By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, West Coast Office

From Nov. 1 to 10, 2019, a team of eight U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representatives crisscrossed the South Pacific covering almost 20,000 miles in ten days to report on the quality of the 2019 U.S. wheat crop. Touching down in three countries, the team met with more than 300 wheat buyers, flour millers and wheat food executives representing a major portion of wheat importers in their markets.

I had the good fortune to participate in my first series of Crop Quality Seminars with USW colleagues, wheat farmers and U.S. wheat industry experts in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Working as Assistant Director in USW’s West Coast Office in Portland, Ore., I get to meet with many overseas trade delegations in the United States and it was interesting to see so many familiar faces in their own countries. My colleagues agreed that it was also valuable to see and taste some of the beautiful pastries, breads, noodles and more end products these customers produce with flour milled from U.S. wheat.

To have this first experience in Southeast Asia was exciting because the region is of tremendous importance to our farmers, accounting for 30 percent of global wheat trade. The Philippines and Thailand are among the top 10 customers for U.S. wheat, with the Philippines ranking second among U.S. wheat importers year-to-date. The entire South Asia region makes up the second largest destination for wheat imports from the United States, totaling 3.28 million metric tons (MMT) so far in marketing year 2019/20.

Reporting on crop quality is USW’s largest trade service activity each year. It starts as soon as harvest starts in the United States. USW partner organizations collect and analyze hundreds of samples from country elevators and USW compiles the data in an annual Crop Quality Report. Seminars like the ones in which I participated are held in dozens of countries where growers, traders, consultants and customers have the unique opportunity to learn about and discuss the functional qualities that year of all six U.S. wheat classes.

Michael Anderson during one of his USW Crop Quality seminar presentations.

For example, participants heard from and were able to ask questions directly of experts like Art Bettge who has participated in several USW seminars since 2014. He is a respected cereal chemistry expert who worked at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Western Wheat Quality Lab in Pullman, Wash., for many years. At the South Asian seminars, Bettge reviewed the value of solvent retention capacity (SRC) analysis to determine end use and baking quality and interpreted SRC data about the 2019 U.S. crop and how growing conditions affected soft white (SW) quality factors.

It was a privilege to be part of the entire team who also covered global and U.S. wheat supply and demand during the seminars. My presentation was focused on helping customers make the most profitable use possible from the weekly USW Price Report, Harvest Reports in season, the weekly Commercial Sales Reports as well as the complete Crop Quality Report and individual quality reports by class that USW and its partners publish.

I also learned quite a bit from my participation. Our industry’s commitment to transparency is demonstrated in the data and seminars on U.S. wheat quality, an activity that has been shared with customers for more than 40 years. I also saw how the opportunity to interact directly with members of the wheat trade, technical specialists, USW staff and growers adds unique value to and separates U.S. wheat from competing supplies.

Now I am looking forward to the next opportunity to share this information with our customers around the world!


Early in 2019, I attended a presentation given by the Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA), Kristin Meira. In the audience were farmers eager to hear how U.S. legislators shared their interests regarding the ongoing navigability of the Columbia Snake River System. Open waterways are a crucial and efficient source for U.S. farmers to export their products to international markets.

The Columbia Snake River System is the leading gateway for wheat exports. The Columbia Rive alone barges 53% of U.S. wheat destined for export. The rivers can move more volume at once, with greater fuel efficiency, making them more effective for moving grain to market than by rail or truck. One barge can carry the same amount as 35 rail cars or 134 18-wheelers. A barge tow can carry more than one 100-unit train or 538 trucks. One barge can move a ton of wheat 647 miles per gallon while a truck can only move a ton of wheat 145 miles per gallon

A Voice for the River System

The PNWA is an active voice in promoting the benefits of keeping the river systems open for navigation. In their own words, the PNWA is a collaboration of ports, businesses, public agencies and individuals who combine their economic and political strength in support of navigation, energy, trade and economic development throughout the Pacific Northwest (PNW). The organization’s history dates back to the projects of the New Deal in 1934. The group, known then as the Inland Empire Waterways Association, petitioned President Roosevelt to fund a navigation lock along the Columbia River just east of Portland, Ore.

Since then, the PNWA has been a leader in securing Congressional authorization for the necessary funds to build another seven locks and dams along both the Snake and Columbia River. The PNWA also works hard to maintain and improve navigability. They advocate for deepening the draft and improving the jetties that allow safe passage into the Columbia River.

Conflicting Interests

The importance of the river system is not lost on the farming community. However, balancing the interests of environmental groups is difficult. Save Our Wild Salmon, an organization with the goal of increasing PNW wild salmon and steelhead populations, advocates for the removal of dams on the Snake River and expanded spillways on the remaining dams. They also want to modernize the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. These changes would include the river’s health as an equal portion of the treaty, which currently only governs energy production and flood management.

Many groups do not place value on the beneficial role that the dams have regarding grain transportation and clean renewable energy. The four dams on the Snake River power up to 800,000 homes while producing zero carbon emissions. Instead, environmental groups focus their argument on enhancing the railroad as a replacement for barge grain transportation. This tactic would take billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades and would not be as efficient or as environmentally friendly

A Necessary Link

The value of the Columbia Snake River System as a transport hub from farm to market is the link necessary to connect the United States to its trading partners. The river system keeps U.S. wheat competitive by moving higher volumes at more efficient prices. The wheat associations that make up the tri-state region of Idaho, Oregon and Washington all support, through their PNWA membership and resolutions,  the ongoing navigability of the rivers system. There will continue to be controversy surrounding the river system and the rich ecosystem that they sustain. The shared interest between farmers, sportsmen, environmentalists, scientists and commerce are diverse. An organization like PNWA, which has spent more than 80 years advocating for an open river system, is the key to keeping it open for decades to come.

By Michael Anderson, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Assistant Director, West Coast Office