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Bonnie Durheim’s farm on Peone Prairie in Mead.
Photo by Jackson Kiehn

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Meet the new guy

Jon Wyss takes over as FSA state executive director

August/September 2019
By Trista Crossley


The new Washington state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) brings to the job a background as diverse as the crops his agency will be serving.

In June, FSA announced that Jon Wyss had been selected to replace Brian Dansel as head of the state’s office. Previous to the appointment, Wyss had spent more than a decade working as an analyst for his wife’s family farm, Gebbers Farms, in Brewster, Wash. Before that, he served as chief deputy assessor for Spokane County, was a state senator for Washington’s 6th Legislative District and worked for the U.S. Trustee Program, which oversees the administration of bankruptcy cases across the nation. Read more


Supporting USMCA on four wheels

Trade motorcade makes a stop in Benton County for roundtable discussion

August/September 2019
By Trista Crossley


Over the summer, the Motorcade for Trade has been making its way across the country, touring farm districts and holding events to emphasize the importance of trade, especially the necessity of passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

In early July, the trade promotion-bedazzled RV found its way to the Benton County family farm of Nicole Berg, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and current treasurer of the National Association of Wheat Growers. Waiting to greet the RV and take part in a roundtable were a smorgasbord of industry stakeholders that ranged from farmers and local and state policymakers, to exporters and a representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Everything from wheat to onions to tree fruit was represented. Read more


On the Hill

Trade, labor, farm bill implementation top congresswoman's ag priorities

June 2019

Rep. Kim Schrier was elected last November in Washington’s 8th Congressional District to replace retiring Rep. Dave Reichert. She has been appointed to serve on the House Ag Committee, as well as the House Education and Labor Committee. Her district includes parts of King, Pierce, Kittitas, Chelan and Douglas counties. Before being elected, Schrier worked as a pediatrician in Issaquah.

We wanted to get to know Rep. Schrier a little better and introduce her to Wheat Life readers. Below are a series of questions we asked the congresswoman on issues that are important to wheat growers and her answers. Read more


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


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


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


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


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


SOLAR ECLIPSE

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


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


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


'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


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


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


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


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