Capital Press File
Pacific Northwest wheat groups say they want a national contest that rewards the highest yield to also consider quality, and the sponsoring group has agreed.
The Idaho Wheat Commission, Oregon Wheat Commission, Washington Grain Commission, Idaho Grain Producers Association, Oregon Wheat Growers League and Washington Association of Wheat Growers sent a letter last week to the National Wheat Foundation, which sponsors the annual national yield contest.
They encouraged the foundation to set minimum functional quality benchmarks as a qualifying condition for participants and winners, adding that “grade alone is not representative of functional quality.”
The organizations urged the foundation to adopt end-use quality parameters and targets that have been established by regional wheat quality organizations and used by all plant breeders for acceptable milling and baking properties. The standards include grain and flour quality and end-use product parameters.
Dana Herron, a board member of the Washington Grain Commission, said the contest focuses on using the best genetics and management practices to get a high yield.
“What they forgot to include in that is, yield is great, but without a subsequent quality factor in that wheat, it doesn’t do any good to raise more wheat if you can’t sell it,” Herron said.
The contest uses the terms “quality” and “grade” interchangeably, Herron said. To win, the highest-yielding wheat must be U.S. Grade No. 2 or better.
“No. 2 grade of wheat, in the Pacific Northwest, as far as I’m concerned, is junk,” Herron said. “Low test weight, or something’s wrong with it.”
Herron said farmers in the Midwest have focused on breeding for yield, and have difficulty selling their wheat to domestic mills or in more sophisticated international markets.
“They’re going to understand quality is paramount in our minds,” Herron said. “We have nothing to sell but quality, and we have to make sure that is a factor.”
The organizations want a minimum standard of end-use quality as a qualification factor, Herron said.
Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, which is affiliated with the foundation, said the region’s concerns are already being addressed, and quality will be incorporated into the 2018 yield contest.
“We believe that quality is an important part of wheat and should be considered in future wheat yield contests,” Goule said.
But, he said, adding a quality component is a “big lift” and must be executed so that little additional burden and cost is placed on participating farmers. Growers will submit a wheat sample, which will go to a third party for quality testing. The results will then be factored in with the contest’s other components.
NAWG has hired a public relations firm to help spread the message about the new quality component in the 2018 contest, Goule said.