Contact Us I Subscribe I Advertisers

Caden (2) takes a snooze in momma’s combine during Luft Farms’ harvest in Endicott.
Photo by Trisha Bennett







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

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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