MOSCOW, Idaho — James Wahl wants to remove the perceived barrier between small-scale niche grain farmers and other farmers.
“In the end, we’re all producers, we’re all farmers,” the Lind, Wash., farmer said. “When a smaller farmer is looking for help with equipment or something, reach out to the people next to you that might be the bigger farmer and ask for their help. And vice versa. Larger farmers, if you’re interested in seeing what the innovative producer is doing, go to the small-scale farmer and say, ‘OK, you’re making this work for you. Can you help me see the vision in that so maybe I can start doing that on my larger production?”
That was one of the points Wahl made during the Cascadia Grains East conference Aug. 20 in Moscow, Idaho. About 107 people attended, including 17 farmers.
Wahl said the greatest need right now is logistics for moving, storing and processing grain.
Different market needs right now would require farmers to keep separate gluten-free and organic buildings, each with $1 million worth of equipment, and then a standard building with $2 million worth of equipment, Wahl said.
“We need to get back down to the idea that I’m a producer, but I also can be a logistics commodity company,” he said. “I can be a guy that has a cleaning facility that has a 2-ton minimum. I can be a guy that has a small milling operation ... to grist into forms that the brewers and distillers need. Or you can be a company that is a repository for 1-ton metric ton bags of any kind of grain, so a brewer, distiller or baker in Portland or Seattle can buy 50, 40 or 20 tons of a certain grain that they love.”
Such arrangements would build familiarity and contractual relationships between farmers and the people who use their grain, Wahl said.
Joel Williamson, co-founder of LINC Malt and the Grain Shed, a bakery and brewery grain cooperative in Spokane, said consumer and industry education are needed to increase demand.
“The market’s not there tomorrow, everyone can’t jump into this transition immediately,” Williamson said.
The goal is to reach a point that acres in a specialty or regional grain market would be worth more per-acre to the farmer than larger acres in the commodity market, Williamson said.
When the LINC Foods cooperative started in 2014, it aimed to create more local and value-added markets for farmers, from produce to livestock to grain, Williamson said. The co-op eventually added malting to start building local brewing and distilling markets.
“There’s a lot in that system we’re trying to build, but all of us are trying to build all of it from both sides,” he said. “It’s about growing some, getting it out there, finding infrastructure and processing, then finding a market and customers for it, getting people to be excited about it and telling the story. Everything we’re doing is very slow. We have to inch it forward together.”