Biotech fears, other hurdles remain for wheat industry
By MATTHEW WEAVER
AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. -- Russia is not likely to rebound quickly from this year's drought, a wheat industry expert says.
While the information is not 100 percent verified, Vince Peterson, U.S. Wheat Associates vice president of overseas operations, said Russia's winter wheat crop is reportedly off to a poor start.
He predicted Russia's ban on wheat exports will likely remain through next year's harvest, when officials will have a better idea of its quality and quantity.
"I hate to say, 'Write them off for next year,' but I'm leaning toward that side," he said.
Dana Peterson, chief executive officer of the National Association of Wheat Growers, called on the industry to present a unified voice to Congress, particularly with regard to the 2012 Farm Bill.
Republicans in the U.S. House want a moratorium on earmarks, she said. This could be a problem for wheat research since some of it is funded through earmarks.
Dana Peterson also said a survey found the majority of Americans are receptive to the idea of biotechnology traits, so long as farmers demonstrated sustainability.
Possible traits include improved drought resistance, improved nitrogen use and disease tolerance.
Both speakers said foreign customers, who have not been receptive to biotechnology traits in the past, would likely have a similar response.
The association has been advocating a low-level presence of biotechnology traits and will continue the dialogue with customers and regulators in the next five to seven years.
Work is being done in the background, but it's difficult to gauge overseas customers' interest without an actual product to discuss, Vince Peterson added.
A Roundup Ready trait is likely to be offered by Monsanto as part of a stacked package of traits in wheat, but not soon, she said.
On other topics discussed during the Washington Association of Wheat Growers annual meeting:
* Vince Peterson said Pacific Northwest wheat farmers are well-situated to take advantage of future export opportunities. The region's soft white wheat is flexible and can be blended with other varieties. There are few direct substitutes for the qualities of the class, he said, and few competitors in the world.
* The industry did a good job of publicizing the closure of the Columbia and Snake River systems to regular overseas customers. Most are ahead of previous years with regard to their purchases, he said.
* Latin America represents a growing market for U.S. wheat, he said. Primary importing countries include Guatemala, El Salvador and Chile.
* The Colombia free-trade agreement faces opposition due to labor-union concerns, one of the factors keeping the U.S. from signing, said Randy Suess, U.S. Wheat vice chairman and a member of the Washington State Grain Commission.