WAWG’s year in review

A look back at the Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) activities over the past 12 months…

July 2017

Proving there’s never a bad time for advocacy, members of the WAWG leadership team make a midsummer trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby on issues important to wheat growers. The group, which includes Michelle Hennings, WAWG executive director; Marci Green, WAWG vice president; and Nicole Berg, WAWG National Legislation Committee chair, meet with various U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies to talk about conservation programs; Columbia-Snake River System dams and their importance to the Pacific Northwest; and issues with producers’ actual production history. The group also meets with ag committee staffers to discuss the appropriations request for additional funding for low falling numbers research. A meeting with White House staff gives the group the opportunity to showcase Washington’s agricultural industry and stress the importance of trade. Meetings with members of Washington state’s federal delegation are also on the schedule where trade and crop insurance are among the topics discussed.

The Trump Administration releases its objectives for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which includes maintaining existing, reciprocal, duty-free market access for agricultural goods.

As harvest approaches, nervous growers fret over a repeat of the 2016 harvest, when low falling numbers hit the region hard. Fortunately, early testing shows little to no problems. In the end, the 2017 crop, despite a slow start due to an extremely wet spring, is deemed a success, with excellent quality and yields slightly above average. 

The Risk Management Agency announces it will add coverage for triticale and uninsured, third-party damage to crop insurance.

On the 20th of the month, the Washington State Legislature adjourns the 2017 Legislative Session without passing either a capital budget or addressing a court decision—known as the Hirst decision—that sharply curtailed rural homeowners’ ability to use permit-exempt wells. Early in the session, the Senate made passage of the budget conditional on resolving the Hirst issue. While the Senate passed their version of a bill addressing the water issue multiple times, the House never brought the bill up for a vote. Instead, the House proposed a 24-month temporary fix, which the Senate rejected on the grounds that homeowners deserved a permanent solution. The impasse leaves major construction projects across the state in limbo, including Washington State University’s new Plant Sciences Building and the Global Animal Health Building.

August 2017

While trade agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) tend to grab headlines, another treaty gets much less attention, but may be just as important to the Pacific Northwest. Hennings and Washington Grain Commission (WGC) CEO Glen Squires take part in a meeting sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) on the U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty. The purpose of the meeting is to develop action items that will push the negotiation process forward.

Recognizing the media’s importance in getting accurate information about agriculture out to the public, WAWG organizes a media tour to demonstrate the grain chain from field to market. Participants from media organizations from around the state ride a combine and bank-out wagon, see the equipment and technology farmers use to protect natural resources and tour a grain elevator.

September 2017

Although wheat wasn’t on the menu, WAWG takes part in a west-side legislative tour that highlights many of the same issues agriculture on the east side is facing. Participants tour an automated dairy, see how irrigation is managed and learn how technology is making herbicide applications safer than ever.

As the end of 2017 approaches, talk surrounding the 2018 Farm Bill is ratcheting up. WAWG leadership takes part in a National Association of Wheat Growers’ (NAWG) fly-in to Washington, D.C., to discuss farm bill priorities with members of Washington state’s congressional delegation. Crop insurance, a strong safety net, market access and voluntary working lands conservation programs top the list of priorities.

WAWG sponsors a booth at the My Farm, Your Table event hosted by the Adams County Extension office in downtown Ritzville, Wash. The booth features wheat-centric activities, including a trivia wheel and a bin full of grain for kids to play in.

Wheat is the star of the show in a video produced by the Washington Grain Commission highlighting wheat’s journey from breeding, to harvesting, to consumers. That video can be found here.

October 2017

As the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention nears, county wheat growers hold annual meetings to discuss county issues and priorities and elect new county leaders. Franklin County elects Kelly Cochrane as county president. Leonard Van Buren will be 1st vice president and Nolan Van Hollebeke will be 2nd vice president. Bill Harder Jr. will remain as secretary/treasurer.

Farm bill and trade agreements dominate the discussions at the wheat industry’s fall conference in Charleston, S.C. WAWG’s leadership team, including Green, Berg, Hennings, WAWG President Ben Adams and WAWG Secretary Jeffrey Shawver, attend the week-long conference and take part in various national committee meetings.

November 2017

Adams, Spokane and Benton counties all hold annual meetings prior to convention. Hennings and WAWG lobbyist Diana Carlen attend as many meetings as they can to give WAWG and state legislative updates.

Hennings takes part in a panel discussion at the annual Women in Ag Conference, where she is asked about how she got into her ag role; how that role changed her and some of the challenges she’s faced and overcome.

Nearly 450 growers, industry stakeholders and exhibitors take part in this year’s Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in Spokane, Wash., at the Davenport Grand Hotel. Convention attendees have the chance to listen to Peter Zeihan talk about global politics and the United States’ influence and position in the world and how that might affect agriculture, while Matt Roberts zeroes in on the internal politics of the current U.S. administration. A panel of Pacific Northwest ag directors discuss how their departments are working to protect and expand the agricultural industry in their states, while another panel looks at agricultural issues from a national level. Break-out sessions cover the farm bill; dams and other water issues; risk management; marketing; and how to use all that precision ag data that is being gathered.

During the convention, Washington wheat growers are honored for their advocacy and participation in WAWG. Kevin Klein, a grower from Lincoln County and a WAWG past president (2015/16), is named WAWG Member of the Year. The County of the Year award is given to Spokane County. Convention is also the time when a new slate of WAWG officers is sworn in. Green, a grower from Spokane County, becomes president. Shawver, from Franklin County, becomes vice president, and Grant County’s Ryan Poe is named secretary. Adams, from Douglas County, becomes past president.

Two new Washington Wheat Ambassadors are welcomed. Lexi Deishl of Waterville, Wash., and Kyle Appel of Colfax, Wash., will be working with WAWG for the next year, learning how the organization advocates for wheat growers.

Also at convention, WAWG and the Washington Grain Commission present a special thank-you gift to Derek Sandison, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, for all his work for the wheat industry advocating for more research into falling numbers.

While the 2017 election isn’t nearly as contentious as last year’s presidential election, voters make a significant change to the balance of power in the state legislature. Control of the Senate flips from Republican to Democratic. Growers brace for a legislative session that could be less than friendly towards agriculture.

December 2017

WAWG, through the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO), sponsors a breakfast at Wheat U in Spokane, Wash., an event hosted by the High Plains Journal. Farmers hear from Pete Berry, a physiologist and veteran of ADAS UK Ltd., who focuses on improving crop performance by understanding crop physiology, plant breeding and agronomy.

It’s a education-heavy month for growers as Washington State University holds its annual Wheat Academy. WAWG supports the event through the AMMO program by sponsoring a beer-tasting social. During the event, growers learn about wheat pests and diseases; research trials; soil health and fertility; climate; market strategy; weed management; and more. 

Hennings takes part in The Washington Policy Center’s final 2017 Farm Hall Series in Spokane, Wash., where she joins other industry stakeholders answering questions from farmers and ranchers. The panelists also discuss some of the issues facing agriculture in the coming year.

Eugene Weimerskirch, a charter member of WAWG, passes away on Dec. 24, just four days short of his 93rd birthday. Eugene was a lifelong resident of Mansfield, Wash., where he grew wheat on his family’s farm.

January 2018

The state legislature wastes no time getting to their 2018 Legislative Session to-do list. Within just a few weeks, both the House and Senate pass legislation that resolves the Hirst permit exempt well issue, followed very shortly by passage of the capital budget. 

A group of 23 WAWG leaders, growers and staff meet with 42 legislators from both sides of the aisle to discuss wheat industry priorities during the organization’s annual Olympia Days trip. Besides legislators, growers also meet with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Hennings takes part in a two-week trade-servicing trip to the Philippines and Japan. She sees first hand how U.S. Wheat Associates works with overseas customers to keep U.S. grain flowing into their countries.

At a special meeting of the PCC rail stakeholders, WAWG leaders and staff are updated on the current condition of the PCC railway system, and what actions are needed to ensure long-term operation of the system. Tie replacement, bridge rehab and current and future loading weight capacity are all areas of concern.

WAWG’s ag expo season starts off at the Eastern Washington Ag Expo in Pasco, Wash. WAWG’s booth promotes membership and programs, as well as public education through a trivia game and hand-out materials.

Although the U.S. pulled out of the TPP a year ago, it’s still making ripples through the nation’s economy. The 11 remaining countries announce they’ve concluded talks on a revised deal. By some estimates, that deal will cost U.S. wheat farmers more than $200 million per year as Canadian and Australian wheat could drop by about $65 per ton in countries like Japan.

As the state’s 2018 Legislative Session moves on, growers and industry stakeholders keep an eye on a pesticide application bill that would require four days’ advance notification prior to application. Berg, WAWG’s Natural Resource Committee chair, travels to Olympia to testify against the bill. 

February 2018

WAWG leaders barely have time to unpack their bags from their trip to Olympia before they are back in the air, headed east this time to Washington, D.C., to talk about the farm bill, crop insurance and conservation. Trade is also a huge focus in their meetings as growers seek to educate policymakers on the possible ramifications of a TPP that doesn’t include the U.S. and the importance of doing no harm to agriculture in the NAFTA renegotiations. 

The shortest month of the year is also the month packed with grower education as the AMMO winter schedule kicks off. During this month and the next, growers attend seminars covering a three-speed approach to marketing; farm bill and crop insurance; farm and production risk management strategies; and managing nitrogen to maximize yield and profitability.

WAWG sets up shop at the Spokane Ag Expo, offering attendees the chance to win a television by answering wheat-related trivia. The booth is manned by more than a dozen WAWG members, who volunteer their time to educate attendees on the Washington wheat industry.

Over in Olympia, the pesticide application bill that was giving growers heartburn is revised, turning it into a pesticide application safety workgroup. The group will study the issue and develop recommendations for improving the safety of pesticide applications by Nov. 1, 2018. 

The WAWG leadership team wraps up February with another trip, this time to Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif. At Commodity Classic, the team takes part in NAWG committee meetings to discuss policy issues and update national resolutions.

While at Commodity Classic, Benton County grower and WAWG National Legislation Committee chair Nicole Berg is elected to the NAWG board of directors as secretary.

March 2018

It’s back to D.C. for Hennings and Green to advocate for the needs of the wheat industry, including farm bill, trade promotion funding and to ask for a one-year extension of the Conservation Reserve Program. The duo meets with White House staff on trade and with Senate and House ag committees on the 2018 Farm Bill. Trade is also a major topic during meetings with members of Washington state’s federal delegation.

WAWG sets up shop at the 25th annual Franklin County Farm Bureau Farm Fair, where approximately 1,300 fifth-grade students learn how wheat is grown, harvested and turned into food products.

WAWG members and leaders attend farm bill listening sessions held by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse. Growers are able to discuss their issues and priorities with the legislators and hear updates from Capital Hill.

WAWG Transportation Committee Chair Ryan Poe attends a Washington State University Freight Policy Transportation Institute meeting in Seattle, where transportation infrastructure directly relating to wheat is discussed.

The 2018 Washington State Legislative Session adjourns on time. Legislators are able to pass supplemental budgets and address education funding issues without raising taxes, thanks to a strong economy that generates additional revenues for the state. Growers breath a sigh of relief that Gov. Inslee’s proposed carbon tax fails to pass the Senate. An initiative is immediately filed for the November 2018 ballot that would implement a carbon fee of $15 per ton in 2020, increasing by $2 plus inflation every year after that.

The 11 remaining countries in the TPP sign the agreement. While Japanese tariffs for Canadian and Australian wheat are expected to drop from $150 a ton to $85, U.S. wheat will remain at $150 a ton, putting Pacific Northwest farmers at a huge disadvantage in our No. 1 market.  

In other trade agreement news, renegotiations on NAFTA continue. Mexico, one of the United States’ biggest trading partners, starts looking at other countries as potential suppliers.

And in more trade news, the president announces his intent to impose 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The tariffs are set to go into effect on June 1. Agriculture is concerned that targeted countries will retaliate and hurt the agriculture industry.

The Pacific Northwest wheat industry celebrates a huge win when a $1 million funding request for falling numbers research is included in the omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by the president. The request, which was a joint effort from the wheat industries of Oregon, Idaho and Washington, as well as various stakeholders and legislators from all three states, will be used to fund an Agricultural Research Service position in Pullman, Wash., specifically to research the cause(s) and effects of low falling numbers.

April 2018

WAWG leaders attend a listening session on the Columbia River Treaty to discuss the wheat industry’s priorities with federal negotiator Jill Smail.

Trade is never far from the headlines these days, especially after the president announces his plan to impose 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. China immediately retaliates by announcing its own tariffs on various U.S. products, including wheat. More than 12.5 million bushels of soft white wheat were shipped to China during the 2017/18 marketing year.

The Washington State Department of Ecology announces that it has settled a lawsuit brought by the Spokane Riverkeeper over the Hangman Creek Watershed in Spokane County. The settlement is expected to bring a renewed focus on agriculture as a major source of nonpoint pollution in the watershed.

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee releases its version of the 2018 Farm Bill. While minor changes were made to conservation programs and commodity support programs, the biggest changes were made in the nutrition portion, specifically to work requirements for the SNAP program.

May 2018

Nearly 1,000 fifth-grade students visit WAWG’s booth at the annual Spokane Farm Fair.

The D.C. fly-ins don’t stop just because the growing season is here, especially when it’s farm bill time. The WAWG leadership team joins other state grower associations for some serious lobbying in the nation’s capital in the run-up to the House’s vote on the 2018 Farm Bill. Calling on the relationships WAWG has built over time, the team meets with most of Washington’s House members to encourage them to vote for the bill. Unfortunately…

Several weeks later, the farm bill fails to pass the House along a mostly party-line vote. No Democrats vote for the bill because of changes made to the SNAP program, and a group of Republicans, angry over the lack of a vote on an immigration bill, also vote against the legislation. House Agriculture Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-Texas) is expected to bring the farm bill back for a vote in June.

Precision technology is the focus of this year’s Wheat College. Drones, nozzle technology and data use are all discussed and demonstrated at the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds in Colfax, Wash. 

WAWG takes part in the Lincoln County Conservation Day when county sixth-graders learn how different industries incorporate conservation into their practices.

WAWG takes part in another legislative tour, this one focused on the PCC Shortline Rail. Attendees learn about needed repairs and how vital the shortline rails are in moving products around Eastern Washington.

June 2018

Tariffs on steel and aluminum from the EU, Canada and Mexico go into effect. Mexico and Canada immediately impose their own tariffs on various U.S. goods, while the EU formally complains to the World Trade Organization.

Speaking of trade wars, the U.S. announces 25 percent tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods. Not to be outdone, China announces it’s own tariffs in retaliation. Unfortunately, many agricultural products, including wheat, make the Chinese list.

The Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill manages to avoid the partisan politics that were instrumental in striking down the House version, and it passes through the committee mark-up process quickly.

Nearly 200 growers and industry stakeholders gather at WSU’s Lind Dryland Research Station for the annual Lind Field Day to learn about research on dryland crops. Green provides WAWG updates during the noon program.

Wheat stars alongside other commodities during the All Ag Legislative Tour in and around Prosser, Wash. Topics highlighted include pesticide applications, labor, water, regulatory compliance issues, trade, advancements in agriculture and more.