Monday, September 18, 2017

Sharing wheat country with the media

Hector Castro

Wheat farming, like much of agriculture, is a tough business. Pests and weather can damage crops, prices fluctuate, and equipment must be constantly maintained. On top of all this, at a time when more and more people want to know where their food comes from, fewer members of the public, including reporters, have ever worked a farm.
Reporters and others gather at Green View Farm for
a tour of farms and farm equipment.

So the Washington Association of Wheat Growers hosted amedia day this past summer, taking a few reporters for a tour of some Spokane area wheat fields on a warm, sunny day in late August.

A reporter gets an inside view of a combine at
Green View Farm.
The goal was to strengthen relationships with agriculture industry reporters and help those new to the field. For everyone on the tour, it was a day to learn what it takes to cultivate wheat and get it to market, WAWG president Ben Adams said.

“We want to showcase the full process,” he said before the start of the media tour.

Reporters with the Capital Press, the Spokesman Review, the Washington State Wire website and a local weekly newspaper participated. I joined Jason Ferrante, assistant director for WSDA’s Commodity Inspection Division, and Philip Garcia, manager of the Grain Inspection Program, as part of the WSDA group attending the tour.

Planting, harvest and storage
Piling into a waiting bus, the group of a dozen people first travelled to the wheat farm of WAWG Vice President Marci Green, a sixth-generation wheat farmer.

Lonnie Green explains wheat, with wife, Marci Green,
vice-president of Washington Asoociation of Wheat Growers. 
In a cavernous barn and on a wide open field, reporters got up close to the planting and harvesting equipment used to grow wheat. In the barn, Lonnie Green, Marci’s husband, explained the workings of a massive vehicle that can dig a furrow, fertilize it and deliver seed – all at the same time, employing technology unheard of when Marci’s family first began to farm.

On the tailgate of a pickup truck, Lonnie had several dry stalks of wheat. He threshed the stalks of soft white wheat and winter wheat between his hands so the grain would fall loose onto the tailgate of a pickup, showing in their size and quantity the differences between the two.
Barley harvest at Rattlers Run Farm. 

But the field at the Green View Farm wasn’t prime for harvest, so the group travelled to nearby Rattlers Run Farm, where barley harvest was underway. The reporters on the tour each had a chance to climb aboard the towering combine for a harvest-time ride.

In between, they snapped photos of the machine in action as it churned its way through acres of golden barely.

After planting and harvest, the grain has to get to market. For growers who don’t store their grain on site, their grain is hauled to a storage facility, like the McCoy Grain Terminal near Rosalia. The facility can hold 11 million bushels of grain in piles like small hills and inside towering grain bins. Trucks and rail cars both deliver grain to the terminal, where their loads are weighed and sampled for grading.

Viewing grain pile at McCoy Grain Terminal.
In Washington, wheat consistently ranks among the state’s top commodities, with 90 percent of it bound for markets in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. So grading the grain is critical and has a direct impact on the price wheat growers can get for their crops. WSDA’s own Grain Inspection Program grades and processes grain from an annual average of 25 to 30 million metric tons bound for export. The program also processes an average of 32,000 samples each year at its three domestic inspection offices.

WAWG’s media tour this past summer mirrored other similar outreach efforts farmers and ranchers in Washington and across the country have made in recent years, as they continue seeking ways to reach out and tell the story of agriculture.