Conference aims to increase west side grain production
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Registration has begun for a January conference aimed at increasing grain production in western Washington state, Oregon and Canada.
The Cascadia Grains Conference will be Jan. 12 at the STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St., in Tacoma, Wash.
The conference aims to rebuild the grain economy west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia using wheat, barley, oats, rye and triticale.
There's a long history of grains with record yields in the area, said Lucas Patzek, director of Washington State University Extension in Thurston County. Even now, yields are typically more than 100 bushels per acre in Skagit County, he said, due to high moisture and mild climate.
As agriculture industrialization occurred and moved eastward to a larger scale, the region lost some of that knowledge and infrastructure, including mills and storage, even as growers continued production.
Interest is high among farmers, bakers, millers and brewers to rebuild the economy, Patzek said.
A part of the conference will include determining how many grain growers there are in the western part of the region. Patzek surveyed growers in Western Washington using USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service data, which doesn't distinguish between the regions, so he's not certain how accurate his reach was.
"I'm often meeting folks growing grains who weren't a part of any agricultural survey," he said. "It's certainly much smaller than eastern and central Washington, but it's not tiny. I think it's growing."
Patzek said the goal is to connect producers, processors and buyers. The primary interest in grains is for animal feed, he said.
Petra Elder buys grain as accounting manager of Wilcox Farms locations in Roy, Wash., and Aurora, Ore. She's interested in organic and conventional grains grown locally to feed chickens.
"There are farmers, but they don't have as much storage," she said. "We don't have storage either."
Elder estimated her company mills 35,000 tons of feed per year in Roy and 15,000 tons in Aurora, most comes from the Midwest.
East side farmers are growing to meet strict requirements in the export markets, but in the west, localized craft or artisan goods are going to have different standards.
"We're somewhat recreating what quality means," Patzek said. "We have to work with bakers and brewers to figure out exactly what their needs are."
Patzek is hoping to connect the conference to Stephen Jones' international kneading conference at the WSU research and extension center in Mount Vernon, Wash., held in the fall and aimed at bakers, millers and farmers.
Cost is $95 for those registering before Dec. 21, $120 for those registering before Jan. 12.