WAWG’s Year in Review 2018/19

This past year, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) dealt with a number of issues impacting growers, including passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, renewed attacks on the lower Snake River dams, retaliatory trade tariffs and more. Here’s a quick look at some of the issues agriculture dealt with, and how your WAWG leaders spent their time advocating for the wheat industry.

July 2018

For WAWG leaders, the fiscal year starts off with a trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Washington State University (WSU)/Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) first ever Taste of Washington trip. This event showcased the Evergreen state’s agricultural industry to Congress. While in the nation’s capital, WAWG leaders also take the opportunity to lobby policymakers on the importance of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Throughout this year, pesticide regulation is never far from WAWG’s radar screen. At the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, the Washington State Legislature authorized a Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup to study the use of pesticides in the state and to develop recommendations for improving the safety of pesticide applications. In July, the workgroup holds a farm tour in Quincy, Wash., to look at advancements in sprayer technology and equipment.

Eastern Washington plays host to two high-level U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials this month. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue spends two days in Washington state talking to producers and visiting WSU agricultural research facilities. Just a few weeks later, Bill Northey, USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation, arrives in Eastern Washington to talk to producers about conservation practices and programs, crop rotations and trade.

The Trump Administration announces it will provide $12 billion to help farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs, mainly from China. The Market Facilitation Program authorizes $.14 per bushel for wheat. WAWG and the national wheat organizations express their disappointment with the payment, saying the loss wheat farmers are experiencing is actually closer to $.75 per bushel. They encourage the administration to focus on ending the trade war with China, as well as passing fair trade agreements with other countries, such as Canada, Mexico and Japan. “Trade, not aid” becomes the wheat industry’s unofficial slogan.

Progress on passing the 2018 Farm Bill takes a big step forward this month when leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives name the House conferees.

The Eastern Washington wheat industry says goodbye to Andy Rustemeyer who passed away in his home in Sprague, Wash., on July 12. He was president of WAWG in 1992/93.

Harvest starts in earnest in parts of Washington state.

August 2018

The Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup holds its third meeting, this time in Yakima. WSDA, Labor & Industry and the Department of Health each give presentations on their investigative process when a pesticide exposure complaint is made. Participants also hear about a California pilot program on advance application notification.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) travels through Eastern Washington to talk about the farm bill, trade and trade relief.

September 2018

WAWG President Marci Green testifies in front of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources during a full committee oversight hearing in Pasco, Wash. The hearing focuses on the economic and environmental benefits of federal infrastructure on the Columbia and Snake rivers and the challenges to their long-term viability.

At the September board meeting, growers hear from representatives of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) about how the department is working with solar companies to lease DNR land for solar farms. According to the agency, approximately 30 parcels in the southeast region of the state have been identified as potential sites. DNR is actively moving forward on several of those sites.

WAWG leaders take part in a policy fly-in to Washington, D.C., organized by the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). At this time, the farm bill conference committee is trying to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the 2018 Farm Bill. Growers had meetings with Washington state’s federal delegation to emphasize the need for swift passage of the farm bill before the old one expires on Sept. 30…

…which comes and goes without any new legislation. Despite pressure from ag groups across the country, lawmakers are unable to come to a consensus and vote on a new farm bill before the deadline. The expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill leaves approximately 39 farm programs unauthorized, including overseas market development programs and conservation programs.

For the most part, wheat harvest wraps up in Eastern Washington. The winter wheat crop comes in at an average 76 bushels per acre, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). 

The Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup holds its final meeting in Olympia. Their next step is to begin drafting a report for the Legislature on their findings and recommendations.

October 2018

WAWG submits comments on draft recommendations stemming from a Washington state taskforce created by Gov. Inslee to study the recovery and future sustainability of the southern resident killer whales. In its comments, WAWG reiterates support for the lower Snake River dams and advocates using science to make environmental decisions.

WAWG joins a coalition opposed to Initiative 1631, which would enact a carbon emissions fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon on certain large emitters beginning in 2020. The measure fails at the ballot with more than 56 percent of Washington voters rejecting it.

WAWG leaders find their work moving from the field and into the conference room as they take part in NAWG’s annual fall meetings in Tampa, Fla. The meetings give NAWG committees an opportunity to discuss issues and set policy.

November 2018

Prior to the 2018 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, many county meetings are held so growers can discuss issues and review resolutions. In Franklin County, Leonard Van Buren takes over as president, while Nolan Hollebeke becomes vice president. Bill Harder Jr. remains in the secretary/treasurer position. 

The wheat organizations of Washington, Oregon and Idaho wrap up another successful Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, this year in Portland, Ore. Approximately 300 growers make the trip west to hear from state and national leaders, learn about the issues affecting the industry and to socialize. One highlight of the convention is the keynote presentation by former U.S. Army Ranger Keni Thomas, whose combat experiences in Somalia became the basis for a book and movie. Ambassador Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Jason Hafemeister, special trade council to the USDA agriculture secretary, address trade issues, while Dr. Randy Fortenbery, an economist at WSU, moderates a panel of exporters talking about the grain export market.

Awards are also handed out at the convention. During the Washington annual banquet, Douglas County grower Ben Adams is named WAWG member of the year, while Benton County is named WAWG county of the year. WAWG President Marci Green hands the gavel to incoming president, Jeffrey Shawver of Franklin County. Grant County grower Ryan Poe steps into the vice president’s seat, and Howard McDonald, a grower from Douglas County, becomes the new secretary/treasurer.

Two new Washington Wheat Ambassadors are named for 2018/19. Evan Henning of Thornton, Wash., and Lacey Miller of Ritzville, Wash., will be advocating alongside growers throughout the year and learning how WAWG works.

The results of the November 2018 elections bring solid Democratic majorities in both the state House and state Senate. At the federal level, Republicans lose their majority in the House. Retiring Republican Rep. Dave Reichert’s District 8 seat goes to Democrat Kim Schrier, while Republican incumbents Jamie Herrera Beutler (District 3), Dan Newhouse (District 4) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (District 5) all hold onto their seats, as does Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell. Schrier will eventually be named to the House Agriculture Committee.

WAWG members and staff attend meetings of the Ag Burning Task Force and the Palouse River and Coulee City (PCC) Shortline Rail Authority.

December 2018

After more than a year of negotiating and compromise, the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill is passed and is signed into law right before Christmas. The Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC)-County, ARC-Individual and Price Loss Coverage programs are reauthorized, and farmers will be able to re-elect their programs multiple times through the life of the bill. Other changes include an increase in the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap and a directive to the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to develop an alternative method of adjusting for quality losses that doesn’t impact a producer’s actual production history. The bill also directs the Farm Service Agency to use RMA data, when available, when setting program payments.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee releases his proposed budget, which includes $1.1 billion geared towards saving the southern resident killer whale population. Of particular concern to wheat growers is the $750,000 set aside for a task force to investigate the impacts of removing the lower Snake River dams.

The state-owned PCC rail system gets a major boost when it is selected as one of the recipients of a federal BUILD grant. The grant’s $5.6 million will be matched with state and private funding

Eddie Johnson, a former Washington Grain Commissioner and Lincoln County grower, passes away on Dec. 4.

The longest federal government shutdown in history begins, as neither side can agree on government funding. The shutdown ultimately lasts 35 days, seriously delaying implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.

January 2019

The 2019 Washington State Legislature, with its Democratic majorities, hits the ground running, introducing in the first few weeks bills that would tighten emission limits and set low carbon fuel standards. Gov. Inslee, in his State of the State address, outlines his top priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session that, to no one’s surprise, includes policies addressing climate change. The centerpiece of the governor’s agenda is a 100 percent clean energy bill that would require all electric utilities to be 100 percent carbon free by 2045.

The Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup releases its report, calling for expanded training for pesticide applicators and handlers and the establishment of a new pesticide application safety panel. WAWG supports the report’s conclusions.

Growers and WAWG staff flood Olympia for two days of meeting with legislators to talk about the industry’s top issues including preserving the Snake River dams; protecting existing tax policy by retaining all food and farm-related tax incentives; preserving Washington’s economic competitiveness by not disadvantaging Washington farmers through low carbon fuel standard policies; increasing pesticide safety by supporting legislation that creates a pesticide application safety panel and increases funding for pesticide safety training; advocating for the soil health initiative; enhancing shortline rail infrastructure; and completing the WSU Global Animal Health Facility.

Volunteers man the WAWG booth at the Eastern Washington Ag Expo in Pasco, Wash. This is the fourth year WAWG has participated in the event.

February 2019

Visitors to WAWG’s booth at the Spokane Ag Expo answer a wheat-related trivia question to enter a drawing for a television. Lance Lindgren, of Oakesdale, Wash., is the winner. Other giveaways include licorice, ice scrapers, letter openers and rulers. Membership forms and industry materials are also handed out.

A bill is introduced into the state legislature insinuating that the agriculture industry engages in human trafficking and slavery. The outcry from the state’s farmers and ranchers is immediate and loud. The bill eventually dies in the Senate Rules Committee.

WAWG testifies in support of a bill that would prohibit DNR from terminating a lease early, other than for default, without the written consent of the lessee. The bill doesn’t pass out of fiscal committee.

WAWG leaders and staff head to Washington, D.C., to take part in NAWG’s winter conference. Besides attending committee meetings, wheat growers also spend two days on the Hill meeting with members of Washington’s federal delegation, ag committee staff and USDA agency officials. Trade and farm bill implementation top the list of WAWG’s priorities.

The Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s (AMMO) winter schedule kicks off with workshops on agricultural policy, weather outlooks, wheat export markets, production challenges and chemical applications.

Just days after returning from D.C., WAWG leaders and staff again take to the skies, bound for San Antonio, Texas, for the annual Commodity Classic. Nicole Berg, a Benton County grower and WAWG past president, is named NAWG treasurer.

Just as it looks like this winter will pass with barely a whimper, much of the state is slammed by a series of February snow storms that close roads, schools and airports. 

March 2019

During Senate floor debate in Olympia, Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip) says Washington farmers don’t pay any taxes. The statement is quickly refuted by Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville). The ag community in Washington rallies and provides lots of evidence that farmers do, in fact, pay taxes.

A bill establishing a pesticide safety committee passes both the state House and Senate. The state House passes a low carbon fuel standard, while the Senate transportation committee passes a revenue package that includes a carbon fee. The Legislature isn’t done with clean energy policies yet, as a cap and trade bill is introduced in the Senate. 

Approximately 600 5th grade students visit WAWG’s booth at the Benton-Franklin County Farm Fair in Kennewick, Wash. Students learn what wheat farmers do during each season of the year and discuss what happens to wheat when it leaves the farm. 

April 2019

Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director, joins with many of the state’s other commodities and stakeholder groups in an agricultural lobbying effort in Olympia. Some of the topics the group discusses with legislators are preserving the lower Snake River dams, the Soil Health Initiative, budget requests for the Office of Columbia River and H-2A worker legislation.

WAWG leaders and staff make another trip back to D.C. to advocate for trade and farm bill implementation. WSDA Director Derek Sandison joins the group for many of their meetings with policymakers.

WAWG signs a coalition letter asking members of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee to remove operating budget funding proposed by Gov. Inslee for a study that considers the impacts of breaching the lower Snake River dams. Unfortunately…

…The funding is ultimately included in the budget, which is passed with just minutes to spare by the state Legislature. Lawmakers approve a $52.4 billion, two-year operating budget that included a number of tax increases, including a graduated real estate tax and an increase in the B&O tax for some service-type businesses.

As the 2019 Legislative Session comes to an on-time close, a number of bills WAWG had an interest in had their fates decided. Bills that passed included one that implements the recommendations of the Pesticide Application Safety Workgroup (WAWG supported) and one that allows vehicles carrying farm products from the field to exceed road weight limits by up to 5 percent on public roads (WAWG supported). Bills that didn’t pass included one that would have established minimum crew size requirements on trains transporting hazardous materials (WAWG opposed); only a fraction of the funding requested for the Soil Health Initiative was approved (WAWG supported funding the initiative); and a bill that would have incorporated environmental justice principles into agency rulemaking (WAWG opposed).

Carbon policies also meet with mixed results in this year’s legislative session. The state Senate gives final approval to a law that requires Washington utilities to be 100 percent clean energy by 2045. The law also mandates a coal phase-out by 2025 by electrical utilities. Cap and trade legislation and a low carbon fuel standard are not passed.

The World Trade Organization rules that China’s government does not fairly administer its annual tariff rate quotas for imports of corn, rice and wheat, news that is welcomed by the wheat industry.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service releases the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Since the last census, in 2012, the number of farms and the amount of land in farms has declined slightly. There are fewer middle-sized farms with the largest and smallest farm operations growing. In addition, the average age of all farmers and ranchers increased slightly.

May 2019

It’s budget time at WAWG. Financials are the main topic at the May state board meeting. Board members reviewed the proposed 2019/20 budget, which is a 2 percent increase over last year’s budget. 

Another month, another trip to Washington, D.C., for WAWG leaders and staff as part of a fly-in organized by NAWG. Because the WAWG group had met with Washington’s federal delegation just a few weeks prior, they spend this trip meeting with other states’ congressional legislators. The importance of trade agreements to the U.S. wheat industry and farm bill implementation are stressed.

Every year, county wheat growers award scholarships to area high school seniors. This year, Asotin County growers award three to Anna Aarstad, Carmen Eggleston and Jolee Sanford. Up north, Spokane County wheat growers award two scholarships to Jon Denny and Kolbey Browning.

An editorial written by WAWG leaders opposing breaching the lower Snake River dams appears in newspapers across the PNW. In the op-ed piece, WAWG argues that the money allocated by the state to the study of breaching the dams is unnecessary and wasteful since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is already undertaking a federally mandated environmental impact study on the dams.

Despite conducting a tremendous effort by NAWG’s staff and grower leaders to find a solution, the North Dakota Grain Growers Association (NDGGA) chooses to withdraw their membership amid claims that they weren’t being fairly represented by NAWG. WAWG leaders reiterate their belief in the value of the work NAWG does representing the wheat industry at the federal level.

On the trade front, the Trump Administration announces it will remove Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and Canada, hopefully paving the way towards approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Lori Williams, WAWG’s outreach coordinator, takes part in the Lincoln County Conservation Day, an annual event that brings hands-on learning to the county’s sixth graders.

June 2019

WAWG joins other commodities as sponsors of the annual legislative Food and Farming Tour. Approximately 20 legislators and their aides take part in the two-day event in the Columbia Basin. At the wheat stop, which takes place on one of Jeff Malone’s Grant County fields, legislators saw a demo of the WEEDit technology (precision herbicide application equipment) and discussed pesticide regulations, trade and the lower Snake River dams. Afterwards, they snacked on bread slices with dipping oils and sampled regional beers (no barley, no beer!).

This year’s Wheat College takes place in Dayton, where more than 90 growers from around the Pacific Northwest learn about soil fertility and soil sampling, 2018 Farm Bill program options, precision agriculture, marketing and grass identification.

The 103rd annual Lind Field Day takes place on one of the hottest days so far this year. Growers gather at the nation’s premiere dryland research station to hear the latest updates on soil health, winter peas, biosolids and spring and winter wheat research.