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Maddi Siegel (2) excitedly points to her Grandpa Mark Cronrath in the combine during harvest 2016
on Zell-Cron farms in Davenport.

Photo by Kathi Conrath








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

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

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

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

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

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