Commission exec keeps industry connected

Matthew Weaver/Capital PressWashington Grain Commission vice president Mary Palmer Sullivan smiles as she talks with Emmie Onita and Tonette Sio, representatives of flour milling companies from the Philippines, Aug. 11 during a tour that included a stop in a wheat field north of Colfax, Wash.

Mary Palmer Sullivan cultivates relationships, whether it’s between Washington grain growers and their overseas customers or between the commission she represents and the university researchers who bring innovations to the industry.

As the vice president of the Washington State Grain Commission, Sullivan works with foreign trade teams that visit the U.S. Trade teams the commission has hosted this summer include groups from Panama, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Sullivan also leads tours of industry members and government officials to provide them with information about the intricacies of the region’s wheat industry.

“Mary is always out there for the growers — I call her the go-to, get-it-done kind of person,” said Nicole Berg, a Paterson, Wash., wheat farmer and president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

Sullivan works with Washington State University researchers whose projects are funded by the commission. Roughly 40 projects receive about $2.4 million in farmers’ investments. She makes sure researchers meet the commission’s expectations.

Sullivan is a good liaison between researchers and the farmers on the commission, USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist Deven See said.

“I think she’s a lot more engaged with the growers than maybe some of us scientists are,” he said. “She helps bridge that communication barrier between us.”

She also goes to bat for researchers to help them obtain funding for their work. See said Sullivan worked years to help obtain adequate federal funding for his Western Regional Small Grains Genotyping Laboratory on the WSU campus in Pullman.

“Mary is a gal who does more than she lets on,” Berg said. “She takes everything in and is very methodical in her approaches and thought processes.”

Sullivan’s family has roots in agriculture, and as a youth she was involved in 4-H and FFA, which she credits with giving her the confidence and interest in agriculture.

“The things that I’ve challenged myself to do over the years, I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been in 4-H,” she said. “It gave me that fire that made me want to continue to be in agriculture.”

Sullivan first studied dairy science at WSU, but decided to pursue a career in agriculture communications. She graduated at the same time a position opened on the Washington Barley Commission 26 years ago.

“I’m the barley babe,” she said with a grin, using Berg’s nickname for her. “I love barley.... The beer and malting industry, they’re so much fun and just good people.”

When the barley commission merged with the wheat commission in 1997, it gave Sullivan a chance to start fresh with wheat. The best thing about the job is constantly learning, she said.

“My heart was in ag, I wanted to be in ag,” she said. “I love my job, I love what I do, I love the people I represent, I love the people I work with in this industry — they’re the salt of the earth. It’s a good industry, and they’ve been kind enough to keep me this long.”

This article was first published on Aug. 15, 2015.

Mary Palmer Sullivan

Age: 47

Title: Vice president, Washington Grain Commission

Hometown: Redmond, Wash.

Current location: Valleyford, Wash.

Education: Bachelor of science, Washington State University

Family: One son, 23 years old


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