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By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, USW West Coast Office

Each day during harvest season in the Pacific Northwest, the road to mid-Columbia Grain Company in The Dalles, Ore., is backed up by large grain trucks loaded with recently harvested wheat. A sample is taken from each load, then graded and tested for protein before being offloaded and elevated into segregated storage or directly onto a barge that will make its way down the Columbia River to export grain terminals. Wheat from other up-country elevators is also loaded into rail cars for the trip to port.

Downriver, storage is limited but variable orders must be filled quickly. So, what is being offloaded from up-country is segregated by class and protein, inspected to certify it will meet buyers’ specifications and re-loaded into bulk vessels.

Such logistics are complex, but it is happening all the time across the United States. It is a system that continues to be highly efficient at receiving, storing, sorting, blending and shipping large amounts of grain of uniform quality to a diverse international customer base. To read more about the systems that support U.S. grain handling, visit the National Grain and Feed Association website here.

The North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) describes exporting grain as both a competitive and capital-intensive industry. On its website, NAEGA states that “since the margin of profit to be earned from moving a ton of grain can be quite small, exporters depend upon moving large volumes very quickly. They seek to achieve an economy of scale that lowers their average fixed costs per unit of volume handled, provides operating flexibility, increases bargaining power in chartering for shipping, and improves the services they can provide worldwide.”

Using trucks, rail and river barges, the U.S. grain handling system in marketing year 2018/19 moved about 56 percent of annual wheat exports through ports in Oregon and Washington State, about 31 percent through ports in Louisiana and the Texas Gulf, about 9 percent from the “interior,” mainly via direct rail from the Plains to Mexican buyers, and 4 percent through ports on the Great Lakes.

From the bookkeepers at country elevators to the longshoremen who load bulk ocean-going vessels, every person in our grain handling system is working hard to add value to every metric ton of wheat our overseas customers purchase. Even today, as the threat from COVID-19 continues, these men and women remain at work, helping to feed the world.


Read other blog posts in this series:
Research and Breeding
Farmers and State Wheat Commissions
Exporters, Inspectors and USW Overseas Offices

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By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, USW West Coast Office

“Everywhere the grain stood ripe and the hot afternoon was full of the smell of the ripe wheat, like the smell of bread baking in an oven. The breath of the wheat and the sweet clover passed him like a pleasant thing in a dream.” – Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

Heading east out of Portland, Ore., the landscape changes quickly. From the large city you pass through a tapestry of green forest with snow-capped peaks in the distance. Following the Columbia River, the mountains gradually become smaller until opening onto vast open hills carpeted by wheat fields. It is an impressive drive and vastly different from where you started.

For U.S. wheat overseas customers visiting the U.S. Pacific Northwest states with a trade delegation, this is often the journey they take as they travel out to see for themselves where the wheat they purchase is grown and to meet the people who grow it. Every year, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and its state wheat commission member organizations host several trade delegations to facilitate these important connections. A crucial link that tightens the customer relationship, made possible by the long distances traveled, is to connect the customer with the source of their product in the company of the people who work hard to grow it.

Trade teams that visit the United States are often able to observe grain grading and inspection by the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS). Visits can include interaction with research institutions to see how farmers and their state wheat commissions work closely with breeders to improve wheat varieties. Teams are often able to see the infrastructure that efficiently moves U.S. wheat from the farms to export facilities.

USW led five representatives of the Taipei Bakers Association and three officials from Taiwan’s Department of Public Health on a trade team to Oregon in late April 2019.

Customer Relations

Many U.S. wheat farmers and wheat commissions have made lasting connections with the customers they meet at part of trade delegations to and from the United States. Some have even had the opportunity to host customers they have met overseas here in the United States on their farms. In an interview with KGNC Radio in Amarillo, Tex., Ken Davis, a USW director and a wheat farmer from Grandview, Tex., talked about his experience traveling with USW. On a 2018 visit to Nigeria, Davis, who represents the Texas Wheat Producers Board, met with a team of flour millers and extended an invitation for them to visit his farm. A year later, he picked them up at the airport in Dallas and shuttled them to his farm. For the first time they got to see a wheat field and see the work that goes into growing the product that is crucial to their own livelihood. In the interview, Davis noted that “it is customer relations” that make the difference. That is a refrain I have personally heard often in my time with USW.

This trade team of Chilean flour millers that visited Oklahoma in June 2017 helped increase understanding of U.S. hard red winter wheat quality and how farmers do everything they can to produce the best quality crop.

Michael Peters, a wheat farmer from Okarche, Okla., and the 2020/21 USW Secretary Treasurer-elect representing the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, has his own experience to share. Last summer, at the USW Mexico Wheat Trade Conference, Peters saw a familiar face, César Enríquez, Director of Business Development for Grupo La Moderna in Toluca, Mexico. Enríquez extended an invitation for Peters to attend the opening of their new shuttle train facility. Later that fall, and to his surprise, Peters was there.

U.S. wheat farmers will continue to pursue a higher quality, wholesome and sustainable wheat crop by redefining the state of excellence every growing season. The U.S. wheat export supply system will continue placing an abundant supply of wheat for export, as it has continued to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. USW and its state commission members will also continue working to connect these farmers and the export system to customers around the world, both on their visits to the United States and abroad.


Read other blog posts in this series:
Research and Plant Breeding
Grain Handlers
Exporters, Inspectors and USW Overseas Offices

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By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, West Coast Office

Professional millers and bakers know that the appearance and taste of every product depends on the specific characteristics imparted by its flour ingredient. And those characteristics are deeply rooted in the ancient craft of plant breeding.

[Plant breeding is an ancient craft.] As far back as 10,000 years, farmers looked for traits that helped them grow more and better food. Egypt became the breadbasket of ancient Rome as its farmers adopted a type of wheat from the “fertile crescent” in modern Iraq to plant along the Nile River. Over time, the Egyptians found ways to grow a grain that was sturdy enough to transport long distances and stand up against pests. The Egyptian wheat traded with the Romans may not be what we are used to today, but the process for how it was grown to meet the needs of the consumer is by no means ancient history.

Today, the Wheat Genetics Resource Center at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center houses more than 30,000 wheat varieties from around the world that are descendants of ancient varieties. Kansas Wheat Vice President of Research and Operations Aaron Harries likened the collection to a “treasure hunt,” offering the opportunity to find the next innovation derived in part from each specimen. Researchers and breeders here, and at other programs across the United States, play an important role in the relationship U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) builds with its customers. By listening to both farmer and customer feedback, they work on developing high-yielding, disease resistant wheat seed with excellent milling, baking and processing qualities.

Wheat Genetics Resource Center at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan, Kan. Photo courtesy of the Kansas Wheat Commission.

Dr. Senay Simsek is a cereal chemist and professor at North Dakota State University and says that the personal connections that she has made on fifteen trips with USW to four different continents is crucial to her work. As an expert on hard red spring (HRS) wheat, Simsek says that when she prepares to meet overseas customers, she familiarizes herself with the types of wheat flour products they make, what the other ingredients are and what countries they buy wheat from. Being familiar with a market is important to understanding the unique needs of the customer. “Sophisticated” was the word she uses to describe customer needs and knowledge, emphasizing how important the technical process of using the right wheat for a specific product can be.

Dr. Senay Simsek joins USW staff to meet with U.S. wheat customers in Indonesia in 2019.

Dr. Senay Simsek joins USW staff to meet with U.S. wheat customers in Malaysia in 2019.

Each year, USW hosts several trade delegations that are traveling to the United States to learn firsthand about the U.S. wheat supply chain system. The delegations visit research institutes like the USDA Western Wheat Quality Lab at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. Its mission in part is to “conduct cooperative investigations with breeders to evaluate the milling and baking quality characteristics of wheat selections,” and to “conduct basic research into the biochemical and genetic basis of wheat quality in order to better understand the fundamental nature of end-use functionality.” The director of the lab, Dr. Craig Morris, welcomes many of the USW delegations to his lab each year and emphasizes the unique partnership that the lab, as part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service, has within the industry, among other researchers and with state wheat commissions.

A USW Japanese trade delegation visits the USDA Western Wheat Quality Lab.

In September 2019, I had the opportunity to visit Washington State University with a trade delegation from Southeast Asia. We met with Dr. Michael Pumphrey, a spring wheat breeder, who walked us through the steps of the wheat breeding process. We watched as he cross-pollinated single wheat plants, a process that requires careful, precise techniques.

In his 27 years with USW, Steve Wirsching, Vice President and West Coast Office Director, based in Portland, Ore., has hosted many trade delegations and has also led many Wheat Quality Improvement Teams of wheat breeders to visit customers overseas. When asked why USW continues to put an emphasis on facilitating the relationships between customers and wheat researchers and breeders, he said, “It is important to listen to our customers and seek feedback on the quality characteristics they need. It is part of the U.S. Wheat Associates mission, to enhance wheat’s value for our customers.”

2017 Wheat Quality Improvement team in Thailand. Read more about this activity.

2018 Wheat Quality Improvement Team in Latin America. Read more about this activity.

According to www.innovature.com, the innovation and evolving breeding methods in agriculture and food, and a deep understanding of DNA, today helps scientists like Dr. Simsek and Dr. Pumphrey make even more precise genetic changes to wheat and other plants. Their work is needed more than ever to meet some of society’s most urgent and pressing challenges including climate change, sustainability, hunger and improved health and wellness.


Read other blog posts in this series:
Farmers and State Wheat Commissions
Grain Handlers
Exporters, Inspectors and USW Overseas Offices

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By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy

For the better part of a century the United States has been known as the breadbasket of the world. Today, that reputation continues ringing as true as ever at a time when it may be needed most.

Reliability and certainty go hand in hand. That is why the U.S. export grain industry and the government agencies that protect and promote U.S. agriculture snapped into action when the first COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” orders forced many workers to stay home. Individual businesses developed mitigation plans including more cleaning shifts and personal protective equipment for employees. Workarounds were found to limit staff member contact and to ensure trade could continue to flow, even when items as routine as loading paperwork were being curtailed.

It wasn’t just private businesses that took steps to keep wheat exports flowing smoothly. While other countries used bureaucratic delays on regular functions such as permits and inspections to slow down exports, the U.S. Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) issued a public letter stating they would “take all necessary steps” to ensure export inspection services would continue unabated. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a similar letter, promising to continue critical inspections and issuance of phytosanitary certificates. Both agencies clearly understand that maintaining U.S. agricultural exports is vital, not just to the U.S. economy, but also to meeting our commitments to our partners around the world.

Federal Grain Inspection Service

USDA wasn’t the only federal agency to recognize that U.S. farmers need to stay on the job. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for providing federal guidance in national emergencies, especially concerning critical industries. In less than a month, they have expanded the guidance defining “essential” workers and should, therefore, stay on the job in the event of “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders to include the entire grain supply chain. That guidance includes workers in transportation, inspections, production, input suppliers and even business providing repair services. Keeping those businesses running, keeps U.S. farms running, and helps give our overseas customers peace of mind.

U.S. wheat is still flowing through U.S. ports such as here in Portland, Oregon.

As we saw at a container facility in the Port of Houston when a worker tested positive for COVID-19, there will no doubt still be small disruptions as we work through this uncertain time. But with government and industry commitment to maintaining supply chains, wheat will continue flow to customers at home and abroad from the U.S. breadbasket.

If you have questions, please contact your local U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representative here.

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By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

Soft red winter (SRW) export prices had been climbing steadily since the end of the 2019 harvest on reduced production, tight ending stocks and stable domestic and overseas demand. Then after Jan. 24, 2020, export basis and FOB prices dipped, offering an opportunity for SRW importers to lock in a lower price through the end of marketing year 2019/20.

From mid-July 2019 to mid-January 2020, SRW export basis rose 65 percent from $0.85 per bushel (/bu) to $1.40/bu, 33 percent higher than last year at this time and 47 percent higher than the 5-year average.

However, between Jan. 24 and Jan. 31, 2020, a dip in export demand pressured SRW export basis for the first time since early September. SRW export basis fell 7 percent to $1.30/bu, the lowest since early December 2019. Lower basis and softer futures prices also pressured SRW FOB values 4 percent between Jan. 24 and Jan. 31 from $262/MT to $251/MT.

Market watchers, including those at U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), believe this price decline is a good buying signal. They believe SRW export basis will remain high through the end of 2019/20 based on still tightening exportable supplies and stable demand from overseas customers. Members from the grain trade also believe SRW export basis will be higher than average through the 2020/21 harvest based on significantly reduced beginning stocks year-over-year and substantial reductions in SRW planted area in states tributary to the Mississippi River, where a significant amount of SRW is transported from the countryside to export facilities in the Gulf.

Specifically, farmers reduced SRW planted area for harvest in 2019 due to overly wet field fields in the fall of 2018 and unprofitable prices. SRW production fell 17 percent from last year to 6.50 million metric tons (MMT), the lowest since 2010/11. USDA expects SRW ending stocks at the end of 2019/20 to fall 49 percent to 2.88 MMT, the lowest in 10 years. USDA predicts SRW exports will total 2.72 MMT, in line with the 5-year average.

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By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

With six months gone in marketing year 2019/20, USDA currently believes total U.S. wheat exports will reach 26.5 million metric tons (MMT), which, if realized, would be 4 percent more than 2018/19 and 7 percent more than the 5-year average. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) believes the high quality and competitive pricing for select U.S. wheat classes and other factors definitely support USDA’s estimate.

As of Dec. 26, 2019, total commercial sales of 18.5 MMT already make up 71% of USDA’s latest export forecast. Commercial sales to 11 of the top 20 markets for U.S. wheat are ahead of last year’s pace and total export sales to all destinations are 6 percent ahead of sales on the same date in 2018/19.

Commercial Sales - U.S. wheat sales to Top 10 Customers - JAN20

Hard Red Winter (HRW)

USDA expects the United States to export 10.6 MMT of HRW in 2019/20, 18 percent more than 2018/19, if realized. Year-to-date HRW sales total 6.91 MMT, 24 percent ahead of last year’s pace and 65 percent of USDA’s total estimate. Exports to three of the top five HRW export markets are significantly ahead of last year’s pace. Sales to Mexico, the largest market for HRW, are 30 percent ahead of last year at 1.80 MMT. Exports to Nigeria are 19 percent ahead of last year at 580,000 metric tons (MT) and sales to Taiwan are 41 percent ahead of last year’s pace at 333,000 MT. USW believes HRW sales could continue to grow through the second half of 2019/20 assuming U.S. HRW prices remain competitive at the global level. According to AgriCensus data, on Dec. 30, 2019, U.S. HRW 11.0 percent (on a 12 percent moisture basis) prices off the Gulf was $222 per MT FOB and comparable Russian 12.5 percent protein wheat (on a dry moisture basis) was $3 per MT less at $219 per MT FOB.

Hard Red Spring (HRS)

USDA forecasts 2019/20 HRS exports will reach 7.10 MMT, in line with last year despite the significant effects of an overly wet harvest. USDA even increased its total HRS export estimate 2 percent between October and November 2019 from 6.94 MMT to 7.10 MMT. Year-to-date total HRS sales of 5.3 MMT are down 4 percent from 2018/19 and fall 7 percent less than the 5-year average. USW believes slower export sales could be attributed to HRS FOB prices between September and December 2019 that were higher than last year at the same time.1 Between late September and late December 2018, the average nearby FOB price for HRS off the Pacific Northwest (PNW) was $259 per MT. Between late September and late December 2019, the average nearby FOB price for HRS out of the PNW was $271 per MT, 5 percent more than the same period last year. Yet year-to-date exports to the top two importers of HRS are only slightly behind last year’s pace. Exports to Japan and Korea, top 5 importers of HRS, are both ahead of last year’s pace at 514,000 MT and 362,000 MT, respectively.

1Source: USW Price Report.

Commercial Sales - U.S. Wheat Sales by Class - JAN20

Soft Red Winter (SRW)

Export sales of 2.10 MMT for SRW through Dec. 26, 2019, are 6 percent less than 2018/19. This difference relates mainly to increased SRW export prices due to a significant decline in exportable supplies. USDA predicts 2019/20 SRW ending stocks will fall to 3.02 MMT, 30 percent less than 2018/19, if realized. USDA forecasts total SRW exports will fall 22 percent year-over-year to 2.72 MMT. Year-to-date commercial sales of SRW to all destinations make up 77 percent of USDA’s total SRW export estimate. Despite lower production and higher prices, SRW sales to five of the top ten export markets are ahead of last year’s pace. Exports to Mexico, the top destination for SRW, total 641,000 MT, up 2 percent from last year. Sales to Colombia and Nigeria, both top 5 export markets for SRW, are up 38 percent and 20 percent from last year, respectively. Imports by Brazil are also running at a faster pace so far this marketing year.

White Wheat (Soft and Hard2)

USDA predicts “white wheat” exports (which includes 99.7 percent soft white) will fall 3 percent in 2019/20 to 5.20 MMT. As of Dec. 26, 2019, export sales of white wheat at 3.77 MMT are 8 percent behind last year’s pace and make up 73 percent of USDA’s final export estimate. The sales pace on the same date for four of the five top white wheat export markets is less than last year. According to industry experts, routine demand from these top markets is lagging in part because some importers believed FOB prices were too high throughout the first half of 2019/20. Some price sensitive buyers in Southeast Asia were focused on relatively low-cost Black Sea supplies. However, export sales to the Philippines, the top market for white wheat, are 9 percent ahead of last year’s pace at 1.0 MMT. USW believes routine demand from top buyers may pick up again in the second half of 2019/20 as Black Sea exportable supplies dwindle before harvest and U.S. white wheat prices grow more competitive with the shortage of Australian white classes.

2USDA sales reports combine SW and hard white (HW) export sales.

Durum

Year-to-date U.S. durum exports total 790,000 MT, which is significantly ahead of the same time last year. Despite significantly lower production, between October and November 2019 USDA increased its 2019/20 U.S. durum export forecast by 40 percent from 680,000 MT to 950,000 MT. Italy and other European Union (EU) countries are significant U.S. durum importers. Demand appears to be up in 2019/20 because EU durum production was 12 percent less than last year. As of Dec. 26, 2019, U.S. durum exports to Italy are more than double last year’s pace at 462,000 MT.

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By USW President Vince Peterson

Recently, I have heard several of the farmers that U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) represents say they are hoping for a much better year in 2020. No wonder, given the low farmgate prices, trade uncertainty and difficult harvest conditions last year. A better year would be good for our farmers and for our overseas customers, too, who want farmers to have the incentive to continue producing a reliable supply of high-quality U.S. wheat.

From the perspective of global supply, demand and trade factors, we do see mostly positive influences hovering just out in front of us as we start the new year. After a long-term bear market that pulled Chicago wheat futures down from $9.50 in 2012 to a bottom of nearly $3.50, recent firmness in prices represents possible change and momentum on the horizon.

To highlight the primary market factors, we can start with a look at the Southern Hemisphere. Australia remains in the grips of drought that has reduced this year’s harvest outlook by 35 percent below their 10-year average. Australian wheat export prices are currently among the world’s highest at around $265 per metric ton (MT) FOB. In Argentina, the newly elected government has increased export taxes again for wheat from 7 percent to 12 percent (soybean export taxes were raised by 30 percent!). The bump in wheat export taxes raises FOB prices by more than $10 per MT, allegedly to protect domestic producer prices. That is not good for their importing customers, particularly for Brazil. However, after more than a dozen years of negotiations, Brazil on January 1 opened its 750,000 MT duty free tariff rate quota (TRQ), potentially advancing wheat import demand from outside Mercosur. When Mercosur wheat supplies have been tight, U.S. farmers have supplied an average of 80 percent of Brazil’s non-Mercosur needs.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Russian wheat export expectations have been reduced based on lower domestic supplies and prices for their standard 12.5 percent protein wheat (calculated on a dry matter basis and is most closely comparable to U.S. HRW 11 protein calculated on a 12 percent moisture basis). Russian FOB export prices are now around $219 per MT, with U.S. hard red winter (HRW) 11 percent at approximately $222 FOB from the Gulf. Long gone are the $40 to $50 per MT FOB discount spreads that have disrupted what would be normal logistical trade patterns in some recent years.

In its December “Wheat Outlook” report, USDA noted that cuts in wheat production in Argentina, Australia and Canada create potential opportunities for U.S. wheat exports in marketing year 2019/20.

In trade, despite the uncertain slog of negotiations, the United States has completed trade deals with Mexico through the finalization of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (the new NAFTA) and through an initial bilateral agreement on agriculture with Japan. U.S. wheat export shipments to Mexico in marketing year 2019/20 already stand at 2.74 million metric tons (MMT) versus sales at the same date last year of 2.18 MMT. Together, Mexico and Japan account for more than 4.0 MMT and 25 percent of all U.S. wheat export sales to date.

Finally, trade negotiations with China, which have been perhaps the biggest weight on U.S. wheat market fundamentals and psychology, appear to be at a more hopeful position. This week, President Trump announced that the U.S. and China will sign a so-called Phase One deal on January 15. Based on information provided by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, China has agreed under the Phase One agreement to cancel retaliatory tariffs and import significantly more U.S. agricultural products, including wheat. Running parallel to this potential demand, China has also agreed to start filling its annual 9.6 MMT reduced tariff TRQ for imported wheat. In the five years before the start of the U.S.-China trade “war” in 2018, U.S. wheat exports to China averaged 1.5 MMT per year. That provides a logical basis for a more robust world and U.S. wheat trade with China.

Over the last five years or so, U.S. wheat producers have shouldered many challenges and continued to produce the highest quality, most wholesome milling wheat in the world, as they have done for decades. We do not yet know if these positive shifts in market and trade factors will provide the economic boost they need. But in that hope, our team at USW will be watching how they affect the markets – and how that will affect our overseas customers.

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By Matthew Weaver. Reprinted with permission from Capital Press, www.capitalpress.com, Dec. 2, 2019

[Editor’s Note: The locks and dams on the Columbia-Snake River System are an essential infrastructure for the efficient transportation of U.S. wheat from the interior to vital export elevators serving buyers in Asia and Latin America. This article examines the effort to tell the complete story of how the river system serves a broad range of people and interests. On behalf of the farmers we represent and their export customers, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) strongly supports keeping the system, in its present form, whole.]

Northwest agricultural transportation advocates are backing a new advertising campaign to combat environmentalists’ “simplistic messages” about removing four dams on the Snake River.

“Snake River Faces,” sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, tells the story of several people who have personal connections to the river, including a wheat farmer, a family winery and a port director who welcomes commercial tour boats and kayaks on the river in her free time.

Environmental groups have for years called for the removal of the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams, citing their impacts on federally protected salmon and, more recently, orcas.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and lack of understanding about the river and all of the different, amazing things it delivers to our region and to the nation,” said Kristin Meira, executive director of the association.

Ads are running in magazines throughout Washington state and on Facebook.

Meira said the campaign will run through early January.

The abundance of misinformation is “really unfortunate,” she said.

“It ends up doing a disservice to the very species we’re all interested in helping, whether it’s salmon or orca,” she said. “The idea you can do one action in one area and have those species recover is unfortunately just not how it works. But unfortunately, those very simplistic messages are being delivered all around the region, including to our decision makers.”

The association relies on information from federal agencies, particularly NOAA Fisheries, on species recovery and to highlight the impact of the dams.

Meira said a colleague put out a call for information about the number of jobs the dams provide over the summer.

d Pacific Northwest wheat farmers like Marci Green of Fairfield, Wash., rely on the Columbia-Snake River System and its locks and dams to efficiently move wheat to export elevators.

Fairfield, Wash., wheat farmer Marci Green is featured in the campaign.

“Just like every farmer in Eastern Washington, most of our wheat is exported,” Green said. “The most fuel-efficient and cost-effective way for us to get our crops to the ports in Portland and Vancouver is by truck and barge on the Snake and Columbia River.”

Barges using locks at the Snake River dams move nearly 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports to international markets most years.

“Anything we can do as the agricultural industry to get the word out and communicate why the river system is important to our industry and to the economy of the whole state and the Pacific Northwest, we need to do,” Green said.

The association also asks residents to provide comments to an online questionnaire offered by consultants hired by the office of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to gather and summarize the effects of retaining or removing the four dams. Responses will go into a report to Inslee.

Meira said it’s too early to tell whether efforts to combat the misinformation are making a dent.

“We’re hopeful these will be eye-opening pieces that will help better connect people to parts of the region where they may have heard a little bit, but don’t really understand (or) don’t know the connection that all of us have,” she said.

Green hopes to get the public to consider science and not respond solely to emotion. She isn’t sure how to measure the effectiveness of agriculture’s messaging.

“I have to hope that we’re making some kind of an impact,” she said. “It’s one of those things that always comes up, it’s one of those issues that we are constantly up against. I don’t see the issue going away any time soon. It’s going to take a lot of perseverance and telling our side of the story over and over and over again.”

For more information, visit: “Faces of the Snake River” at https://www.snakeriverfaces.com/; and “Riding with the Wheat on Its Way to Export” at https://bit.ly/2BrZ1BY.

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Three and a half months into marketing year 2019/20, total U.S. export sales* as of Oct. 15 of 13.8 million metric tons (MMT), 14 percent ahead of last year’s pace. Sales to four of the top 10 U.S. wheat customers are ahead of last year’s pace. Export sales to Mexico, the top U.S. customer over a five-year period, are up 50 percent year-over-year at 2.09 MMT. Sales to Nigeria total 936,000 metric tons (MT), up sharply from the 569,000 MT sold this time last year. All U.S. wheat classes except hard red spring (HRS) and white wheat are ahead of last year’s pace. USDA projects 2019/20 U.S. wheat exports will rise to 25.9 MMT. If realized, this would be 1 percent higher than 2018/19.

HRW. USDA reported hard red winter (HRW) year-to-date exports at 5.13 MMT, 52 percent ahead of the 2018/19 HRW sales pace on the same date. Mexico is currently the number one HRW purchaser and HRW sales to Mexico are 54 percent ahead of last year’s pace. As of Oct. 10, HRW sales to Mexico totaled 1.27 MMT. Sales to Nigeria are more than double last year’s pace at 567,000 MT. Japanese HRW purchases total 488,000 MT, up 7 percent from 2018/19.

SRW. 2019/20 soft red winter (SRW) sales are up 14 percent year-over-year at 1.72 MMT. Sales to 4 out of 5 of the top buyers of U.S. SRW are ahead of last year’s pace. Year-to-date, Mexico has purchased 550,000 MT, 15 percent more than last year. Nigerian SRW purchases total 142,000 MT, 50 percent ahead of last year’s pace. Sales to other Latin American countries, including Trinidad and Tobago and Panama are also ahead of 2018/19 exports.

HRS sales of 3.77 MMT are only 1 percent behind the last year’s pace. As of Oct. 10, buyers in Taiwan purchased 353,000 MT, up 5 percent from 2018/19. Taiwan is the third-largest buyer of HRS. Sales to South Korea, the fourth-largest buyer of HRS, are up 10 percent from last year at 294,000 MT. Year-to-date sales to Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia, are behind last year’s pace. This time last year, there were no HRS sales to China. So far in 2019/20, the U.S. has sold 63,000 MT of HRS to China.

White. As of Oct. 11, exports of all white wheat (including soft white and hard white) are down 14 percent year-over-year at 2.62 MMT. Sales to 4 out of the top 5 customers of U.S. white wheat are down from last year. Sales to the Philippines, the largest customer of soft white (SW) wheat, are down 6 percent from 2018/19 at 660,000 MT.  SW food aid donations to Yemen are up 79 percent from this time last year at 231,000 MT. Minimal access to the Chinese market is also impacting SW sales. In 2017/18, China had purchased 271,000 MT of SW by this date.

It should be noted that the white sales to Nigeria of 123,000 MT are hard white (HW). USDA does not differentiate between the 2 classes on the Export Sales Report. HW sales to Nigeria in 2019/20 are 9 percent ahead of last year’s pace.

Durum. Year-to-date durum exports total 497,000 MT, up 59 percent from the same time last year. To date, the European Union (EU), Algeria and Nigeria are the top durum buyers. Year-to-date sales to the EU total 269,000 MT (9.88 million bushels), more than double last year’s pace. Italy is the top durum buyer in the EU. U.S. durum sales to Italy are up 165 percent from last year at 248,000 MT. Increased sales to the EU more than offset decreased sales to Algeria and Nigeria. Algerian durum sales are down 30 percent from last year at 45,000 MT and Nigerian durum sales are down 58 percent from 2018/19 at 28,000 MT. There is also a significant portion of these 2019/20 durum sales currently designated as “sales to unknown destinations.”

*U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) publishes a new Commercial Sales report every Thursday documenting wheat export sales-to-date by country and class for the current marketing year compared to the previous marketing year on the same date. The report also includes a 10-year commercial sales history by class and country. Data is sourced from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Weekly Export Sales Report.

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By Michael Anderson, Assistant Director, USW West Coast Office

This river in general is very handsome, except at the rapid, where it is risking both life and property to pass.” – From the Journal of Sgt. Patrick Gass, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

It is 3:00 on a brisk and overcast Tuesday afternoon, the sun is already low in the sky. I am sitting in the galley of a tugboat — state of the art I am told. With five staterooms, a kitchen, washer/dryer and even a weight room, the tug has all the amenities any crew would need. There is some tension on board, with a hurry-up-and-wait attitude, when the phone finally rings. The deck mechanic answers, the barge we are waiting on is finally loaded with 1,500 metric tons (MT) of soft white wheat. The motor hums to life and we start moving, slowly, toward the grain elevator. It is growing dark as two grain barges are tethered together and we start down river from Lewiston, Idaho, headed to Portland, Ore. It will be a two-and-a-half-day journey first down the Snake River, connecting to the Columbia River and finally to the Willamette River, to reach our Portland export elevator destinations, about 360 miles in all.

Michael Anderson (front left) with the crew of the tugboat crew.

We are following the same route that Lewis and Clark took as the “Corps of Discovery” traveled west. The rivers were different in 1805, untamed by today’s intricate system of dams and locks. The eight dams that we will pass through have made it possible to harness the rivers into a major artery carrying U.S. wheat bound for export from farm to port.

The boat rocks side to side on my first night. It is comfortable but the unfamiliar feeling makes it hard to settle in. Suddenly the boat lurches and the light outside gets brighter. From the deck the first lock, Lower Granite, comes into view. Two spot lights illuminate our way as we creep up to the lock. Slowly we approach the brightly lit lock and are guided in along a long concrete wall. The force of the shallow water beneath us is the only thing that keeps the tug and barges moving forward. With inches to spare on either side we have entered the lock. Behind the boat a gate rises from underneath the water; it is three feet or so above the surface when suddenly the gate stops rising and our boat starts sinking below the surface. It is a rapid movement, but it goes on for a long time. The water mark gets higher above us as we literally sink below the surface, protected by thick concrete walls. Finally, we stop moving. We are now 100 feet below the level at which we entered the lock. I walk to the front of the boat just in time to see the gates in front, towering above us, start to open revealing the river ahead, and slowly we make our way out of the lock and down the river.

Being a crew member aboard a tug, your day is not a simple “9-to-5” or even 24 hours for that matter. With one crew on and one crew off, the day is broken into shifts of six hours each, from 12 to 6 and 6 to 12. The environment shared by the crew is family like, cooking meals together and watching TV. Only the person driving the boat, the captain or the pilot, is constantly on watch. The deck mechanics jump into action when the boat enters a lock or when we pick up another barge, and this journey is a four-barge tow, meaning four barges being pushed by one tugboat.

From the bridge the captain has a sweeping view on all sides and plenty of sophisticated equipment helps him navigate even when we are surrounded by fog, which in the Pacific Northwest is common. Another lock is just ahead. The boat only moves about nine miles per hour. With precision we fit into the lock, again with just a foot on each side to separate us from the massive concrete walls. Unlike the lock last night, this lock is too short to fit the whole tow in at once but that is nothing out of the ordinary for this crew. Once the barges are tethered in place, the captain skillfully maneuvers the tugboat like a game of Tetris into a tiny space giving the back of the boat just enough room for the lock keeper to close us in. Again, a large iron gate rises from the water behind us and like an elevator we start moving down inch by inch. In front is what looks like a massive garage door. The lock opens revealing the next stretch of the river ahead.

The mechanics of the lock are simple: we are moving down river with the flow of the water so when we enter a lock it is full of water. The lock is sealed behind us and a valve is released to allow the water around us to rush out of the lock. The tow itself is being moved to the same level as the river we are moving down. Once the tow is at the same level as the water outside the lock, the valve is closed and we wait for the massive concrete door ahead of us to open so the tow can move out. For ships going up river, against the flow, it is a similar procedure but instead of the valve releasing water, the valve fills the lock. It takes about 30 minutes to pass through each lock.

The Columbia Snake River System is a super highway of sorts for moving wheat and other agricultural products from farm to market. The rivers move 53% of all U.S. wheat bound for export. The ability to move such a large volume of grain efficiently makes the river system a very cost-effective and “green” logistical option. The lock system is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers; its history goes back to the 1930’s when President Franklin Roosevelt personally inaugurated Bonneville, the first of the eight dams and locks east of Portland.

After about 60 hours on board the tugboat, we arrive in Vancouver, Wash., on the north bank of the Columbia River. We drop two of the barges at an export elevator and proceed west again, up the north-flowing Willamette River that bisects Portland. It is my third river in a week and we are taking the final barge to an export elevator just across the river from the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) West Coast Office. There is a vessel at berth waiting for the wheat we have been carrying. The crew drops the barge, and me, at the elevator. I walk up a set of metal stairs connected to a hoist and hop off, touching land for the first time since Tuesday. I walk across the river on Portland’s Steel Bridge, under which the wheat from our tow will pass on its way overseas, to my office.

Michael Anderson grew up in Texas and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Baylor University and a master’s degree in International Agriculture from Oklahoma State University. In the Peace Corps, he served in Armenia and with the Carter Center served as a technical advisor for the Guinea Worm Eradication Program with the South Sudan Ministry of Health. Anderson served as a trade intern with the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington D.C. Before joining USW in July 2018, he was International Marketing Program Coordinator for Food Export Association of the Northeast, which like USW is a member of the public-private partnership with USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) export market development programs.