Outreach has been focus of last 6 months

By Michelle Hennings
Executive Director, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

Happy New Year!! 

We just wrapped up the 2022 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention last month, and what a SUCCESS! Our attendance was better than it’s been for many years. It was great to be back networking with farmers. The convention featured highly acclaimed national speakers and quality educational break-out sessions that covered, among other things, the supply chain picture, a global market update, a long-term weather forecast. I also felt this was the first time everything was “back to normal” since COVID-19 hit. What a great way to celebrate wheat growers and appreciate them for growing safe, reliable food. 

We have two new amazing wheat ambassadors — Shaley Tiegs and Angelina Widman, both from Spokane County — that I look forward to spending more time with starting with our trip to Olympia later this month.

I am thankful for the wonderful staff we have at the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). KayDee Gilkey is our new outreach coordinator, and we are excited to have her on board, along with Katie Teachout who has been working for WAWG for a year now as administrative assistant. We have an amazing Wheat Life team with Trista Crossley as our editor and Lance Marshall as our Wheat Life ad manager. Without these team members, WAWG could not function successfully, so I extend a big thank you for their service to our industry. 

As wheat, WAWG and the Washington Grain Commission (WGC) work diligently together for our growers. I would like to provide kudos to a job well done and congratulate Glen Squires on his retirement and many years of service to our industry. We welcome Casey Chumrau as the new WGC CEO and look forward to working with her and her team to continue our productive relationship to benefit our industry. 

Reflecting on the past six months, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) has really been focused on outreach for various issues the industry faces. From meetings to coalitions to tours, they are all equally important. We were involved with a House Agriculture Committee listening session in Carnation with Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) and House Agriculture Subcommittee Chair Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-U.S. Virgin Islands) to share perspectives on how the farm bill can be improved for farmers. Climate and conservation are big buzz words in D.C., currently, and we always stress the importance of voluntary, not regulatory legislation to benefit farmers and protect their farms. 

WAWG also attended a roundtable in Wenatchee with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Schrier and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Our focus in this meeting was the importance of all three modes of transportation to the wheat industry, and how important our Snake River dam infrastructure was to our region and economy. I was encouraged that when we discussed the issue, the secretary acknowledged that he understood the importance of the system for clean energy and agriculture transportation.

Along with attending those meetings, we also sponsored and spoke at multiple dam tours and a legislative farm and food tour in the Skagit Valley. During the tour, we talked to legislators on how farmers are good stewards of the land, and how harmful legislation would negatively affect our farms and hamper our ability to feed the world. One of the highlights on the tour was when we showed legislators a field that was planted with flags, illustrating how much land last year’s proposed buffer bill would take out of production. The flags also demonstrated how the buffers would split the farmer’s fields into pieces and make it pretty much unfarmable. 

I can’t stress how vital it is to be at these meetings and tours and be proactive in educating everyone we can on farming. We all know there are many misconceptions about farming, and the more we get out there vocally and tell our story, the better. I always hear comments like, “it doesn’t make a difference,” or “they don’t listen.” I disagree with those statements. We may not change everyone’s minds, but we know they will come away with a fact or two, maybe even a “wow, I didn’t know that.” 

There are a lot of new faces in Olympia, and we have our work cut out for us to get into their offices and have those conversations.

The buffer bill isn’t the only major threat to farming’s viability that we are watching. If you’ve attended a county or state wheat growers’ meeting last year, you’ve probably heard me talk about the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) solar farm mapping effort. We are concerned that the majority of solar farm development is taking place only on the east side of the state and removing viable farmland out of production. Early last year, we met with DNR representatives who explained their efforts, and we discussed the impacts of solar mapping and siting solar farms on Eastern Washington farmland. We were able to relay the fact that many farmers rely on their DNR leases to stay in business and that we oppose taking the land out of production. DNR says they are focusing developers’ attention on unleased parcels, but the threat is still there. I urge growers with leased DNR land to check out DNR’s map and to watch this situation closely. The map can be found at dnr.wa.gov/cleanenergymap.

WAWG is working vigorously to up our game at both the state and national level with relationship building and to establish that we are the organization to come to for wheat information. Coalitions have been of great importance to our strategy. Uniting with other ag groups at both the state and national level provides a bigger voice for farming. Over the past year, we have joined twice as many coalitions than we have in the past and find it very valuable for specific issues on which we can join together. 

One of our most valuable partnerships is with the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). That organization focuses on wheat issues nationally, taking direction from its member states. One of the big projects NAWG is working on, besides the farm bill, is a life cycle assessment (LCA) of wheat, which will assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of a wheat plant’s life. The study will measure the impact from the production of seed, pesticides and machinery to planting, harvest and transportation to the first point of sale/farm gate. The goal of the LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services by quantifying all inputs and outputs of material flows and then assessing how these material flows impact the environment. The info can be used for policy development and understanding the impact of production methods.

As you’ve probably gathered, the Snake River dams have taken up a lot of our efforts and time. Fortunately, the Murray/Inslee report, which was released in August, concluded that the essential services provided by the dams currently cannot be replaced. However, in his proposed budget, Gov. Inslee has included funding to study alternatives to the dams’ power generation and to look at what needs to happen to the transportation system if barging wasn’t available. WAWG remains committed to working alongside government officials and the broader stakeholder community to achieve science-based solutions that facilitate a healthy salmon population and support the viability of family-owned farms and businesses. 

Transportation is vital to our operations, and rail, river and roads all need to be utilized so farmers can affordably and reliably get their products to market. There are many moving parts to the issue that we continually monitor at both the state and national level. With recent reports from NOAA and statements from the Administration seeking to recover salmon populations to harvestable and sustainable levels, we must continue to educate Congress and our state legislators on the transportation benefits of the river system. We also keep the system at the forefront of our conversations and continue to build coalitions across the U.S. as this is not only a Pacific Northwest issue, but it’s a national issue. After all, wheat, corn and soybeans from as far away as the Midwest travel down the Columbia-Snake River System to export terminals in Portland and Vancouver.

We have a lot of issues on our plate this year, and it’s vital for membership to be involved. Please watch for our calls to action to comment on bills this coming legislative season as we need to speak loudly and clearly to Congress and the state Legislature on what is needed to be an efficient, successful farmer. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to the WAWG office at (509) 659-0610.