Wheat growers welcome new president, ambassadors at annual convention

The holidays came a little early for Washington wheat producers as they gathered a week before Thanksgiving to celebrate and support the industry, honor their fellow growers, and hear updates about the obstacles the industry is facing in the coming year.

“The Tri-State Grain Growers Convention is always a fun, informative event that brings our members together to learn from each other and industry leaders,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). “This year, we were able to take care of business, honor our outgoing president, welcome two new wheat ambassadors, and welcome a new member of our leadership team.”

This year’s convention was held Nov. 14-16 at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The 2023-24 Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) leadership team are (from left) Michelle Hennings, executive director; Anthony Smith, president; Jeff Malone, vice president; Gil Crosby, secretary/treasurer; and Andy Juris, past president.

At the Washington Awards Banquet, outgoing president Andy Juris from Klickitat County told the crowd that Washington agriculture stands at a crossroads. Producers face a political scenario where agriculture has gone from being respected, to being ignored, to being regarded as an enemy by many groups and legislators. Agriculture faces adversaries who are well connected and well funded.

“We have a decision to make. As an industry, do we stay home and hope that things don’t get bad enough that we can retire before we’re forced out? Or do we leave this convention with a renewed resolve to not go quietly into the night, to volunteer our time, our money, our experience, our expertise? Do we fill our county meetings, interact with and attend grain commission and state wheat grower meetings, fund our lobbyists’ efforts through the PAC and look to the future with hope?” he said.

Following his remarks, Juris handed over the president’s gavel to incoming president Anthony Smith from Benton County. Growers also welcomed Gil Crosby, a grower from Spokane County, as the new secretary/treasurer.   Jeff Malone, Douglas County, moves into the vice president’s seat.

The 2023-24 Washington Wheat Ambassadors are Samantha Holling (left) and Izabella Myers (right). They are shown with Anthony Smith, WAWG president.

The 2023-24 Washington Wheat Ambassadors are Samantha Holling of Fairfield and Izabella Myers of Latah. Read more about them here.

County of the year went to the growers in Yakima/Klickitat County, while Howard McDonald from Douglas County was honored as WAWG member of the year.

“WAWG is wholly dependent on the time and effort of our volunteer leaders and the support of our members. Howard and the WAWG members in Yakima/Klickitat counties have continually stepped up and advocated for our industry time and time again,” Hennings said. “They deserve to be recognized for all the work they’ve done in Olympia and in Washington, D.C.”

Members also support WAWG by donating to the Legislative Action Fund, which helps pay for advocacy activities and materials. Every year at convention, raffle tickets are sold with the proceeds going to the fund. Raffle prizes are donated by county wheat growers’ groups and individual wheat growers. Winners in this year’s raffle are:

  • Colleen Long, $100 Amazon gift card.
  • David Harlow, $150 Cabela gift card.
  • Ron Hennings, $250 North 40 gift card.
  • Gary Bailey, $270 gift card for the Coeur d’Alene Resort.
  • Tanner Cranor, Ring Doorbell.
  • Jake and Alisha Klein, Ring Security System.
  • Robert Lee, iPad.
  • Matt Zieler, Yeti cooler.
  • Dan Schmitz, Blackstone grill.

WAWG President Anthony Smith awards Howard McDonald, a WAWG past president from Douglas County, with the WAWG Outstanding Member of the Year award.

During the convention, WAWG members also took care of business at the all-committee meeting. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies gave updates on staffing and funding opportunities. Jon Wyss, Farm Service Agency (FSA) state executive director, told growers that for the first time in five years, every county office is fully staffed. The next step is to train all program technicians (PTs) so they are proficient in all FSA programs. The other thing Wyss is working on is having each county office have its own county executive director, rather than sharing one with another county.

“We want to train our PTs in all programs, so it doesn’t matter what office you walk into, you will be able to get your business done,” Wyss explained. “Hopefully this gives you encouragement that we’ll be back doing what we do best, which is helping producers and farmers at the local level.”

Over at the Risk Management Agency (RMA), Ben Thiel, director of the Spokane Regional Office, said the agency is looking to offer more crop insurance options to some crops, such as canola, oats, and grapes. Last year, RMA did a rate and t-yield review for wheat, and overall, crop insurance rates for wheat trended up.

Aubrey Hoxie, assistant state conservationist for field operations in Eastern Washington for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), said the biggest hurdle for the agency is figuring out how to spend $30 million in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) money. The IRA is targeted towards increasing climate-smart agricultural and forestry mitigation activities. Staffing is still an issue at NRCS, but they’ve got more than 2 dozen job offers outstanding.

Dennis Koong, regional director for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), said the 2022 Census of Agriculture will be released in February 2024. He told growers that NASS relies on producer participation to fill out their surveys. That information is used by other USDA agencies to help design and implement farm programs.

Growers also heard state and national legislative updates. Diana Carlen and Mark Streuli, state lobbyists for the wheat industry, talked about the upcoming 2024 Legislative Session. The big issues are likely to be the cap-and-trade program and the ag fuel exemption, an agricultural overtime exemption, and, possibly, a farmworkers’ unionization bill.

On the federal side, Keira Franz and Jack Long from the National Association of Wheat Growers, said the big issue on Capitol Hill right now is the farm bill (Congress passed a one-year extension shortly after this meeting), and NAWG has been active on the Hill, talking about crop insurance, commodity programs, trade funding, research, and conservation. In addition, growers, including Washington growers, have been participating in fly-ins throughout the year.

“Fly-ins are important for educating Congress. Half of the House has never voted on a farm bill. They don’t know about agriculture or ag policy,” Franz said. “It’s important that they are hearing your voice about the need to pass a farm bill.”

Following the state and national updates, growers reviewed and updated WAWG’s resolutions. The resolutions help guide the association’s advocacy efforts throughout the year. A complete set of WAWG’s resolutions can be found here.

WAWG would like to thank all the members and industry supporters who attended this year’s convention. Work has already started on next year’s convention, and feedback is always appreciated. The 2024 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention is scheduled for Nov. 19-21 at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.