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Jacob Heitstuman (15 months) cheering on his daddy, Brian, and his papa, Dale, as they fill the sprayer
in Pomeroy.

Photo by Stephanie Heitstuman.



Finding the right recipe

Eastern Washington growers uncover some of the uncertainties of cover crops

November 2021
By Trista Crossley

In Eastern Washington, cover crops hold promise, but growers are still weeding out some issues.

Ryan Poe, a grower from Grant County and president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, ran into one of those issues in 2019 and 2020 when he planted a cover crop at the same time he direct seeded 25 acres of winter wheat. The idea was that the cover crop, rather than chemicals, would keep weeds in check. The cover crop would terminate during the winter leaving a wheat crop he could take to harvest. Unfortunately, Poe ended up with subpar stands of wheat that were ineligible for crop insurance as the Risk Management Agency deemed the experiment too…experimental. Despite considering the trial to be a failure from the crop side, Poe said some of the results were positive.

“I thought we were going to have a weedy big mess,” Poe said. “It was shocking to me. We didn’t get Russian thistles and other weeds that I would have expected.” See more


Is a family farm by any other name still a family farm?

November 2021
By Trista Crossley

What is a family farm? Definitions vary, depending on the person answering, but one thing is for sure—it shouldn’t be based on the farm name.

“I think most people don’t realize that every business they interact with on a daily basis is in a legal entity of some kind,” said John Kragt, an attorney with McGuire, DeWulf, Kragt & Johnson P.S. in Ritzville, Wash. “But when people think of farmers, they think of the Johnson family, and when they see Johnson Farms Inc. or Johnson Family Landholding LLC, there’s a disconnect. There’s the concept that a family farmer shouldn’t be an entity. That doesn’t make any sense.” See more


Eastern Washington producers concerned about vacancies in WSU Extension

August/September 2021
By Trista Crossley

For more than 100 years, Washington State University (WSU) Extension has played a pivotal role in dryland wheat farming in Eastern Washington, but growers are concerned that the service’s commitment to the area’s predominant cropping system is faltering.

“I think there’s a great deal of concern about the Extension coverage given the productivity of the region. This is the high yielding, high-end wheat producing area, and Whitman County is the highest, most productive wheat producing county in the nation,” said Jim Moyer, Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) Research Committee chairman and a grower from Columbia County. “The concern is WSU needs to figure out what they are going to do to support this area. Following the recession of 2009, there has been a very troubling increase in vacant Extension positions with some questions of relevancy. This pretty quickly translates into a lack of support at different levels.” See more

In the weeds

2021 Wheat College focused on resistance, stripe rust, Hessian fly

July 2021
By Trista Crossley

Resistance isn’t futile when it comes to managing weeds in wheat. You just have to be willing to mix things up.

Approximately 60 growers dialed in to the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s 2021 Wheat College to hear Washington State University Extension faculty talk about herbicide resistance and weed management in wheat production systems. While Wheat College typically consists of both classroom and hands-on learning, this year, it was once again held virtually because of COVID-19. See more

Holding out a hand

Suicide prevention program is dedicated to helping farmers who are in crisis

May 2021
By Trista Crossley

You can’t really put a price on a life, but Don McMoran is hoping that $7.18 million is a substantial start.

McMoran, director of the Washington State University (WSU) Skagit County Extension office, is parlaying a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) into expanding a program that offers assistance and resources to farmers and farmworkers who are struggling with mental stress and thoughts of suicide. It’s an issue that hits home for him. When he was a sophomore in college, a hired man on his parents’ Skagit County farm took his own life.

“I had no idea his decision would have such a major impact on my own life. I always think about why he did what he did,” McMoran explained. “When I took the job here in 2006, I was noticing there were some suicides happening in the county, but between 2016 and 2019, we had three of them in agriculture, and the third one was a gentleman I worked with at the Skagit Conservation District.” See more

Wheat College precursor focuses on yield

March 2021
By Trista Crossley

Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson made the first of two planned appearances in Eastern Washington last month to talk about the building blocks of yield potential. His “visit” was part of the Agricultural Marketing and Management’s 2021 schedule

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, and he owns a small farm in Ontario, Canada.

Although the January visit was virtual, Johnson will be the featured speaker at this year’s Wheat College, currently scheduled as an in-person event on June 15 in Ritzville, Wash. Johnson called the January session a “precursor” to Wheat College. See more

Handling the hands-on

Remote learning presents unique problems for CTE classes, FFA activities

December 2020
By Trista Crossley

In a time of increased remote K-12 education, how are the traditional, hands-on classes and activities faring? It’s something of a mixed (tool)bag according to instructors.

Since February, the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced nearly all Washington schools to at least a partial remote learning schedule, hitting classes that require hands-on instruction, such as career and technical education (CTE) classes, not to mention extracurricular activities like FFA and 4H, like a hammer. The U.S. is already facing a shortage of skilled trade workers. A recent study by JFF, a national nonprofit involved in American workforce and education systems, predicts 1.3 million job openings annually through 2028 for electricians, welders, mechanics and others. See more

On the move

Rail, river, roads all make movement of products in and out of region possible

November 2020
By Trista Crossley

Although barging and the dams on the Columbia-Snake River System have monopolized the spotlight recently, that’s not the only transportation option that Pacific Northwest (PNW) growers and businesses rely on. Trains and trucks are critical links in a system with lots of moving parts.

Crops and products move both ways in the PNW with most utilizing all three modes of transportation at some point in their life cycle. Crops may go first by truck to a country elevator and then by barge or rail to downriver ports on the coast, while products such as fertilizer are shipped upriver via barge to river terminals and dispersed into the countryside by truck. Lose one part of that chain, and the whole system falters. See more

Beyond the bin

Eastern Washington wheat growers turn to grain bags for storage flexibility

October 2020
By Trista Crossley

Some Eastern Washington farmers are starting to think outside the bin when it comes to how they handle wheat at harvest.

“We were approaching the year with a lot of uncertainty out there in the grain market, and also the fear that maybe an elevator or two might have employees that contract the coronavirus and get shut down. If that was the case, what was Plan B? Where do we go with our grain if our elevator of choice is not open?” said Randy Emtman. “We always try to forward contract some of our crop, so say that an elevator had a temporary closure—there’d be no place to go with that grain that we are obligated to deliver.” See more

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

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

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

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

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

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.