By Emily McGarry, USW Policy Intern

Bob Johns farms in northeast Oregon, and he would tell you that he’s been farming since the day he was born. Johns’ 5,000-acre farm has been in the family since 1873, but he is ready to retire soon. Since there is no family to take over, he is handing the reins to his business partner, Chris Williams, a long-time family friend who began working summers for Johns when he was in high school.

“I have been around agricultural stuff my whole life,” said Williams. “I am fascinated with starting with a bare piece of ground, seeing what you can grow and watching it progress through the season.”

Together, Johns and Williams grow wheat, green peas and alfalfa. They make sustainability a priority on the farm through no-till practices, clean water programs and new farming technology.

“Farming is my life and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do — I never thought of doing anything else,” said Johns. “My father’s life was farming and he passed that on to me. I hope to pass it on to my business partner, Chris.”

Johns is the fifth of six U.S. wheat farmers featured in USW’s series on wheat sustainability. He manages regional agricultural nuances by adapting his practices to be sustainable for his region’s soil and environmental conditions. Part of that also includes planning for the future and a non-traditional transition so that his farm business is still successful for years to come.

“Chris loves the land,” said Johns. “He keeps me on the cutting edge and pushes me to look at the latest technology. We are a good team.”

Northeast Oregon is known for its extremely steep farmland, which often requires special equipment and makes soil erosion a challenge. Johns sees wide variation in his soil quality and the amount of rainfall on his farm, so individual fields often require different levels of attention and inputs. In the past, steep slopes on his farm caused erosion. However, in 2011, Johns switched to no-till practices, which has cut his erosion to nearly zero and greatly improved soil health.

In order to protect the region’s natural resources, Johns and Williams also had their farm certified as “salmon-safe,” which means they restrict the products they use on their land that is near water sources. They also grow plants in those areas that increase the biodiversity on their farm and promote beneficial insects and wildlife.

“We value the environment and we value what we’re doing on the ground,” said Johns. “It’s important to us; we don’t just go out without thinking about those things.”

For Johns, this means finding ways to improve practices through new technology and innovation. Last year, Johns and Williams started experimenting with a drone on their farm to see if aerial photos of their fields could give them insight on crop health and stress levels, soil fertility and input requirements.

Johns and Williams are constantly finding new ways to improve the sustainability of their farm, whether through certification opportunities, government programs, or new technology and practices. But the piece that is most important is the plan for transition. Because Johns partnered with Williams, he knows that his farm will be in good hands when he retires — with someone who loves the land as much as he does.

Learn more about John’s and Williams’ farming partnership at U.S. farmers, ranchers, fishermen and foresters also share their values, sustainability experiences and conservation practices at the U.S. Sustainability Alliance.


By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Policy Specialist

In 2016, Field to Market published its third National Indicators Report that assessed sustainability metrics in U.S. agriculture and looked at production of each crop on a national scale. Based on its environmental indicators, the report showed that wheat production has continued to improve, with particular progress in reducing soil erosion, over the past 25 years. The assessment results reflect yield improvements in wheat and demonstrate how farmers have adopted conservation practices. Reports like this help quantify sustainability and production improvement over time.

Assessing wheat sustainability on a national scale is difficult, however, because of the highly regional nature of its production. There are six U.S. wheat classes, grown in distinct regions and local micro-climates. Aggregate measures of sustainability are important, but they fail to capture the nuances of a crop that is grown across many different climates, soil types and farm environments.

To capture some of those nuances, USW has developed a series of farmer profiles that highlight regional sustainability in U.S. wheat production. Featuring farmers that grow a specific U.S. wheat class, the profiles highlight their practices, dedication to sustainability and unique growing conditions. They illustrate that while no two farmers are the same, they share a dedication to protecting their land for the next generation and a commitment to responsible stewardship.

The profiles include:

We encourage our customers and stakeholders to read the profiles at There is also more information about how U.S. farmers, ranchers, fishermen and foresters share their values, sustainability experiences and conservation practices online at The U.S. Sustainability Alliance.


By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst

U.S. farmers made critical decisions last fall while they had bins full of wheat from record-breaking yields with prices near ten-year lows. Therefore, it is no surprise that many farmers chose to decrease their winter wheat planted area. USDA’s 2017/18 winter wheat seeding report released Jan. 12 reported U.S. farmers planted the second lowest number of winter whea­­t acres on record and 10 percent fewer acres than 2016/17. USDA estimated U.S. farmers planted 32.4 million acres (13.1 million hectares) of winter wheat with reductions for all three classes of winter wheat — HRW, soft red winter (SRW) and white winter wheat.

USDA assessed HRW planted area at 23.3 million acres (9.43 million hectares), down 12 percent from 2016. Planted area in Kansas, the number one U.S. HRW-producing state at 7.40 million acres (3.00 million hectares), is down 13 percent from 2016 and 20 percent below the 5-year average. Nebraska farmers planted a new record low area to winter ­­wheat of just 1.09 million acres (441,000 hectares), 25 percent below the 5-year average.

Total SRW planted area of 5.68 million acres (2.30 million hectares) fell 6 percent from 2016. Increases in Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina were not enough to offset decreases in most of the other SRW-producing states, including a 16 percent decline in Ohio, the number one producer of U.S. SRW in 2016/17. USDA believes Ohio farmers planted 490,000 acres (198,000 hectares) of SRW, 15 percent below the 5-year average.

White winter wheat planted area decreased to 3.37 million acres (1.36 million hectares), down 4 percent from 2016/17. Exportable soft white wheat supplies are concentrated in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Planted area in Idaho and Oregon fell 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Idaho farmers planted 730,000 acres (295,000 hectares) compared to 760,000 acres (308,000 hectares) in 2015/16 and 2016/17. Planted area in Oregon dropped 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) from 2016/17 to 700,000 acres (283,000 hectares), while planted area in Washington remained stable year over year at 1.70 million acres (688,000 hectares).

Durum planting in the Southwestern United States is estimated at 140,000 acres (56,700 hectares), down 8 percent from 2016/17 and 38 percent below 2015/16. According to USDA, planting is well underway in Arizona at 22 percent complete, up 8 percentage points from the same date last year. Delays from wet conditions are slowing progress in California. Arizona and California plant durum from December through January for harvest in May through July.

With the decrease in planted area in the United States, customers should pay close attention to weather maps and consider purchasing farther out to protect themselves from supply shocks.