PORTLAND — Wheat exports from the Pacific Northwest have increased by 100,000 tons per year as total U.S. wheat exports have declined by 630,000 metric tons.
Shawn Campbell, deputy director of the West Coast office for U.S. Wheat Associates, says that’s because the types of wheat grown in the region — soft white wheat and hard red spring wheat — have very little competition on the international markets.
Wheat exports from the Pacific Northwest — Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and North Dakota — have continued to grow each year, said Campbell, who is based in Portland. The region caters to markets across Asia, the most densely-populated region in the world.
“People’s stomachs are only so big, but if you have a whole lot of people, they can buy a whole lot of stuff,” Campbell said.
Soft white wheat and hard red spring wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest are at the low and high end of the protein scale. They represent 75 percent of the wheat the region exports, Campbell said.
“If you’re trying to sell a product in a very crowded market, differentiation is a huge way to actually sell more,” Campbell said. “There’s not a lot of competition for soft white wheat in the world market, similar to hard red spring.”
Growing those types of wheat is more difficult in other parts of the world, requiring the right climatic conditions or more resources, Campbell said.
“So far most of our competitors seem much more happy just growing yields as much as they can,” he said.
Most of the growth in world wheat production has happened in hard red winter wheat, he said.
The U.S. is well-known as a reliable seller, but often has a higher price compared to competing countries. U.S. Wheat works with buyers to show them how a high-quality wheat may have a higher price, but other factors make it a better deal, Campbell said.
Wheat quality in Canada and Australia is fairly comparable. Other countries, such as Russia, are improving their wheat quality, although they are not up to U.S. level yet, Campbell said.
“One of the things we always have to fight is maintaining quality even though the market pays mostly for yields,” he said. “If we don’t maintain our quality, it erodes even faster that advantage we have.”
Other advantages for U.S. wheat include supply reliability, independent inspection through the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service and chemical residue testing. Other countries might not be able to provide information in a manner that’s as trusted, Campbell said.
The region’s emphasis on quality is another benefit, Campbell said, including dockage discounts, when farmers receive reduced prices for wheat with low falling number test scores.
“The reason those discounts exist is because they incentivize the market to grow a better quality wheat, which makes it more competitive overseas,” he said.
Campbell spoke during a Washington Grain Commission export tour and wheat quality workshop Nov. 28-30 from Spokane to Portland.