Photo courtesy USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council
Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative chief executive officer, president and treasurer Bill Newbry and his family are the 2018 Lentil Family of the Year.
The family represents the National Lentil Festival for the entire year, said director Britnee Packwood.
The award honors people within the industry who are elevating their profession, pushing for new innovations and leading the way for others, Packwood said. The Newbry family will join the festival and participate in its grand parade.
“I was very surprised and I am joining a great group of past honorees that includes both growers and processors,” Newbry told the Capital Press in an email. “A really great honor that I can share with my growers and staff and, without those people, this would not have happened.”
Newbry has been with the co-op since 1984, serving as CEO since 1996. He started the processing division for the co-op in 1986, and it grew to become one of the largest domestic and international suppliers of pulses, he said.
The co-op has 1,400 members, more than 50 facilities, three river barge terminals, a train-unit loading facility and numerous pulse processing plants and seed plants. The co-op is the result of a merger between Genesee Union Warehouse and Whitman County Grain Growers in 2008, and merged with Co-Ag in June 2017.
“The industry is kind of in a boom, and Bill had a big part of that,” said Todd Scholz, vice president of research and member services for the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council. “His marketing skill and love for the industry is really what we’re recognizing.”
He credited Newbry with helping to create the co-op, and noted a particular chickpea variety, the Billy Bean, is named after Newbry.
Interest in pulses has increased in recent years, Newbry said, but on the Palouse, lentil growing is trending downward due to competitive prices in neighboring states and Canada. The co-op supplies a large amount of lentils to the Mediterranean area and Peru, he said.
Overall pulse usage trend is upward, particularly for chickpeas, Newbry said. Demand is higher as poor growing conditions impact world production. Demand is greater in the Indian subcontinent and Middle Eastern countries, he said. Demand is also higher due to more people growing into the rising middle class, with more income and more food choices, he said.
Increased domestic and world demand will continue until supply becomes even with demand. World planting and production this year “just may” meet demand and prices will even out, Newbry said.
The National Lentil Festival is Aug. 17-18 in Pullman, Wash. It typically sees more than 30,000 people over the course of two days, Packwood said.