WSU partners with company to market cereal varieties
PULLMAN, Wash. — A Washington Grain Commission member will lead Washington State University’s grain variety marketing efforts, university leaders say.
WSU will partner with Washington Genetics, LLC, effective Sept. 1, WSU associate dean of research Jim Moyer announced during an invitation-only meeting for industry members at WSU’s Spillman Agronomy Farm.
The company will represent WSU’s commercial interests regarding marketing of WSU’s cereal varieties and will work with the Washington State Crop Improvement Association to manage royalties and coordinate release and distribution of new and existing varieties, working with breeders and the seed industry.
The newly formed Washington Genetics, LLC, is owned by Mike and Marci Miller. Mike Miller is a Ritzville, Wash., wheat farmer and sits on the board of the Washington State Grain Commission, representing Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties, including involvement with WSU’s variety release committee.
Marci Miller is manager of the company.
The Millers filed to create the company several years ago, and are forming it now.
“We just saw some opportunities farther out in the distance, not just this one,” Mike Miller said.
Miller hopes to increase the visibility of the new varieties for farmers and make their attributes and agronomic benefits known. Selling more is not the goal of the company, he said.
“There is a need for us to have a presence out in the marketplace,” Moyer said. “We feel our varieties need to have someone who is present at appropriate times and venues, at grower meetings, at seed dealer meetings, someone who is tasked with being responsive to seed dealers and other partners.”
Moyer said the partnership reduces the risk of conflict of interest between breeders and WSU’s variety testing program as the university works to market varieties to growers.
Moyer doesn’t foresee a conflict of interest with Mike Miller remaining on the commission.
Miller said the situation has been addressed through the state attorney general’s office and WSU’s attorneys. He will be removed from WSU committees on the commission and reassigned to other committees.
“If ever there’s the potential for that, it’s pretty simple to remove myself from the vote or the room if it’s a delicate subject,” he said.
Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires was aware of university’s marketing discussions with several companies, and that Miller was involved, but not all the details.
Miller would likely come off any committee related to WSU, Squires said.
“I don’t anticipate there being any challenges or concerns that couldn’t be addressed,” he said.
Washington Genetics and WSU will be hiring personnel and implementing specific elements of the program over the next four months, and expect to be fully operational by Jan. 1.
Moyer and WSU associate dean and WSU Extension director Rich Koenig and breeders will remain available for grower questions, Moyer said, but the breeding program has grown to the point where marketing requirements are a full-time job.
“What we’re trying to do is make it easier for seed dealers to get the information they need to provide to growers,” he said.
The university needs to spend more time assessing the market for opportunities in Idaho, California and the Midwest, and communicate needs to the breeding teams, Moyer said.
“We don’t want a situation like Otto, where it’s a great variety, it’s moving along traditionally, but the demand was such that it outstripped the supply,” Moyer said. “Great varieties like Otto we would fast-track, hopefully cutting a couple of years off the (development) process.”
The company will be paid a portion of the royalties. Moyer declined to give the percentage, saying the contract was not yet signed.
“It’s standard,” he said. “It would be very defensible.”
Miller said the percentage is under negotiation.
An internal team at WSU will monitor royalties to maintain accountability at all levels, Moyer said.
Royalties are based on the number of pounds sold, Moyer said.
Moyer said the royalty rate would not increase as a result of the partnership with Washington Genetics, but he is willing to consider it if an individual product warrants it.
The university started with a request for proposals a year ago and interviewed two companies, Moyer said. One didn’t have the expertise, and the other was not based in the Pacific Northwest. The university then went through a process of interviewing individuals, he said.
The university employs a similar strategy for tree fruit, Moyer said.
“Washington Genetics is the entity that’s going to be the face of WSU varieties,” he said. “They’re not selling our varieties, they’re facilitating getting the licenses to the seed dealers. We welcome and encourage anyone. We will continue to offer nonexclusive licenses to all the seed dealers in Washington and the (neighboring) counties.”
Moyer foresees more partnerships with private companies, like the university’s agreement with Syngenta and AgVentures Northwest to market the hard white spring wheat variety Dayn in southern Idaho.
He’s hearing interest from the industry, but said nothing else is yet in the works.
“We welcome all opportunities,” he said. “There’s things we can do better than they can, there’s things they do better than we do. We’re going to get the most out of our genetics and varieties by partnering with seed dealers and other companies, and we’re doing it strategically.”