Lab reveals mysteries of wheat
Better understanding allows farmers to focus on consumers
By MATTHEW WEAVER
PULLMAN, Wash. Northwest farmers recently got to see where their wheat goes.
The Western Quality Wheat Laboratory on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, offered its 11th annual tour for farmers and industry members. About 38 people took time away from their fields or related work to go on the tour June 2.
Laboratory food technologist Doug Engle said the tour gives growers and distributors the opportunity to become more familiar with the quality of wheat used in milling and baking.
"It gives the wheat production industry appreciation for what happens downstream from them, and how their decision about what varieties to grow might affect the rest of the industry," Engle said.
Lab director Craig Morris said the primary mission is to develop new wheat cultivars with breeders and to conduct research, focusing on specific quality traits.
The Washington Grain Commission and Idaho Wheat Commission sponsor the event. The tour is one of the lab's primary outreach activities.
"The breeders and other scientists all know this stuff, but the more we can communicate that with growers and marketers, the better," Morris said.
Morris said many growers still have the impression that grain elevators are their customers.
"Actually, it may be a consumer over in Tokyo," he said. "We don't have that face-to-face relationship. There's so many demands on growers, they may lose track of the customer focus."
Art McIntosh, a wheat, barley, pea, lentil and grape farmer in Lewiston, Idaho, wanted to see the product of the grain he grows.
"What it's being used for, how it's being used, where the markets are and what we should be growing," he said. "I knew some of it, but I learned a lot more than I knew."
Walla Walla, Wash., soft white wheat farmer Steve Hair said the laboratory does the bulk of its work by helping wheat breeders select varieties that meet the needs of consumers.
"It's just fascinating," he said. "My background in chemistry and biology isn't that great, but they make it very easy to understand. At least it's a good, basic understanding."
Mike Friddle is interested in getting more involved in his family's wheat, barley and pea operation in the Moscow, Idaho, area. He anticipated bringing in samples from the farm to the laboratory's wheat analysts before harvest to see whether some of the crop can be sold in niche markets.
"You not only get to the understanding of what happens to what you grow, you get the idea of being on the cutting edge of technology," Friddle said. "One of the most important things a producer can do is be in tune with the people who are developing what they're going to be growing in the future."
Western Wheat Quality Laboratory: www.wsu.edu/~wwql/php/index.php