REARDAN, Wash. — Shepherd’s Grain, a farmer-owned company based in the Northwest, brought farmers and bakers together at the same table this week.
The company is owned by wheat farmers and focuses on no-till farming practices. It uses the cost of production to set its prices instead of the commodity market.
Shepherd’s Grain has sales offices in Seattle and Portland. Farmers grow wheat in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Eastern Oregon.
Forty-four customers who use Shepherd’s Grain flour on July 11 visited farms in Ritzville, Reardan and Davenport, Wash.
“The farmers love to see who it is who’s using their wheat and on the other side, the users like to see who’s growing the wheat,” Shepherd’s Grain general manager Mark Swenson said.
Company co-founder Fred Fleming, who farms near Reardan, said the company tests new wheat varieties to see how well they meet Shepherd Grain standards, checking for milling and baking quality.
Some varieties don’t meet the company standards, Fleming said. One didn’t have the needed flavor component; another yielded well, but also didn’t have the necessary flavor. Others had too strong a mixing component, because much of Shepherd’s Grain flour must be worked by hand, he said.
Tom McLaughlin, merchandiser for Archer Daniels Midland, told tour participants that his company keeps Shepherd’s Grain wheat separate from other wheats when milling.
“It’s a niche compared to the commodity world, no doubt, but it’s a quality product with much more consistency in its production,” McLaughlin said. “The biggest thing is being able to pick the varieties that meet the customer’s end need.”
Shepherd’s Grain’s approach is unique, McLaughlin said, primarily because it came from a grassroots level.
“A lot of producers don’t look at net margin per acre,” he said. “They focus on yield. If we could get producers to start looking at net margin per acre — we’re going to give up 10 percent yield, but guess what? (The farmer is) getting 20 percent more revenue — that would facilitate the process.”
Swenson estimated 20 percent of the wheat produced by its 37 farmers goes to Shepherd’s Grain. Farmers sell the remainder on their own or on the commodity market. The company would like to increase demand to sell the remaining 80 percent, he said.
Shepherd’s Grain farmers received $9.54 per bushel for dark northern spring wheat, $6.71 per bushel for hard red winter wheat and $5.63 per bushel for soft white wheat. Prices are arrived at by calculating the grower’s costs of producing the wheat and a fair rate of return to the farmer, Swenson said.
There is a waiting list for farmers to join the company, Swenson said. The group is not likely to add new members for several years, unless it reaches a point where demand exceeds supply.
All wheat produced by Shepherd’s Grain is sold domestically. Swenson said the company is looking at several overseas opportunities. It is also in discussions with several larger grocery stores, he said.