By Gordon Stoner, President of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and a wheat farmer from Outlook, Mont. This op-ed first appeared in “The Hill.”

The United States is known for producing the highest quality wheat in the world, yet when U.S. farmers market their wheat at a Canadian elevator, it is automatically labeled as “foreign wheat” and given the lowest possible grade (a way to measure grain quality). Cross-border wheat faces major hurdles in Canadian marketing channels, primarily due to the country’s grain grading system. Conversely, Canadian wheat has full access to the U.S. bulk grain handling system. U.S. wheat farmers should be treated the same when delivering to Canadian grain elevators as their neighbors to the north are when delivering to U.S. elevators. The modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a ripe opportunity to level the playing field.

I grow hard amber durum wheat primarily used in pasta production. This high-quality wheat class is valued for its premium protein and gluten strength, within 10 miles of the Canadian border. When prices are higher in Canada, it would not be difficult for me to take advantage of those price premiums and drive across the border to deliver my wheat. But until this grading issue is resolved, that is not an option. My neighbors just on the other side of the border do not have this problem; if prices are higher at a U.S. elevator, they can easily drive south to deliver their wheat. This kind of disparity is frustrating for farmers in Northern Tier states, especially given declining wheat prices and thin profit margins in recent years.

Canada’s grain policies require all wheat not grown domestically to be segregated and classified as “foreign grain” and therefore automatically demoted to “general purpose” or feed wheat. Canada’s grading system even discriminates against wheat grown in the United States that is identical to varieties of wheat approved for planting in Canada (Canada regulates the varieties of wheat plants that can be graded, unlike the United States, where we only grade based on the intrinsic properties of the grain). Such classification results in a substantial price discount regardless of the quality of the wheat, and segregation costs provide little incentive for elevators to handle U.S. wheat of equal or better quality.

An updated NAFTA should remove Canada’s discriminatory grading treatment. All U.S. wheat moving into Canada should be evaluated on quality parameters without regard to country of origin. Canada’s policies are clearly national treatment issues, which Canada has a current obligation to resolve under its World Trade Organization commitments. However, NAFTA can also be the vehicle to fix the grading issue. Canada’s grain policies deprive U.S. wheat farmers near the border of significant marketing opportunities, while millions of bushels of Canadian wheat stream uninterrupted across the border.

Trade agreements have the potential to create a level playing field where individuals, families and companies can make their own decisions about what to buy and sell. The role of trade agreements is to provide that opportunity, and that benefits both U.S. wheat buyers and wheat producers. Industry groups on both side of the border agree that this is an issue that needs to be resolved.


Excerpts reprinted from Agri-Pulse, April 5, 2017

USW shares strong support for more investment in agricultural research with our sister organization, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). NAWG notes that wheat relies on public, private and grower funding for crop innovation. Only 1.6 percent of the $142 billion U.S. federal investment in research is allocated toward agriculture research, according to American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

NAWG adds that the amount of funding dedicated to wheat research has been dwarfed by the funding dedicated to other major crops. So, growing the investment in wheat research over time is critical to achieving the innovation needed to sustainably support a rapidly growing world population.

Several major policy organizations and influential non-governmental organizations also see global benefits to enhanced agricultural research. For example, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently issued a report called “Stability in the 21st Century; Global Food Security for Peace and Prosperity” that calls for increased research investment. The Chicago Council introduced that report, at a Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, DC, covered this week by Agri-Pulse, a news organization reporting on U.S. agricultural policy.

At the symposium, Nick Austin, the director of agricultural development for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, called for the United States and other developed countries need to continue to support agricultural research if farmers are to meet the demand for food from a burgeoning world population.

“We need to feed more with less,” Nick Austin told Agri-Pulse. “I’d like to look at the glass half-full scenario, with ag research leading to improved conditions, especially for small-holder farmers, many of which are women.”

He cited research by the Farm Journal Foundation which found that the high-yielding wheat and rice varieties developed by the Green Revolution during the 1970s led to “substantial growth” in Asian and Latin American agriculture. Those same varieties were used successfully in the United States and added $3.7 billion in value to the U.S. economy by 1996, “an astonishing return to taxpayers on the $134 million investment,” Austin said.

During the Chicago Council symposium, speakers discussed how agriculture must adapt to a number of challenges, including climate change, which is bringing increased temperatures, erratic rainfall, flooding and increased pests and disease. At the same time, Austin said, the world’s farmers need to boost food production by about two-thirds to feed a global population of more than 9 billion by 2050, up from 7.5 billion at present.

“It is a real challenge, but it can be done,” Austin said, citing several hopeful signs, including projects supported by the Gates Foundation.

The fact is, global demand for wheat is on a steadily increasing trend and today’s surplus can quickly become tomorrow’s shortage. U.S. farmers are doing their part to increase average yields through direct support for wheat breeding and research through state wheat commission support and in partnership with land grant universities. With the cost and stakes increasing, Austin stressed that governments need to contribute to the effort, not only to help the poor, but for their own benefit, given the “high rate of return” from investments in ag research.


Wheat farmers came together in the nation’s capital last week to participate in joint meetings between the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). These industry leaders discussed many issues facing wheat farmers and many of them visited their members of Congress to share long-term goals for the future of the crop and their farm livelihood.

Official business was called to order Tuesday, Jan. 31, and continued through Thursday, Feb. 2. USW and NAWG directors first met in joint committee meetings to learn more about plant breeding innovation and international trade policies that affect wheat farmers. USW’s individual committees also met, focusing on long-range planning, sanitary and phytosanitary issues affecting wheat trade, reports on hard white (HW) wheat production and export demand, and issues related to wheat quality.

An important topic at these meetings was the long-term status of the public-private partnership between the federal government and farmers supporting export market development activities. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service administers two programs that fund trade service, technical support and other activities that educate overseas customers about the value of U.S. agricultural products like wheat. The Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) have specific budgets that have not changed substantially since 2002; however, mandated cuts the past few years and inflation have reduced the effective value of the program budgets. Meanwhile, farmer contributions have increased.

USW, as a member of coalitions that advocate for MAP and FMD, explained to the farmer directors that more program funding is needed to continue serving our long-term customers and to introduce U.S. wheat quality and value to new customers.

“With new technology and farmers becoming more efficient, we are growing more and more wheat, even on less planted area,” said USW Chairman Jason Scott of Easton, MD. “But domestic consumption cannot keep pace with the production so the growing demand for wheat is overseas in the large population centers with rising disposable incomes.”

Scott said wheat growers need to join other farmers, ranchers and small agricultural businesses to voice support for increased MAP and FMD funding in the next Farm Bill to keep competing on an even playing field in the global market.

In other action, the USW board approved the organizations annual budget and elected the new 2017/18 board leadership for the upcoming fiscal year.


By Dalton Henry, USW Vice President of Policy

The two joint farmer committees of USW and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) met last week in Fargo, ND, for a policy update and to consider key issues facing the wheat industry. The joint committees were created more than a decade ago to enable and ensure close collaboration between the two organizations on policy priorities in trade and technology.

The Joint Biotechnology Committee, which has broadened its agenda to include a number of technologies, heard updates from private breeding companies on non-GM products they are rolling out to growers. Many of these companies are working to help increase efficiency and drive additional productivity. Two major updates included the continual development of hybrid wheat and products to produce better seeding rate recommendations.

The committee also heard from a researcher from Cibus, a company that has a process for producing gene-edited plants that do not contain any foreign DNA, but can yield substantial improvements for both growers and end-users. Recently they have focused on flax and canola, but according to the speaker, while they do not any active wheat projects, the technology could be readily applied in the wheat industry.

The Joint International Trade Committee considered a range of updates on several priority trade issues for the wheat industry including foreign country domestic support, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and possible future negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Staff presented additional detail about the domestic support study that was released earlier this spring. The study focused on wheat support policies in China and their impact on U.S. producers and producers in other exporting countries. In the U.S., the total farm gate losses are now estimated at $653 million, an increase of about $100 million from over a year ago, caused by the continued decline of world wheat prices amid burgeoning Chinese wheat stocks.

NAWG staff discussed TPP and possible windows for Congressional consideration this calendar year. Staff were confident that the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office has been working closely and making progress with Congressional leadership to prepare for eventual introduction of the legislative text ratifying TPP, even though the negative rhetoric on trade has increased dramatically from many political candidates during the U.S. election season. TPP would lower tariffs and import restrictions on wheat to the benefit of U.S. wheat farmers and their customers overseas.

Committee members also briefly discussed the current negotiating status at the WTO. Though negotiations on agricultural market access have been largely stalled for some time, progress is being made in other sectors including services and environmental goods. Progress in these other areas may provide a template for future agricultural negotiations. The next WTO ministerial, the most likely target for an attempt at agreement on some portion of unresolved issues, will be in December 2018. The WTO remains a key body for liberalizing trade and ensuring a rules-based trading system exists.


By Josh Tonsager, Legislative Director, National Association of Wheat Growers

Congressional action this year on policy priorities important to wheat farmers has taken some unexpected turns and the outlook for the legislative process is unclear. By now, this should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following Congress the past several years. What should come as a surprise, though, is just how well critical programs for the wheat industry have fared thus far through the process Congress uses to appropriate federal funds.

Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have reported their respective versions of the FY 2017 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which funds the operations of USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), in conjunction with the National Wheat Improvement Committee, advocated for a funding increase for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, which helps fund research intended to combat fusarium head blight. While the current Farm Bill authorizes up to $10 million per year for the program, actual funding has only been $6.7 million annually. Our organizations advocated for full funding, and we are pleased that both the House and Senate bills included an increase of $2 million. This is a significant step forward in the fight against a very costly wheat disease. This funding requires full House and Senate membership debate and approval, which could occur in June.

In addition to the Agriculture spending bill, NAWG is actively supporting transportation infrastructure investments through a broad coalition called the Ag Transportation Working Group. NAWG is working collaboratively to ensure continued support for inland waterways infrastructure, including the maintenance of our locks, dams and harbors through the FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The Senate approved its version of the bill on a 90-8 vote on May 12. It included the coalition’s request of the full use of funds through the diesel fuel tax (this has sometimes been limited) for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund as well as $3.17 billion for dredging, repairs, and operations to improve our waterways and help hold down basis cost for buyers and sellers.

The House version of the bill also includes full use of revenues available for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and about $3.137 billion for dredging, repairs and operations. The status of the House bill, however, is unclear at this time. On May 26, a vote on passage of the bill failed on the House floor, reportedly because that version included a controversial provision that was unrelated to our priorities.

A healthy wheat production system, combined with an efficient waterway, rail and highway systems and continued funding for USDA/Foreign Agricultural Service export market development programs, are critical for the United States to remain the world’s most reliable supplier. NAWG, with input from USW, will stay engaged in the appropriations process in an effort to secure sufficient federal funding for the programs that ultimately benefit U.S. wheat farmers and their downstream customers at home and abroad.


Excerpts from the National Association of Wheat Growers Newsletter.

The United States has a long-history of advancing wheat quality to satisfy the demand of a growing world market for high quality, wholesome grains that become the ingredients of a sophisticated food industry. The National Wheat Improvement Committee (NWIC) — including public wheat breeders, farmers and industry stakeholders — serves a vital role by providing farmers with high quality seed stock so that the United States can produce superior quality wheats demanded by domestic and overseas markets. Unfortunately, wheat research funding relative to the economic viability of U.S. wheat is inadequate

“In many cases, due to the strong dollar, these quality wheats now garner a substantial premium, reflecting their intrinsic end-use functional value,” said USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director Steve Wirsching. “To maintain our competitive advantage in the area of quality, U.S. farmers need new breeding technology that will require continued investment from both public and private sector stakeholders.”

To sustain the research needed to improve U.S. wheat’s position in foreign markets, the NWIC has determined that Congress needs to provide $3.4 million more every year in research funds. As a part of its educational activities, the NWIC brought 21 wheat breeders and stakeholders to Washington, DC, March 15.

Armed with a priority list of critical research appropriation requests, NWIC members made their case with key contacts in USDA and Congress. Their requests included full funding for the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative and next-generation genotyping, which will facilitate the application of genomic information and DNA marker technologies for improvement and breeding of wheat, barley and oat varieties.“It is crucial that Congress is aware of the necessity for continued, stable investment in wheat research,” said NWIC Chairman Dr. Paul Murphy, from North Carolina University. “The next decade holds tremendous promise based on emerging technologies that were not possible even five or ten years ago. This is a wonderful time to be a wheat researcher because we are developing technology to improve efficiency, address vulnerabilities such as disease, insect and abiotic stresses, and maintaining the quality of wheat we need to help feed the world.”

The NWIC believes the benefits of increased research investment will cascade from farmers to the world’s millers, bakers, brewers and consumers.

Recently, the USDA has also made a case for agriculture research funding. As reported in Agri-Pulse © on March 16, the leaders of USDA’s research agencies told lawmakers on the House Agriculture Appropriations panel why federal investment in agricultural research is critical to protecting the national food system and supporting American producers. Read the full story from Agri-Pulse here.