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New Washington grains chair aims for value, opportunity

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Clarkston, Wash., farmer Steve Claassen is the new chair of the Washington Grain Commission. The commission is committed to getting the most value out of its resource and creating opportunities for growers, Claassen said. His priorities include strengthening partnerships and increasing markets.

Strengthening industry partnerships and increased markets and opportunities for farmers are top priority for the new leader of the Washington Grain Commission board.

Farmer Steve Claassen, of Clarkston, Wash., recently became the new chair of the commission.

Looking ahead to a drier year with possible winter wheat damage and less revenue, Claassen hopes to prioritize research projects and grower services the commission provides.

“We’re going to work on strengthening our ongoing collaborations with (Washington State University) through intense evaluations of the performance of endowed chairs and research projects,” he said.

WSU is working to build a new greenhouse. Claassen expects it to open by the end of 2014 or early 2015. The new facility will give breeders and researchers increased space, and help them to compete against other breeding programs, he said.

The commission hopes to expand markets through lending projects, container shipments and strategic contacts with new customers.

“We want to maintain and strengthen our relationship with our industry partners,” he said.

Claassen credited a team of “visionary, forward-thinking” leaders and staff.

“We’re committed to getting the most value out of our resources and creating the most opportunity for our growers from the dollars that they invest,” he said.

Claassen hopes to be able to respond quickly to issues in the media, such as GMO concerns, gluten-free diets and anti-wheat campaigns, to avoid “a detrimental effect” on grain markets.

Claassen raises wheat, barley and is beginning to grow canola on roughly 5,000 acres. He joined the Washington Barley Commission in 2005, before it merged with the Washington Wheat Commission to become the grain commission in 2009.

Given current prices, he expects barley acres to decrease. Any possible increase would come in the event of a winter wheat freeze and a lack of spring wheat seed, he said.

Barley is about $160 per ton on the Portland market, down by roughly $100 from a year ago, according to Palouse Grain Growers, Inc., in Palouse, Wash.

According to the Washington office of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 170,000 barley acres were harvested in 2013, down from 175,000 acres in 2012.

“I think it’s going to stay flat and turn into a specialty crop down the road,” Claassen said.



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