Business as usual at October board meeting

It was business as usual at last month’s state board meeting of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG).

Several guests stopped by the meeting to talk to producers, including Chris Mertz, regional director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS); Kay Teisl, risk management specialist from the Risk Management Agency’s (RMA) regional office in Spokane; and WAWG lobbyist Diana Carlen. 

Mertz told the board that NASS was in the process of re-interviewing producers to see if what they had intended to harvest was actually harvested. He said the last time NASS went back to update harvest numbers was in 2014, and it was mostly done in Idaho. He also said that estimated yield numbers for Washington for 2019 were released on Sept. 30. The winter wheat yield fell by six bushels per acre for an average 70 bushels per acre. For spring wheat, the yield was estimated at 47 bushels per acre, down from 54 bushels the year before.

Over at RMA, Teisl said the agency was fielding calls from producers about high moisture garbs and wheat slowing down harvest. RMA is telling growers to be sure to file a notice of loss with their insurance company. She answered questions from the board about how crop insurance would be handling various situations, but was only able to give general answers, explaining that it’s on a case-by-case basis as to what can or will happen.

Gary Bailey, chairman of the Washington Grain Commission, talked about the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service into the discovery of GE wheat plants in Eastern Washington in June. No report has yet been issued. Speaking of GE wheat, Bailey said more than a dozen trade teams have swung through Eastern Washington this year, and from them, the commission is hearing that overseas markets are not willing to accept any amount of GE wheat in their tenders. Bailey also touched on trade, saying that although the bilateral trade deal with Japan has been signed by the U.S., Japan still needs to okay it. Providing they sign it, it is scheduled to go into affect Jan. 1, 2020, and will put U.S. wheat on par with Canadian and Australian wheat.

Carlen, WAWG’s lobbyist in Olympia, made the drive east to give the board a state legislative update. Looking towards the 2020 Legislative Session, Carlen said there are a couple of things the ag lobby is keeping an eye on. First, the House has a new speaker, Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), who Carlen described as “very progressive.” Carbon regulation will still be an issue, with a cap and trade program still very much in play, she said. A capital gains tax is still on the radar, and an initiative that could lower car tabs could end up hurting the state’s transportation budget. The 2020 Legislative Session is a short one—60 days—and Carlen said most legislators will want to get done quickly so they can start campaigning for the 2020 elections.

Carbon regulation and a cap and trade program also made an appearance during the national legislative report. Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director, said as the issue gains traction, both in Washington state and nationally, WAWG needs to consider passing a resolution on supporting (or not supporting) any sort of carbon regulation in order to provide direction to the organization. That issue will be discussed during the WAWG all-committee meeting at the 2019 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.

Nicole Berg, treasurer of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), updated the board on NAWG’s strategic plan progress. She talked about the possibility of using a U.S. Department of Agriculture program designed for disaster assistance, the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+), to help farmers who experienced quality damage to their crops from excessive moisture, especially in the northern and central Plains. NAWG has sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking him to include quality losses as a covered damage. Berg also reiterated the need for WAWG to vote on resolutions dealing with carbon regulations.