a farmer outside Harrington, who was getting close to retirement and knew there was some question whether the Els’ children were interested in taking over the farm.

“Jim wrote back saying he still had a couple years left,” Josh said, adding that at the time, wheat was selling for $15 a bushel and farmers were generally making enough money to make farming worthwhile. “But there was some positive information in his response that made us think he might consider it someday. Then in 2010, he called and actually offered to lease his land to us.” See more


RESEARCH

Growers get high marks

A large part of a successful variety trial is the location of the test plots

June 2016
By Trista Crossley


Choosing which new wheat varieties to test is only part of the recipe for a successful variety testing program. The other part is choosing where to test them, and for that, growers play a central role.

“I couldn’t do this without them, and I’m grateful for their cooperation,” said Ryan Higginbotham, Washington State University (WSU) Extension specialist who runs the Cereal Variety Testing Program. “The variety testing plot program really revolves around farmers being willing to host (test plots) and working with us to find a good trial site. They really play an important role in what we are trying to do.”

Higginbotham works with 30 growers who host, among other crops, winter and spring wheat trials on their land, covering all the rainfall zones in Eastern Washington. He’s got some landowners who’ve hosted a test plot for more than half a decade, as well as a few who are hosting for the first time. His aim, he said, is to make hosting a test plot “business as usual for the farmer.” See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Dollar Signs

Public vs. private financing is a point of contention for a group of irrigators in the Odessa Subarea

June 2016
By Trista Crossley


Although the Columbia Basin Project was conceived as a public works program, a group of landowners is advocating the use of private funds in the latest project.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association (CSRIA) has had private financing in place since 2014 to begin building pumps and pipelines that will bring surface water from the East Low Canal (ELC) to current deep well irrigators in the Odessa Subarea. The entity responsible for the construction and maintenance of the project, the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID), however, maintains that this is a public project and should be financed with public money. The irrigation district plans to use 30-year tax exempt municipal revenue bonds for financing.

“We’ll build our own pipelines, with our own capital,” said Darryll Olsen, a CSRIA board representative. “We believe you have to bring 21st century water resource management to bear on this problem just like you would anywhere else, and that means private sector financing.” See more


POLICY

Agriculture beginning to plan now for 2018 Farm Bill

June 2016
By Trista Crossley


Battle scars from the last farm bill debate have just barely faded, but according to industry representatives, it’s already time for agriculture to start thinking about the next farm bill, due in 2018.

“It didn’t seem like agriculture had a loud enough voice in negotiations on the last farm bill,” explained Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). “We need to bring all the commodities together and figure out what agriculture needs for the next one, which is right around the corner. We need to start telling our story now and educating decision makers in order to defend what we currently have and fight for any changes that should be made.” See more


POLICY

Drift Details

Ag group hopes to change the conversation about pesticide applications in Washington state

May 2016
By Trista Crossley


For the past few years, the pesticide application conversation going on in Olympia has been drifting in the wrong direction, but a group of agricultural stakeholders is making plans to put it back on course.

“The last three years, the House committee on health care has held work sessions on pesticide drift, and every time, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) gets up and says the number of drift incidents that are exposing people to pesticides is not decreasing. This year, legislators came to me and said ‘you aren’t fixing your problem. You’d better fix it or we will fix it for you,’” explained Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests (WFFF). “That’s the conversation we need to change.” See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

What the growers have to say about the plan to replace groundwater with surface water in the Odessa Subarea

April 2016

Brad Arlt

Despite an estimated cost of $250/acre, Brad Arlt and his brother-in-law, DeWayne Kagele, are leaning towards accepting a water contract when surface water becomes available to their 2,700 acres of irrigated ground 20 miles east of Moses Lake. They are counting on being able to grow more high-value crops to offset the water costs.

“While we are okay with that price, it’s going to be pretty tough to manage,” Arlt said. “We are between a rock and a hard place. We need water, and electricity prices are sky high. We can’t afford to pay electricity on our deep wells anymore.” See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Sticker shock?

Odessa Subarea groundwater replacement project moves forward, but some growers worry that the cost of water is too high

April 2016
By Trista Crossley


As progress on the Odessa Subarea groundwater replacement project flows forward and water contracts are being made available, some growers have expressed concern over high assessment fees. But figuring out how high is too high, like beauty, might be based on the eye of the beholder.

The Odessa Subarea straddles portions of Lincoln, Adams and Franklin counties in central Washington. The area’s main economic activity is agriculture—both irrigated and dryland—and food processing with an annual economic value estimated at close to a billion dollars. The problem is much of that irrigated agriculture relies on deep wells that tap into the Odessa Aquifer. Many communities within the area also rely on the aquifer for drinking water, but the aquifer has been drained to the point where wells are failing and what water is left has high sodium concentrations. Some studies estimate that at the current rate of decline, if no action is taken, 35 percent of the wells in the subarea could cease production by 2020. The state and federally approved solution is to expand the Columbia Basin Project’s (CBP) network of canals and pumps to supply surface water to groundwater-irrigated acres of the Odessa subarea that are within the CBP’s boundaries.

Work on the project began in earnest in 2006 when the Washington State Legislature directed the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) to find alternatives to groundwater in the Odessa Subarea. Ecology partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), which administers the CBP and has final say over projects using CBP water and infrastructure, to develop a plan that delivers the most surface water to as many acres as possible in the most cost-effective manner. In 2013, Reclamation decided on an $800 million plan that uses Columbia River water pumped into Banks Lake to provide surface water to approximately 70,000 acres north and south of I-90 by expanding the East Low Canal and installing additional pumps and pipeline. The irrigation district most affected by the project, the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID), took on the task of implementing the project. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Bidding bugs goodbye

State commission helps minor crops deal with pests, register pesticides

March 2016
By Trista Crossley


There’s another state entity in Washington that directs its efforts to putting out fires, only instead of flames, these fires are made of pests.

The Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration (WSCPR) was created through legislation in 1995 as a response to the tightening of pesticide registration requirements in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Amendments of 1988, which required that all pesticides had to be reregistered and meet new safety standards. Rather than spend the time and money to maintain those pesticide registrations, many companies instead elected to drop them, especially for limited-use pesticides and products intended for minor crops. WSCPR filled that gap, funding the research and studies necessary to reregister limited-use pesticides for use in Washington state.

“Washington is an intensely minor cropping state, third in the nation after California and Florida,” explained Alan Schreiber, WSCPR’s administrator since 1995. In fact, minor-use crops such as cranberries, spinach, lentils and chickpeas comprise more than half of Washington agriculture, even though they are produced on a limited number of acres. In 1999, the state legislature expanded WSCPR’s mission beyond pesticide registration to tackling any kind of problem that involved pests.

“We put out pest management fires,” Schreiber said. “If a crop has an unmet pest management need, we could help out. We can figure out a research solution. We can line up a lab, a scientist.” See more


POLICY

DROUGHT

State agency attempts to put a price tag on 2015 water shortage

March 2016
By Trista Crossley


A recently released report from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is attempting to put a price tag on how much last summer’s drought cost farmers.

Back in the spring of 2015, WSDA calculated that the drought’s worst-case scenario could cost the state $1.2 billion, a number touted by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when he made a statewide declaration of drought in May. At that point, about one-fifth of the state’s rivers and streams were at record lows, the snowpack was nonexistent, and many areas of the state were already experiencing hotter-than-normal temperatures. By the last week of August, at the peak of the drought, 85 percent of the state was categorized as being in “extreme drought.” To add fuel to the fire, the state was experiencing wildfires on a historic scale, and exports were still recovering from a midwinter port slowdown. Agriculture, it seemed, was taking hits from all sides, and except for WSDA’s worst-case scenario estimate, the true impact of the drought was still up in the air. See more


POLICY

WSDA reworks pesticide rules

Stakeholder workgroup offers advice on potential changes

February 2016
By Trista Crossley


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

Rules and regulations seem to be the bane of growers, so when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced they were planning on consolidating and simplifying the use-restricted pesticide rules, stakeholders took notice.

Joel Kangiser, policy assistant in the WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division, said the current rules are complex, confusing and out of date. In fact, some sections are so out of date that applicators can’t follow a pesticide label and still be in compliance with the rules. So even though the department hasn’t seen an uptick in problems or incidents involving use-restricted pesticides and sensitive crops, they’ve decided the time is ripe to review current regulations. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Will agriculture save the planet before it destroys it?

At the 2015 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, Intrexon's Jack Bobo asked a question that had growers buzzing

January 2016
By Trista Crossley


Jack Bobo started and ended his 2015 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention speech somewhat provocatively.

Bobo is a senior vice president at Intrexon, a synthetic biotechnology company that owns, among others, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which is the company behind the nonbrowning, GMO Arctic Apple, and AquaBounty Technologies, which raises GMO salmon. He began his speech by asking the question, can agriculture save the planet before it destroys it? He ended his speech with this statement:

“The next 35 years are not just the most important 35 years there have ever been in the history of agriculture…They are the most important 35 years there will ever be in the history of agriculture, and that’s why now matters.” See more


POLICY

A familiar face

Long-time political activist Mary Dye takes on a new role

January 2015
By Trista Crossley


Mary Dye might be (relatively) new to the Washington State Legislature, but with more than 20 years of political activism behind her, she’s already a name to be reckoned with in most Eastern Washington GOP circles.

Dye was appointed to fill Susan Fagan’s 9th District House seat last May and was re-elected in November’s general election.

From the time she was young, growing up in southeast Idaho, Dye said she’s loved all things agriculture. After graduating from the University of Idaho with an agronomy degree, Dye spent several years in Thailand with the Peace Corp before landing back in the Pacific Northwest as a fieldman for a crop development company. It was during this time she met her husband, Roger Dye, and became part of his family’s wheat farm near Pomeroy.

“They knew I was going to stick around when we had his and hers tractors. For a wedding present, he got me a new Morris HR 36 Culti-Weeder,” Dye said, laughing. See more


TRADE & MARKETS

It's all in the numbers

Panel paints a picture of future wheat exports

December 2015
By Trista Crossley


For Pacific Northwest wheat farmers, the world export market is more than just a vague idea of customers outside America’s borders. With 85 percent of our wheat exported overseas, what happens in countries on the other side of the world directly affect our ability to make a living. So understanding how those markets work is as important as knowing how to balance the books.


Growers at the 2015 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention had the opportunity to get better acquainted with what’s happening in the export market through a world wheat markets panel featuring two experts: Vince Peterson, vice president of overseas operations for U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), and Joe Sowers, USW assistant regional vice president in the south Asia region. The panel was moderated by Randy Suess, a Washington Grain Commissioner and retired wheat farmer from Whitman County. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Sowing the best

County associations help select, spread certified seed

November 2015
By Trista Crossley


It doesn’t matter what kind of crop you grow, if you don’t have good seed, you can’t have a good crop. And making sure that Washington farmers have the best seed available are the Washington state county crop improvement associations, which work under the umbrella of the Washington State Crop Improvement Association (WSCIA).

WSCIA is a nonprofit organization that works with Washington State University (WSU), the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington state seed growers to develop, produce and distribute certified seed throughout the state. It was established in 1946 and incorporated in 1951. Jerry Robinson, manager of WSCIA, said that from the beginning, every county had a crop improvement association with its own board of directors and its own set of bylaws. Each county elected a representative to sit on the state crop improvement board. When WSU developed a new variety of a crop, it allocated only a certain amount of seed to each county, leaving it to the county crop improvement association to distribute that seed to growers. See more


POLICY

Checking in with the Corps

A new commander answers questions on projects, funding and the unique challenges facing the Columbia-Snake River System

November 2015

To call the Columbia River the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest isn’t much of an exaggeration. It’s the fourth largest river in the North America and drains an area of about 259,000 square miles. The river and its tributaries have to fill numerous roles, from transportation artery to recreational playground to providing a home for fish and wildlife. The responsibility for overseeing this watery network and the infrastructure that has grown up on it has been given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

Back in July, Brigadier General Scott A. Spellmon took command of the Northwestern Division of the Corps, one of the agencies that manages the water resources infrastructure in the Columbia and Missouri river basins. Spellmon He oversees a program of more than $3 billion in civil works, environmental restoration and military construction. There are five operating districts: Portland, Ore.; Seattle and Walla Walla, Wash.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Omaha, Neb., employing a workforce of nearly 5,000 people. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Reaping the benefits

Program will certify farmers' environmentally sustainable efforts

October 2015
By Trista Crossley


Getting consumers, environmental groups and government agencies to understand and acknowledge farmers who grow food in environmentally sustainable ways often feels like an uphill battle. But a group of Pacific Northwest direct seeders is hoping to add a little traction to those efforts.

Farmed Smart is a sustainable farm certification program developed by the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association (PNDSA), a nonprofit group formed in 2000 that focuses on environmentally sustainable and economically viable direct seed cropping systems. PNDSA is active across Washington, Oregon and Idaho and has approximately 270 members. According to PNDSA Executive Director Kay Meyer, the Farmed Smart program is aimed directly at Pacific Northwest dryland wheat growers and wraps up PNDSA’s mission statement and objectives into one package.

“Farmed Smart is a positive way to support conservation practices, to promote them and to help consumers, policy stakeholders and retailers understand the benefits these farmers are providing for the environment,” she explained.

Originally conceived by the PNDSA board of directors as a way to identify and define direct seeding beyond just the drill, Farmed Smart has been in the works for nearly three years. It has received grant funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), Northwest Farm Credit Services, the Grant County Conservation District and, most recently, the Palouse River Watershed Implementation Partnership which recently received $11 million through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. See more