Matthew Weaver/Capital Press
RITZVILLE, Wash. — Mike Miller predicts more “bumpy” roads ahead for wheat farmers in the face of international trade uncertainty.
The Ritzville, Wash., wheat farmer will end his one-year term as chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates during the organization’s summer board meeting June 22-24 in Seattle. The organization is the overseas marketing arm of the wheat industry.
“It’s hard to navigate right now, because the rules have changed,” he said. “We’re dealing with the unknown.”
The Trump administration last year pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which included Japan, one of the largest consumers of Northwest wheat. Now the administration is renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, two other large trade partners.
In January, Miller also finished a two-year stint as chairman of the Washington Grain Commission.
When he took office, previous U.S. Wheat officers told Miller that chairman duties are usually pretty much dealing with the same trade issues. But in the past years, he says, “It’s just been upside down. And it’s even getting worse.”
Miller has also worked through changes at U.S. Wheat, including the transition to new president Vince Peterson, whose predecessor retired. Other issues have included overseas office closures and traveling to deal with industry challenges in Congress, the farm bill and the “overwhelming issue of trade.”
Overall, Miller believes the wheat industry in Washington and the Pacific Northwest is “quite healthy.” Falling number test results were a concern in previous years, but the region has mostly settled into a decent weather pattern, meaning starch damage will likely decrease.
He’s more concerned about farmers in the Great Plains who are dealing with drought, trade issues, quality problems, freight problems and the loss of markets in Africa to Russian competition. Wheat acreage in the Plains is down due to economics, he said, with farmers electing to plant cotton, corn and soybeans instead.
Miller has spearheaded several efforts, forming a working group to tackle domestic grain transportation issues and reduce railroad rates, U.S. Wheat president Vince Peterson said.
“Mike is a quiet but a goal-oriented leader ... he prefers actually getting things done out of range of the camera lens to standing in the spotlight,” Peterson told the Capital Press. “There wasn’t a meeting or topic that came up during Mike’s tenure that he didn’t immediately default to looking after the best interests of all U.S. wheat producers.”
Miller “expertly” covered all bases to get the message out to foreign customers that U.S. wheat farmers value their business and are working hard to protect their interests and remain their most reliable supplier, Peterson said.
“Mike was the right chairman at the right time for U.S. Wheat,” Peterson said.
Miller’s leadership and advocacy have made great progress for Eastern Washington farmers and agriculture, said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
“He is on the front lines at a critical time, increasing the partnerships between wheat growers and research efforts at WSU,” McMorris Rodgers said. “His dedication to Washington wheat and to building relationships and opening new markets around the world has been remarkable.”
Miller becomes the past chairman of U.S. Wheat, serving as needed. He will continue to farm and run Washington Genetics LLC, the company he owns with his wife, Marci.
He also remains a grain commission board member.
But until all the international trade uncertainty is settled, “it’s going to be bumpy,” he said.