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







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


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

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.

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

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

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

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


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

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 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

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


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

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.

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