PULLMAN, Wash. — A lot of bread has moved through the USDA’s Western Wheat Quality Lab in the last three decades, and food technologist Doug Engle has personally handled all of it.
Based on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash., the lab analyzes 4,000 to 5,000 wheat samples each year for milling and baking.
Engle, 62, has worked for the lab 35 years. On July 6, he retired from the USDA.
But he will remain at the lab for two years, working three-quarter time, in a new WSU position funded by the Idaho Wheat Commission, Oregon Wheat Commission and Washington Grain Commission, to ease the transition as a replacement is hired.
Engle will help train the new person.
Engle and lab director Craig Morris also oversee the Pacific Northwest Wheat Quality Council, which brings breeders together with millers, bakers and overseas customers to develop a preferred wheat variety brochure for end-use quality.
“It’s quite likely that he has managed the analysis of 150,000 wheat samples over his career,” Morris told the Capital Press. “Doug has been instrumental in moving the quality of PNW wheat in a positive direction.”
Engle grew up in Mount Vernon and Lacey, Wash. He received a bachelor’s degree at WSU in biology and a master’s degree in environmental science, with an emphasis on water quality.
Engle had no previous knowledge of wheat before starting at the lab. That’s fairly common in the industry, he said, since only Kansas State University offers a wheat milling science degree.
“So many of us pick the details up on the job,” he said.
A history buff, Engle said farmers’ efforts to promote their wheat to overseas customers date back to the 1870s. “We’ve always had to promote ourselves as having a product that people would want to travel 5,000 miles to go get,” he said.
If growers are choosing among several varieties to plant, Engle urges them to choose the one with higher quality.
“He is a wealth of knowledge and is a great asset for wheat growers in the PNW,” said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission. “He has attended our cereal schools and helped educate our growers on the quality attributes of good wheat and what the milling industry looks for. That is important knowledge and the more we can educate on its importance, the better.”
“Doug and the other researchers at the Wheat Quality Lab have played a huge role in developing the wheat quality system that is so important to our wheat growers,” said Blake Rowe, Oregon Wheat CEO. “Providing extra funding so that Doug’s successor has all the time needed to learn all the techniques and skills that Doug has accumulated over the years is a smart investment.”
“Doug has been an unbelievable source of unbiased, quality knowledge for the wheat industry for the Pacific Northwest and all across the country,” said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.
Even though everybody loves baked products, not many people really know exactly how they are made, or the important parts of flour that affect a product, he said.
“It’s really eye-opening, there’s a lot going on inside of a baked product,” he said. “There’s an alchemy in there (and) we still don’t really fully understand exactly what all the interactions are.”