Wheat industry leader plans to retire from farming

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press Washington State University winter wheat breeder Arron Carter, left, and Washington Grain Commission member Randy Suess talk during a break in the board meeting May 20 in Spokane. At the meeting, Suess - a Colfax wheat farmer - announced his plans to retire from farming after 30 years. He hopes to remain associated with the industry, he says.

SPOKANE — Randy Suess, a Washington wheat farmer long active in state and national industry organizations, is retiring after 30 years of farming.

Suess represented Whitman County — one of the largest wheat-producing counties in the nation — for 11 years on the Washington Grain Commission and it predecessor, the Washington Wheat Commission. He provided public relations for Washington Association of Wheat Growers for 20 years and held leadership roles with U.S. Wheat Associates in 2009-2012, serving as chairman in 2011-2012.

“He was very articulate and one of the better speakers that I’ve ever worked with,” said Tom Mick, former CEO for the commission. “That went over very well at seminars and programs we put on around the world.”

Suess announced during the grain commission board meeting May 20 that he plans to retire from farming after this year’s harvest.

Suess has farmed for 30 years near Colfax and taught school for nine years before that.

Suess will lease his farm land and some equipment, selling the rest of the equipment.

Suess, 61, said the decision was dictated by his health. Long hours driving tractor and combine bothered one of his legs.

“I’ve been to lots of doctors to try to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “If they would have been able to fix this thing, my plan wasn’t to retire for quite a while.”

Suess played a “critical” role in speaking with state legislators when Washington State University Extension was experiencing budget cuts, said Steve Van Vleet, regional extension specialist in Whitman County. Van Vleet said he hopes Suess will remain on the county extension advisory committee.

“He leaves big shoes to fill,” Van Vleet said. “For research and extension to be as strong as they are in Washington state, that’s one of (Suess’) legacies.”

Mick said Suess’ interest in foreign marketing had a big impact. Roughly 85 percent of Washington wheat goes to the export market.

“He dedicated himself to that, he did a lot of traveling that took time away from the farm because he believed in the cause,” Mick said.

Among the biggest accomplishments during his tenure were the merger of the state wheat and barley commissions into the grain commission, the new commission building and opening the Central America market, which once bought primarily soft red winter wheat but now buys nearly 100 percent soft white winter wheat from the Northwest.

Suess believes the industry’s visits with millers and cookie manufacturers about the quality of Washington wheat resulted in the shift.

“That’s a huge success story,” he said.

In the future, Suess said the industry needs to maintain its marketing efforts. He expects South Asia to be the next market to expand onto, and called for an ever-increasing presence in Central and South America, which are projected to buy 50 percent of all U.S. wheat within the next five years.

“That’s something we’ve got to keep on top of, to make sure we satisfy those customers’ needs,” he said.

Suess’ term on the commission is up this year. He said he would still like to be work with the wheat industry if possible.

“I’m hoping something will come along and am kind of keeping my eyes open to what’s out there,” he said.

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