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Harvest 2020 at Deardorff Farms in Colville.
Photo by Jayson Deardorff






The benefits of barging

River transportation critical to PNW grain company's farmers, customers

August/September 2021

Columbia Grain International, based in Portland, is a leading supplier worldwide of bulk grain, pulses, edible beans and oilseeds, both conventional and organic. Their supply chain stretches across the northern tier of the U.S., from North Dakota to Washington. They operate nine grain elevators in Eastern Washington, as well as barge loading facilities on the lower Snake River. To say they have a stake in the fight over breaching the lower Snake River dams is a bit of an understatement.

Last month, Wheat Life talked to Jeff Van Pevenage, president and CEO of Columbia Grain, on the importance of barging to his company and to farmers as far away as North Dakota. See more

Dam champions

State, national agricultural leaders take part in dam advocacy tour

July 2021

Leaders and staff of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) joined with other agricultural industry stakeholders in Lewiston, Idaho, in June to highlight the importance of the lower Snake River dams. The group also discussed the region’s concerns about Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-Idaho) $33 billion proposal to breach the dams, toured Lower Granite Dam and visited the Lewis-Clark Terminal at the Port of Lewiston.

Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director, said one of the highlights of the tour was learning how Lower Granite Dam worked and the research and technology the staff there uses to facilitate fish passage, including fish ladders and fish monitoring.

“This is definitely something we need to showcase to Congress and our legislators. They need to take a tour and see what is being accomplished at Lower Granite Dam. Dams and salmon can coexist, and this is the perfect example. If we could implement this level of effort at all the dams on the Snake River, it would be a win-win situation,” she said, adding the staff at the dam did a fantastic job explaining how everything worked. See more

Going green(er)

Palouse citizens group seeks input from producers on climate action

June 2021
By Trista Crossley

The Palouse is more than just rolling hills, small towns and exceptional crops. It’s also the home of an organization making a determined effort to include the agricultural industry in climate change discussions.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) describes itself as a grassroots, nonpartisan advocacy organization focused on national and local policies to address climate change. With approximately 200,000 members nationwide, the CCL establishes relationships with local, state and federal officials to build political support for climate action in keeping with local culture and politics. The Palouse chapter of the CCL, established in 2012, has approximately 700 members from Whitman County in Washington and Latah County in Idaho and counts a number of large scale commodity producers among them. Read more

Simpson defends proposal

Congressman says plan addresses loss of barging for growers

April 2021
By Trista Crossley

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) held a conference call last month with Idaho food producers and regional stakeholders to discuss his proposal to breach the four lower Snake River dams.

Simpson’s proposal would establish a $33.5 billion Columbia Basin Fund to help mitigate the effects of removing the four lower Snake River dams. The money would be used for energy replacement, watershed improvement, nutrient management, economic development, recreation, irrigation infrastructure and to address the loss of barging. The proposal would also put a moratorium on salmon litigation for at least 35 years. According to the proposal, Lower Granite and Little Goose dams would be breached in 2030, while Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams would be breached in 2031. Read more

Related: Read Alex McGregor's response to Simpson's answer.

Related: Who does have the authority to order the lower Snake River dams breached?

License laws

Under EPA rules, no recertification extension allowed for Washington pesticide applicators

February 2021
By Trista Crossley

Unfortunately, Washington state pesticide applicators struggling to get their recertification credits done on time won’t be able to count on an extension.

Christina Zimmerman, program manager with the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Licensing and Recertification Program, Pesticide Management Division, explained that in 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the federal rule on pesticide application certification and training to limit the recertification period to five years. States can have their own limits, as long as they are within EPA’s maximum limit; Washington’s was already set at five years. Read more

Leaving a mark

National positions bring spotlight to Washington wheat leaders

November 2020
By Trista Crossley

When it comes to leaving a mark in the national wheat industry, three Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) leaders are stepping up to the challenge.

Nicole Berg, vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and a WAWG past president (2013/14); Michelle Hennings, WAWG executive director; and Marci Green, WAWG past president (2017/18), have all accepted assignments that are bringing national attention to Washington wheat growers. Hennings said the Washington wheat industry has become more active at the state and national levels in the last few years, and she is pleased to see women in farming have become more involved as leaders. Read more

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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