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Fighting 'Fires' to Help Save Washington Wheat

by Roger Wesselman
Wheat Life, May, 2003

The growing season has started and I do hope and pray that everything is going well for you as a grower—as well as for our landlords and city cousins. It is refreshing to see nature open itself up in the spring.

The issues wheat growers face are numerous and we, as your state wheat-grower association, are trying to deal with as many as possible. At the state level we have our lobbyist, Heather Hansen, with the help of WAWG officers, committee chairmen, and members who are experts on various issues, watching over the state legislature and state agency personnel to make sure wheat growers’ interests are being met.

Transportation and agency accountability are the big issues this season. But along with these issues are: removing the 30-day limit on warehouse receipts for grain in emergency storage; controlling game damage to crops; promoting bio-diesel; increasing seed testing fees; exempting some equipment from personal property tax; reaffirming the role of the state conservation commission; allowing “agricultural lands of long-term significance” to enroll in CREP without losing ag base designation; limiting the purchase of land by state agencies unless approved by county government; and correcting “use tax” for repair of equipment used to reduce field burning. This is only a partial list and I haven’t even gotten into regulatory reform, general water issues, watershed planning, water rights relinquishment, or trust water rights.

There are two issues that both state and federal officials are supportive of that concern the movement of wheat to market.

A nine-member WAWG delegation recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to share our views with members of Congress. The Emerson Trust was a big issue for the Northwest. We explained to the Washington state congressional delegation that USDA needs to establish a policy dealing with the use of commodities held in the trust, and to make sure that usage of the trust does not distort the commodity market. We also asked to have grower representation when future decisions are made regarding the trust. We made the state delegation aware of consequences for the soft white wheat market because of recent-past actions made in the name of the Emerson Trust—taking it from over four dollars to below loan price in less than five months.

The Jones Act has cost U.S. agriculture millions of dollars in extra freight charges and markets on the West Coast. The WAWG delegates asked for an ag exemption as it applies to the Jones Act because it is a non-tariff barrier to free trade that only hurts and restricts our trade within the U.S. This waiver for ag commodities on the West Coast should take place because there are not enough U.S. flagships in the area. Did you know that Canadian wheat is being shipped to Hawaii because it is cheaper than Washington wheat—due to the extra freight because of the Jones Act? And our fertilizer cost could go down if we could get it from Alaska without it having to be sent via U.S.-flagged ships. We could also be competitive with feed grains, especially barley, destined for California if not for the Jones Act. (The act was established in 1920 to keep a fleet of ocean-going ships available in case of war. It was waived during the Gulf War because of a lack of ships. We have few ships under U.S. flags that can move grains or even war materials efficiently. We must open this up through competition for better, more efficient movement of our product.)

Finally, we asked our congressional delegation to support: ARS facility (Johnson Hall) improvement in Pullman (acting on recommendation of the 2003 congressional study of Johnson hall, as directed by ARS); the ARS Wheat Quality Laboratory in Pullman can meet stakeholder needs and maintain and enhance its leading position in U.S. ag research through program enhancement, which should include an Asian foods specialist, quality gene discovery, and infrastructure support to the farmer (we are asking for $475,000); and last the ARS Genotyping Lab that will apply DNA molecular marker technology to key breeding problems from grain quality to disease resistance and will serve programs in 36 states ($750,000 support funding).The Congressional delegation was pleased to see us, and though they could not guarantee funding for all the projects we presented, I felt, and continue to feel, that the presence of Washington wheat growers will have a positive influence when it comes to decision making for the wheat industry in Washington.

Roger Wesselman, WAWG President
Fighting 'Fires' to Help Save Washington Wheat
Wheat Life - May 2003

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