SPOKANE — The Washington Grain Commission increased its budget nearly 20 percent for next year and added money for falling number research at its May 18 meeting.
The commission’s budget for the 2017-2018 year, which begins July 1, for $6.33 million, up 19.9 percent from the 2016-2017 budget, which was nearly $5.3 million.
The commissioners also set aside $500,000 for research into falling number problems. The starch quality problem is estimated to have cost the Pacific Northwest wheat industry more than $30 million last year in price reductions.
“We’ve taken a lot of the messages from farmers — their complaints, worries and concerns on falling numbers and we are determined to try to do the best we can,” said chairman Mike Miller. “We felt it was a legitimate amount to begin addressing (the problem).”
The funding has not been earmarked for a specific project, said CEO Glen Squires. The commission will send out requests for proposals from researchers.
The commission also encourages other states impacted by falling number problems to make a similar effort.
Priorities include developing a quick test for falling number problems that grain elevators would be able to use on-site.
The budget is a year-long discussion for commissioners, Squires said.
“(Commissioners recognized that) yeah, the income’s coming down this year, but we need to keep programs going and keep addressing the issues,” Squires said. “Something like falling number, we need to help solve that problem.”
Falling number problems arose after the commission set last year’s budget, Squires added.
Washington wheat prices are down, but recently have been increasing, Squires said. Washington wheat prices in all classes have averaged $4.60 per bushel, down 13.2 percent from $5.30 per bushel last year.
Squires expects to collect $5.3 million to $5.4 million in assessments this year. That money will fund the budget for next year.
The commission assesses three-fourths of 1 percent of net receipts at the first point of sale for wheat and 1 percent of net receipts at the first point of sale for barley.
The commission will take $990,000 out of reserves. It keeps $5 million in reserves in case of a total crop failure.
Commissioners in previous years had the foresight to save money during good years as a cushion for market downturns, Miller said.
All segments of the budget — research, market development, education and information, grower services, professional services, policy development and office operations — were increased.
Support for Washington State University research increased from $1.66 million to $1.93 million. Funding for many of those projects had been reduced last year, Squires said. Including the falling number addition, overall research funding increased 46.2 percent to $2.43 million.
The commission also added $100,000 for market development, bringing the total to $1.24 million. That includes funding projects at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland and sending commercial-sized wheat samples and a trade-servicing trip to Latin America.
“We’re trying to help those countries, particularly Peru, to utilize soft white wheat, hard red winter wheat and hard red spring from the Pacific Northwest,” Squires said.
Miller said commissioners decided to continue building a savings account for overseas marketing, in the event of increased competition from other wheat-producing countries or decreased federal funding for U.S. Wheat Associates.
Last year, winter wheat yields averaged 78 bushels per acre and spring wheat yields averaged 51 bushels per acre. This year, the USDA projects winter wheat could average 67 bushels per acre, but board members think USDA’s estimate could be low, Squires said.