We’ve all been there. Sitting at the local café/coffee pot/rural community news center when a strange vehicle pulls into town. “That’s the new kid” one of the local farmers says. “He’s taken over the old Smith place.” Folks smile and shake their heads, bless his heart but he doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. “Just look at them boots” as Alan Jackson says!
This scene has played itself out in probably every rural community around the country a hundred times. I’ve been a part of a few myself. And now I find myself in the position of being the new kid driving into town! Those who have previously served as president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) have done an excellent job. Obviously, I have big shoes to fill. So, who is this new kid with “them fancy boots and new ideas?”
I’m a 4th generation wheat farmer from Bickleton in the western Horse Heaven Hills. My great-grandfather, originally from Cle Elum, bought our farm in 1930 after working on many of the local farms and leasing ground for a few years. Today, my dad, Ron Juris, and I grow dryland wheat, forage grains and dryland alfalfa.
After I left home for college, I attended the University of North Dakota where I obtained a degree in aerospace science. I taught at the university for a couple years before leaving to fly for the airlines. After about 10 years of weathering the chaos of post-September 11 and the economic downturn of 2008, my wife, Jen, and I decided to return home to the farm. Farming in dry, arid eastern Klickitat County has proved to be a challenge far greater than flying an airliner, but getting to face those challenges while working with my dad and grandfather has been a rewarding experience.
About nine years ago, I became the WAWG board representative for both Klickitat and Yakima counties. While I had been involved with various advocacy organizations during my time with the airlines, I had not truly considered what exactly WAWG did for farmers until I was asked to represent our county by former longtime board member, Neal Brown. After several years on the board, I came to really appreciate the role that our organization plays in advocating for Washington wheat farmers in Olympia and in Washington, D.C. With less than 2% of the U.S. population actively involved in agriculture, it is more important than ever that policymakers and the public are aware of how their food is grown, and what steps need to be taken to ensure a safe and stable food supply.
As I look forward to this next year as your new president, there will be plenty to keep me busy. Among other things, we will be actively looking to meet with new members of Congress as well as continuing conversations with sitting members. We will be active in advocating for all of you as the 2024 Farm Bill is negotiated, and we will continue our staunch support of the Snake River dams.
I am a firm believer that Washington wheat farmers are amongst the most resourceful and productive small grains producers in the nation. As a strong believer in a team approach to problem-solving, I call on all wheat growers to participate in county and state board meetings, to get involved in the legislative process, and to educate the public on the amazing work you all do every day. The issues facing us this next year are many and concerning; however, together we can (as we have before) continue to be the breadbasket of the Pacific Northwest, both for our consumers here and our valued customers abroad. So, let’s get to work!