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Fourth of July in the Horse Heaven Hills.
Photo by Jason Wiley

WestBred


FMC

FEI

PROFILES

Jumping in is nothing new to this farmer and his family

Phil Isaak, WAWG past president 1993/94

Aug/Sept 2020
By Kevin Gaffney


Most Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) presidents spend several years working through the ranks of their county organizations. Many serve as committee chairs or county reps on the WAWG state board before going through the state officer positions. Phil Isaak jumped directly into the WAWG secretary-treasurer position at the request of then-outgoing President Chris Laney.

It wasn’t like Isaak was an unknown quantity, however.

Isaak had experience on various boards and commissions before WAWG and many more in the years following his service in the leadership positions. And nearly as important, Isaak had already spent an entire year traveling around the state with his daughter, Brenda, as she served as WAWG Wheat Queen. Read more


POLICY

Tillage guidance

Ecology releases first set of ag BMPs to help regulate nonpoint source pollution

Aug/Sept 2020
By Trista Crossley


Back in March, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) published the initial chapter of their voluntary clean water guidance for agriculture. This draft chapter, which is the first of 13 that the department plans to release over the next five years, covers tillage and residue management.

To help protect water quality, Ecology recommends growers implement a conservation-based tillage system that achieves a residue coverage of 60 percent or more or a STIR value of 30 or less. The STIR value is a soil tillage intensity rating used by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to evaluate the effect of tillage on soil health. Read more


POLICY

Rural residents are looking for connection

July 2020
By Trista Crossley


There are lots of advantages to living in a rural location, but fast, reliable internet service is often not one of them.

As farm equipment becomes more computerized and sophisticated, an internet connection has become a critical link for growers to utilize GPS, manage data and help facilitate equipment repairs and upgrades, not to mention online interactions with U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies. In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the broadband deficiencies many rural residents and communities face as Washington students shifted to distance learning and many employees began working from home.

The Washington State Legislature has recognized the need for widespread broadband access across the state. In 2018, HB 2664, sponsored by Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy), was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee. The bill, among other things, extended telecommunications authority to Washington state ports in order to extend rural broadband infrastructure. In 2019, SB 5511, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), established the Washington State Broadband Office (WSBO) to help develop broadband service to unserved and underserved areas through competitive grants and loans. Read more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Distance learning

AMMO's 2020 Wheat College goes online with Wheat Pete

July 2020
By Trista Crossley

Setting aside the factors that can’t be changed, such as weather, what has the biggest impact on wheat yields? Peter Johnson, a Canadian agronomist with 30 years of specializing in cereals, says it’s all about the producer.

“Researchers have identified that if you put growers in the same region with the same inputs, everything the same, 27 percent, basically 1/4 of the yield outcome, is based on the producer and how they apply those inputs,” he said. “That is outside of the weather and soil type and everything else. It’s really cool in terms of how we can drive those yields forward, so keep an open mind.”

Johnson was speaking to growers as part of the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s 2020 Wheat College. Normally, Wheat College is a full day of classroom and hands-on presentations. This year’s event, however, was solely online thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. Nearly 60 growers logged into Zoom to hear Johnson speak. Johnson is the resident agronomist with Real Agriculture, where he hosts a weekly podcast, “Wheat Pete’s Word.” He is also a regular on “Agronomy Monday” on Real Ag radio, Sirius Satellite Radio 147. See more


PROFILES

Long-time ad sales manager retires

Kevin Gaffney has spent 30 years contributing to the success of Wheat Life

June 2020
By Trista Crossley


You may not immediately recognize his name, but he’s one of the main reasons Wheat Life is as successful as it is.

In May, after almost 30 years of involvement with the magazine and the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), Kevin Gaffney, our ad sales manager, is hanging up his hat.

It’s an understatement to say we will miss him.

“Kevin has been a well-rounded and hardworking employee for WAWG,” said Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director. “He has a great personality and a natural ability to connect with others. His working relationships with Wheat Life’s advertisers, growers and fellow staff members has helped make it possible for the magazine to thrive in a time when other print publications have struggled. We are sorry to lose him, but wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement!” Read more


PROFILES

Ag's story told

Sue Tebow turns to social media to spread the word on farmers and ranchers

June 2020
By Trista Crossley


Moses Lake resident Sue Tebow has taken the phrase “sharing is caring” to a new social media level.

“I had been thinking about doing something for a long time to share the ag life with people. I have a lot of friends that aren’t ag related and didn’t understand what goes on in agriculture. I put it off and put it off until one day, I just thought why not and what if? It turned out to be a really good idea,” Tebow said.

Tebow’s idea was to create a Facebook page where she could share stories from farmers and ranchers. The idea—a daily post from a farmer or rancher, no names and a single photo—may have been simple, but it was effective. Four years later, her page, agri.CULTURE, has more than 25,000 followers from around the world and has more than 900 posts. In 2017, Tebow was awarded the Charles Easton Award by the Agriculture Council of America for her work as an advocate for accurate communications between rural and urban audiences. She has also been inducted into the Grant County Agriculture Hall of Fame and given the Excellence in Agriculture Service Award. Read more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Cart(ful) of changes coming soon

NRCS uses webinar format to update Eastern Washington growers

June 2020
By Trista Crossley


In the year and a half since the 2018 Farm Bill passed, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has had their hands full implementing changes called for in the legislation. That transition is in the final stages, and last month, Washington growers got a chance to see what the agency has been working on.

“There are quite a few changes to each and every program, a lot of final tweaks,” said NRCS Washington State Conservationist Roylene Comes at Night. “We have new tools. The field offices have a new conservation planning system called Conservation Desktop. It’s a new system that is more computer friendly, more user friendly, more connected. The farm bill asked us to streamline in many ways. One way you will see is we are starting to transition towards one application, one conservation plan, one contract. We aren’t there yet, but we are going that way this year. That’s the biggest thing you will hear us talk about—this year is a transition year.” See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Rounding up the gains of conservation tillage

No-till, direct seeding have many benefits, but one important tool is causing conflict

May 2020
By Trista Crossley


There’s very little disagreement that no-till and direct seed cropping systems are responsible for dramatic improvements in soil health and a reduction in erosion in Eastern Washington. There is, however, lots of disagreement over one of the main tools that makes those cropping systems viable—herbicides, especially glyphosate (also known commercially as Roundup).

Both no-till and direct seeding are considered low-disturbance systems where farmers don’t plow their fields but instead fertilize and seed through the previous year’s crop residue. According to Ty Meyer, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association (PNDSA), direct seeding usually involves up to two passes over a field and causes a little more disturbance than does no-till, which generally only involves a single pass. That’s compared to three or more passes in a conventional tillage operation. See more


POLICY

Aiming for 2021

Legislator hopes DNR legislation finds its footing next year

May 2020
By Trista Crossley


Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima) is hoping third time’s the charm for his bill that would require the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to compensate growers when some leases are terminated early.

The 2020 Legislative Session was the second time Corry has sponsored legislation seeking to change the way DNR handles early termination of agricultural leases, especially under their “higher and better use” clause. The bill, HB 2498, passed the House unanimously, but failed to get out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks before the policy cutoff deadline. The bill was almost universally supported, including by DNR. Corry is planning to reintroduce the bill next year.

“Stuff dies all the time. Some stuff you have to fight three to five years to get through,” Corry said. “I’m thankful that DNR is on the back end implementing policy, and I’m hopeful next year we will have no roadblocks getting this through.” Read more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

A quick trip through QuickBooks

April 2020
By Trista Crossley

The last Agricultural Marketing and Management session of the 2020 winter series was an accounting of the popular financial software program, QuickBooks.

Presenter Cassi Johnson, a financial consultant and QuickBooks super user, gave growers tips and tricks to increase their productivity when using the software and answered growers’ questions. Everyone, no matter their level of experience with QuickBooks, walked away with something useful. Johnson has practical experience using QuickBooks in an agricultural setting—she is part of a multigeneration ranching family in Oregon.

“In all my classes and sessions, people will see I share a lot of family stories and struggles and real life experiences because I find people generally don’t want to talk about private things, and I want my participants to know that their struggles aren’t unique, and they are not alone,” she said after the session. “Not everybody is experienced in bookkeeping and QuickBooks, and nobody loves to do bookkeeping. We didn’t get in this business to do that. We got in it to raise crops and livestock and be outdoors. I hope growers get out of my session that somebody like me who may know a little more about QuickBooks still isn’t perfect and still has the same struggles they have. It’s all a work in progress.” See more


POLICY

Introducing Laura Watson!

Meet the Washington State Department of Ecology's new director

April 2020

At the tail end of 2019, Gov. Jay Inslee named Laura Watson to the director’s position at the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology). Previously, Watson had served as the senior assistant attorney general in the Ecology Division of the Attorney General’s Office. In that position, she provided advice and representation to Ecology’s 10 environmental programs and to the agency’s administration.

According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, Watson has advised on a wide array of environmental issues including cleanup at the Hanford nuclear site; toxics reduction strategies; protection of the state’s Clean Water Act authority against federal intrusion; and options for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Watson earned her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law. She lives in West Olympia with her husband, Dan, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at St. Martin’s University, and a daughter.

Watson replaced Maia Bellon who was appointed in 2013.

During their annual Olympia Days trip in January, wheat growers were able to meet with Watson and talk to her about wheat industry issues and priorities. Wheat Life reached out to Watson and asked her to answer some questions so readers could get to know her a little better. Here are her answers with very minor editing. Read more


MARKETING

A wild ride through the markets

April 2020
By Trista Crossley


Kevin Duling’s 2020 Agricultural Marketing and Management (AMMO) session take-home message for growers was simple: prediction in the markets isn’t possible, so why try? Instead, he recommended talking to buyers and developing flexible tools to be able to move when/if information becomes available.

Duling is co-founder and manager of KD Investors, a consulting firm dealing with the marketing of grain. While KD Investors is based in Oregon, Duling works with clients throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Duling begin his presentation by inventorying world wheat stocks. Leaving China out of the picture, he said, things look tight. Besides the U.S., the other major wheat exporters—Canada, Australia, Argentina, EU, Black Sea Region—are all likely to run out of wheat to export in June. The U.S. (at the time of his presentation) is projected to have approximately 25.6 million metric tons left in June. Read more


Dams already a model of fish recovery success

In April's issue of Wheat Life, on page 40, we ran a graph showing a 100-year perspective on salmon and dams co-existing in the Columbia River Basin. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, we weren't able to run the graph as large as we would have liked to, so it can be a little hard to read. Click here to download a larger, more easily read PDF.


POLICY

FOOD FOR AID

Growers travel to Kenya, Tanzania to see how U.S. commodities are helping feed the world

March 2020
By Trista Crossley


The idea of food aid is easy to understand. The actual nuts and bolts of food aid, however, are a little more complicated.

Back in November, a group of U.S. farmers and agricultural stakeholders from the wheat, barley, rice and sorghum industries set out on a two-week trip to Kenya and Tanzania to learn how food aid from the U.S., including grain, is sent to recipients in need, and how that food is distributed. Nicole Berg, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, treasurer of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and a Benton County farmer, took part in the trip. Read more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Creating a conversation around mental well-being

March 2020
By Trista Crossley


The first regular Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO) workshop of 2020 didn’t cover the usual weather/marketing/financial topics. Instead, it aimed to break down barriers surrounding mental health in agriculture.

“No one knows what a farmer is going through better than another farmer,” explained workshop presenter Lesley Kelly. “Your words matter. Your conversations matter. What you have to say can have an immense impact on somebody around you.” See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Narrowing down the options

Data indicates PLC will likely be the better option for crop years 2019, 2020

February 2020
By Trista Crossley


The take away from last month’s farm bill education workshops was that the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program looks to be the most attractive option for the next two years, but that growers should run the numbers for themselves to make sure.

Sponsored by the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization in conjunction with Washington State University (WSU) Extension, three workshops were held in Davenport, Walla Walla and Colfax. More than 155 growers and landlords braved snowy weather to attend the sessions.

Copies of the workshop presentations can be found here, here and here. A livestream of the Colfax session can be found online.

This article reviews the Colfax session. See more.


POLICY

FSA opens CRP general signup

Rule changes mean lower rental rates, no signup for Douglas County

January 2020
By Trista Crossley


After several years of one-year extensions and months of anticipation, the first Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up under the 2018 Farm Bill—and the first general sign-up since 2015—has finally arrived.

According to Farm Service Agency (FSA) records, there are nearly 190,000 acres expiring in Washington in 2019, with another 195,000 expiring next year. Rod Hamilton, farm programs chief for the Farm Service Agency’s Washington state office, said this is expected to be one of the bigger sign-ups in state history. Read more


POLICY

Talking Trade

Convention presentations repeatedly return to world commerce

December 2019
By Trista Crossley


What do you get when you add a dash of farm bill implementation and trade to a new global order, served with a side of national wheat issues and topped off with a long-term weather forecast? An informative, engaging 2019 convention agenda, of course. Read more


POLICY

Taking the reins

A familiar face voted in as executive director at the state conservation commission

November 2019

Earlier this year, members of the Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) welcomed back a former employee as the new executive director.

Carol Smith had spent 15 years at the SCC—from 1998 to 2014—managing the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and other science-related issues. She left the SCC to take a position at the Washington State Department of Ecology heading up their environmental assessment program. She has also worked for the state’s department of fish and wildlife, the Morehouse School of Medicine and a chemistry lab in California.

Smith grew up in on the west side of the state and holds various biological science degrees.

The SCC is the coordinating agency for Washington state’s 45 conservation districts, which provide voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs to landowners. The SCC also helps the conservation districts work with other partners and is responsible for distributing state funds to the conservation districts. Smith replaced Mark Clark who retired as executive director in January.

In an effort to get to know Smith a little better, Wheat Life emailed a list of questions to her. Here are her answers. Read more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

UNHARVESTED

Fall's wet, cool weather threatened to leave crops in the field

November 2019
By Trista Crossley


In “normal” years, by mid-October, most of Eastern Washington’s wheat has been harvested, and growers are wrapping up winter wheat seeding. Unfortunately, this year is anything but normal.

As October rolled around, there were reports of thousands of acres of spring wheat and chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans or garbs) still to be harvested across Eastern Washington, especially in the Palouse region. The culprit is moisture. Thanks to a cooler summer and regular rain showers that began in August and extended through October—not to mention an early October snow storm that set snowfall records at the Spokane, Wash., airport—the opportunities for wheat, especially spring wheat, and garbanzo beans (garbs) to reach the required level of dryness to be harvested were scattered and unpredictable.

At the beginning of October, Clint Myers, a grower from south Spokane County, was sitting on nearly 500 acres of spring wheat that was still too wet to harvest. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

HARVEST 2019

In most parts of Eastern Washington, the combines and bank-out wagons have been put away for the year, and hot August days have been replaced by frosty October mornings. Here's some more photos from this year's harvest in case you are already missing it. See more


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Ninety years and counting

October 2019
By Trista Crossley


Although there have been a lot of changes in the way wheat is harvested, many traditions surrounding the annual event haven’t.

For the past 90 years, the Mead family has provided three meals a day for their harvest crew. In the beginning, the kitchen came to the field via a horse-drawn cookwagon. Eventually, meal prep moved to the farm’s 1920s bunkhouse near Starbuck, Wash. These days, Skip and Julia Mead are in charge of the farm, which was settled by Skip’s grandparents more than 90 years ago, and have continued the harvest meal tradition.

“In the beginning, it (providing harvest meals) was essential. Everybody did it. You just didn’t go to town. Most folks lived on the ranch, and your seasonal workers didn’t have anywhere to go,” Skip explained, sitting at the table at the cookhouse in July while his current cook, Penny Hazelbaker, bustled around the small kitchen, putting the final touches on lunch. “It’s not only tradition, but we like it for team building, the camaraderie. We have fun in here. We give our workers a break from sandwich lunches. That’s important—a change of pace for them, but also it gives our wives a break.” See more


POLICY

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


POLICY

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Wheat College

Growers learn about soil fertility, farm bill programs, digital farming, marketing

July 2019
By Trista Crossley


One of the highlights of the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s schedule is the annual Wheat College, a one-day workshop that strives to bring the latest in research and technology to Eastern Washington wheat growers. This year’s Wheat College was held June 6 in Dayton, Wash. More than 90 growers attended the event to hear about soil fertility and soil sampling, 2018 Farm Bill program options, precision agriculture, marketing and grass identification. See more


POLICY

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

TARGET ACQUIRED

Benton County farmers, conservation district team up on precision application project

June 2019
By Trista Crossley


In the ongoing fight against weeds, one Benton County wheat farming family feels like they’ve hit the spot by employing a precision technology that saves them 80 to 90 percent on their chemical costs.

“To me, this is the next best thing after autosteer for a return on investment,” said Devin Moon.

Moon and his brother, Garrett, saw a demonstration of the WEEDit technology last year and were impressed enough that they approached the Benton Conservation District (BCD) with a proposal for a pilot project to test the system in a no-till fallow rotation. The WEEDit system works by detecting small amounts of chlorophyll and precisely applying chemical to just that spot. According to their website, the WEEDit technology was invented in Holland in 2001 as a way to avoid applying a “blanket” of chemicals over roads and footpaths to kill weeds. In 2009, the technology was modified for use in agriculture with the first system sold in Australia that same year. The Moons purchased the system, which mounts on their existing sprayer, and the conservation district provided some financial assistance for the actual work, i.e. labor, fuel and chemicals. The project began in July 2018 and wrapped up in April. See more


RESEARCH

Agriculture by the numbers

USDA releases census data on the state of farming throughout the U.S.

May 2019

It was a few weeks later than planned, but in mid-April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

The new census spans 6.4 million new points of information about America’s farms and ranches and those who operate them. Information for the census is collected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) by surveying farmers and ranchers. The Census of Agriculture is done every five years and includes national, state and county-level statistics.

“The importance of the census and the need for growers to accurately fill out the surveys can’t be underestimated,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). “Many USDA agencies, such as the Farm Service Agency, use census data to develop and administer farm and conservation programs, and lawmakers use the data to help inform policymaking decisions. We know growers are busy, but WAWG encourages them to participate in NASS surveys to the best of their ability.”

According to the 2017 census, the number of farms and the amount of land in farms has declined slightly since the last census in 2012. There also are fewer middle-sized farms with the largest and smallest farm operations growing. Finally, the average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise. Read more


POLICY

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


FARMER'S TOOLBOX

Overcoming production challenges

Workshop focuses on using variety selection, proper chemicals for pests

April 2019
By Trista Crossley


Production challenges and options to overcoming them was the topic of the final session of the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s 2019 winter schedule in February. Ryan Higginbotham from HighLine Grain Growers talked about disease pressure and how choosing the right variety can help address those issues, while James Zahand of James Zahand Consulting talked about herbicides and weed resistance. See more


MARKETING

Working out the global wheat market

Soft white wheat is only bright spot in outlook

April 2019
By Trista Crossley


According to Darin Newsom, when you talk about wheat, you can’t just talk about U.S. wheat, because out of all the grains, wheat is the most global market of all.

“There’s always a major wheat crop hitting the market somewhere in the world,” he explained. Newsom was the guest presenter at one of February’s Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO) seminars. Newsom is a former senior analyst with DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He now owns his own marketing company. “The bottom line is the world is oversupplied with wheat, and there’s a lot of competition out there. Everybody is growing wheat.” See more


POLICY

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


POLICY

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


POLICY

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


MARKETING

Tracking the tariffs

Current trade environment theatens stability of Washington state's agriculture industry

February 2019
By Trista Crossley


Trade, to put it lightly, is a pretty big deal in the Evergreen state.

More than 300 crops are grown here, worth $10.6 billion in 2017. The processed foods sector, in 2016, generated more than $20 billion in revenues, and the value of food and ag products that were exported overseas in 2017 was approximately $6.7 billion.

The current trade environment puts all of that on uncertain ground. Rianne Perry, manager of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) International Marketing Program, said in regards to the retaliatory tariffs from China, many of Washington’s agricultural products are on at least one of the lists of targeted products, if not more than one. WSDA estimates that approximately $1 billion worth of Washington agricultural exports are at risk from retaliatory tariffs, including those from China, Mexico, Canada, the EU and India. See more


POLICY

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