'Rock-solid' leader takes helm
New U.S. Wheat chairman looks for new export markets
By MATTHEW WEAVER
COLFAX, Wash. -- Randy Suess is the face of U.S. wheat in more ways than one.
Suess is one of several farmers who appear on promotional posters for U.S. Wheat Associates, and this week he takes over as the organization's new chairman at the summer board meeting in Tulsa, Okla.
U.S. Wheat Associates develops export markets in over 100 countries. It is funded by checkoff dollars managed by 19 state wheat commissions and through USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.
Suess has a long history of advocacy for the industry. In addition to his work with U.S. Wheat, he also represents Whitman County on the Washington Grain Commission and has been the public information committee chairman for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.
Suess' priorities as U.S. Wheat chairman include continuing efforts to increase exports. He's anxious to see if the Canadian Wheat Board will continue operations. Canadian farmers are voting on whether to continue marketing wheat and barley through the board or on the open market. Ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 24.
If the board does cease operations, it will help level the playing field worldwide, he said.
"We can compete against anybody if you put us on equal footing," he said.
Suess also hopes to bring more states into U.S. Wheat.
The U.S. wheat industry's strengths are quality, reliability and value, Suess said. He pointed to U.S. Wheat's annual in-depth quality analyses, which are given to buyers, flour millers and bakers.
"We don't have anything to hide," he said. "Even though some area of the country may be experiencing drought or too much rainfall, we're a big enough country that it seems all six classes end up with a pretty significant amount of wheat."
Foreign customers often ask Suess if there will be a continuous supply, which he sees as both an opportunity and a challenge.
"You realize, 'Maybe they don't know as much as we thought they did about soft white wheat,'" he said. "We need to do a better job of letting them know how much quantity is out there."
Alex McGregor, president and CEO of the McGregor Co., a diversified farm supply company headquartered in Colfax, said Suess has been a "rock-solid" leader for the Washington wheat industry and Eastern Washington farm families.
"He's been all around the globe in a selfless effort, making a difference," McGregor said. "He brings the solid know-how of a very fine farmer and has been a very credible and fine person to tell the story of Washington farm families. He's done an extraordinary job."
Suess, who has farmed near Colfax since 1985, thinks one of the reasons he's comfortable as an industry representative harkens to his time as a teacher, principal and administrator in the Steptoe, Wash., area school district.
"I get in front of 500 kids and I'm fine," he said with a laugh. "Even though I still get uncomfortable in front of adults. It's one of those things you really need to do a lot to feel comfortable with."
Hometown: Colfax, Wash.
Current location: Colfax, Wash., down the road from his childhood home. Suess now resides in his grandparents' home.
Raises: Winter wheat, spring wheat and peas on 1,350 acres
Family: Wife Laurie of 32 years; a son, 30; a daughter, 29
Education: Colfax High School; degree in elementary education and master's in administration, Washington State University
U.S. Wheat: www.uswheat.org
Washington Grain Commission: www.washingtongrainalliance.com