Wheat leader ramps up image campaign

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press New Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Eric Maier talks about his goals for his presidency as he works to put his equipment away for the winter the afternoon of Nov. 22 on his farm in Ritzville, Wash.

Washington state association wants to tackle problems

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

RITZVILLE, Wash. -- Wheat grower Eric Maier usually puts his equipment away for the winter at this time of year.

It had been a particularly good year -- Maier averaged 63.5 bushels of wheat per acre instead of his normal 43. And on top of a healthy crop, Maier was named president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers during the recent Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.

Instead of battening down for the winter, he will prioritize public relations and public information as the association works to be more visible among grower groups and in the media. The move follows surveys by a public relations firm and the potential loss of farm tax exemptions on repairs, labor and fuel and a possible business and occupation tax.

The association is examining public perception and addressing potential problems early, Maier said.

"We're going to be pretty aggressive with trying to tell our story," Maier said. "The story will be told, and hopefully it will be told by us."

Maier hopes to partner with groups like port workers to see what they have in common. Work is in its initial phase, Maier said.

"What we would like to do is see if they're receptive to a partnering effect," he said, noting they might team up on opinion pieces for newspapers. "This is why longshoremen need wheat growers, this is why wheat growers need longshoremen. So when there is something affecting wheat producers on the Eastern Washington, this is how it would affect you guys on the West Side if this may not happen," he said.

The association has also been working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, which Maier considers one of WAWG's success stories.

"We have got a very good dialogue right now," he said. "We're on a level now, especially on the pesticide division, where if there is something kind of odd, (EPA) will call us for our take, which is where we've tried to get for a long time."

Ben Barstow, whom Maier replaces as president, expects a seamless transition.

"He is an outstanding leader and works very hard at what he does," Barstow said, noting that Maier has been the association's state legislative chair for the past several years. "The organization is in very good hands."

Maier is a fourth-generation farmer on a family homestead in Ritzville. He primarily raises soft white wheat, with some dark northern spring wheat and some cattle on a dryland-fallow rotation. He declined to comment on his acreage.

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