For 40 years, U.S. wheat farmers have supported U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) efforts to work directly with buyers and promote their six classes of wheat. Their contributions to state wheat commissions, who in turn contribute a portion of those funds to USW, qualifies USW to apply for export market development funds managed by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Currently, 17 state wheat commissions are USW members and this series highlights those partnerships and the work being done state-by-state to provide unmatched service. Behind the world’s most reliable supply of wheat are the world’s most dependable people – and that includes our state wheat commissions.

Member: Idaho Wheat Commission
Member of USW since 1980

Location: Boise, Idaho
Classes of wheat grown: Hard Red Winter (HRW), Hard Red Spring (HRS), Hard White (HW), Soft White (SW), Durum
USW Leadership: Boyd Schwieder, 2005/06 Chairman; Jim McDonald, 2002/03 Chairman; Jerry Kress, 1998/99 Chairman; Dallin Reese, 1987/88 Chairman

Wheat is grown in 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties and ranks as the state’s second largest crop, behind potatoes. About half of Idaho’s crop goes to domestic mills and the other half is exported, primarily through Pacific Northwest (PNW) ports to Asian and Latin American customers. Idaho typically ranks in the top seven U.S. states for wheat production. An average of 1.2 million acres of wheat is planted each year and yields per acre are among the highest in the nation.

IWC Commissioner and wheat farmer Clark Hamilton was a member of the 2016 USW Board team that traveled to Japan and Korea.

Why is export market development important to Idaho wheat farmers and why do they continue to support USW and its activities?

Idaho exports about half of its wheat, but strong global demand contributes to the profitability of all Idaho growers by increasing farmgate wheat prices. Through its partnership with USW, the Idaho Wheat Commission (IWC) leverages the market intelligence and valuable customer relationships established around the world, in order to find new markets and sustain demand in established markets. USW programs bring the customers and growers together, facilitating a personal connection that is key to the continued success of the Idaho and U.S. wheat industries. We are grateful to USW for the work their team does to develop and maintain relationships for our growers with buyers in other countries and we wish for many more prosperous years to come.

IWC Commissioner and wheat farmer Joe Anderson (second from left) participated on the 2019 USW South Asia Board Team trip to the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia.

How have Idaho wheat farmers recently connected with overseas customers?

Idaho hosts multiple international trade delegations each year from many different countries. Participants follow the entire supply chain to see how wheat gets from the ground to its destination in the mill. These customers visit quality control labs and wheat breeding programs, visit farms and see how growers take care to produce high-quality wheat and then go on to visit the local grain handlers who move the wheat by rail, barge and container. Idaho is unique in that it has an inland “ocean port.” At the Lewis-Clark Terminal in Lewiston, Idaho, wheat is loaded onto barges that travel down the Columbia-Snake River System to the export facilities near Portland, Ore.

Additionally, IWC commissioners and staff regularly participate in events overseas. Recently, for example, Commissioner Clark Hamilton joined Idaho Governor Brad Little in a goodwill mission to Taiwan, a country with which IWC has a long and fruitful relationship. Commissioner Bill Flory also visited Japan with USW to meet with longtime friends of IWC and major buyers of SW, HRS and HRW wheat.

With the current travel restrictions, IWC is working to connect virtually with customers through USW online programs.

IWC Commissioner Bill Flory hosted the 2019 Philippine Trade Team on his farm.

What is happening lately in Idaho that overseas customers should know about?

  • Wheat growers in Idaho are diligently tending to their crops and working like any other year, despite the global pandemic. Favorable weather throughout the growing season has the crop in excellent condition just a few weeks from the start of harvest. The transportation system is running smoothly, and customers can expect mostly normal operations. The Columbia-Snake River System is critical for reliably and affordably shipping grains from the PNW to overseas markets.
  • Our new executive director, Casey Chumrau, has extensive international wheat marketing experience gained as a marketing manager for USW’s South American region, based in Santiago, Chile, and as a USW market analyst.*
  • IWC invests one-third of its annual budget into research that will help Idaho growers produce high-quality wheat that customers demand. Research ranges from production practices to end-use quality.

Learn more about the Idaho Wheat Commission on its website here and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.

*USW wants to thank Blaine Jacobson, who recently retired after many years as IWC’s executive director, for his dedicated service to wheat farmers and support for export market development.

Longtime IWC Executive Director Blaine Jacobson (L) retired in June 2020 after 18 years of service. He’s show here being congratulated by IWC Chairman Ned Moon.

IWC Commissioner and wheat farmer Jerry Brown represented Idaho at the 2017 USW Crop Quality Seminars in Asia.

IWC Commissioner Clark Hamilton (directly behind photo in white), a farmer from Idaho, participated on the 2018 USW Board Team that traveled to China and Taiwan.

IWC Commissioner and Idaho wheat farmer Bill Flory traveled to Japan with USW to participate in the 2019 Japan Buyers Conference.


Despite the different roles or distances between us, all the people around the world in the story of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) share an unspoken connection, not only through U.S. wheat, but also through our shared values of growth, hard work and family.

Today, those connections may have been physically broken by concern for our health during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the effort to keep those bonds strong continues thanks to the miracle of the Internet.

USW has adapted before to circumstances that kept our representatives apart from overseas customers. Our regional office in Mexico City used online tools to successfully conduct virtual Crop Quality Seminars with Venezuelan customers since 2015.

With forethought that looks uncanny today, USW Director of Information Services Terry Herman in 2019 installed the latest collaboration software from Microsoft that has become a lifeline to customers who initially were very concerned that the pandemic would disrupt the flow of wheat from the United States. USW quickly put the new tool to work to help reassure customers that the U.S. wheat store would stay open.

USW Singapore Biscuit/Bakery and Noodle Technologist Ivan Goh presented a webinar on “SRC as a Quality Control Tool” to a Philippine food company May 21, 2020, one of many such online presentations USW is now conducting to stay in touch with its customers

“It was very important to have the ability to connect personally, even if it was through virtual meetings,” said USW Vice President of Overseas Operations Mike Spier. “With the restrictions and a new wheat crop coming there were lots of questions about supply to answer. I don’t think you can ever replace the value of face-to-face meetings but being able to quickly turn to online tools that allow us to see and hear each other sure helps to reinforce the relationships.”

Using its new platform, for example, USW Manila has conducted an online meeting with more than 50 Philippine flour millers to discuss current supply and demand factors. The tool helped USW reach out to flour millers across Sub-Saharan Africa. USW Santiago is holding almost daily meetings on the platform with customers in several South American countries

In April, USW Singapore worked with a local partner to conduct a two-hour webinar on cookie and cracker production featuring USW Bakery Consultant Roy Chung for 194 baking industry professionals from key U.S. wheat markets including the Philippines and Indonesia. A second webinar to South Asian customers in May focused on cake production. USW Santiago and USW Cape Town also partnered with Kansas Wheat to hold virtual trade teams that featured harvest progress, early crop quality and price expectations, and online video discussions with farmers live from their fields.

These are only a few examples of how USW, with support from its state wheat commission members, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, farmers and other industry organizations, is working to secure the trusted partnerships they have built with overseas customers – even in the midst of such an unexpected disruption.



For 40 years, U.S. wheat farmers have supported U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) efforts to work directly with buyers and promote their six classes of wheat. Their contributions to state wheat commissions, who in turn contribute a portion of those funds to USW, qualifies USW to apply for export market development funds managed by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Currently, 17 state wheat commissions are USW members and this series highlights those partnerships and the work being done state-by-state to provide unmatched service. Behind the world’s most reliable supply of wheat are the world’s most dependable people – and that includes our state wheat commissions.

Member: Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board
USW Member since 2000

Location: Queenstown, Maryland
Classes of Wheat Grown: Soft Red Winter (SRW)
USW Leadership: Jason Scott, 2016/17 Chairman

The Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board (MGPUB) works to increase the profitability of Maryland grain production and improve public understanding of agriculture through promotion, education and research.

Maryland wheat farmer Jason Scott (L) retired as 2016/17 Chairman and handed the gavel to 2017/18 Chairman Mike Miller, Washington wheat farmer (R), at the USW Summer Board Meeting in Annapolis, Md.

Why is export market development important to Maryland wheat farmers and why do they continue to support USW?

While Maryland has a large poultry industry in our state as an important customer for our grain, most of the soft red winter wheat grown here is primarily used to mill flour for cookies, pretzels and pastries. MGPUB recognizes that the export market is an important factor in supporting the commodity price for all farmers, including Maryland wheat growers.

How have Maryland wheat farmers recently interacted with overseas customers?

Maryland’s proximity to Washington, D.C. makes it a popular stop for farm tours for buyers and trade teams from different countries. In the last several years, Maryland has hosted trade teams and buyers from nearly twenty different countries showing them the quality of production methods and the soft red winter wheat grown in Maryland.

What is happening lately in Maryland that overseas customers should know about?

Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board funds several projects focused on wheat quality and production through the University of Maryland. These research projects include “Improving Soft Red Winter Wheat Cultivars,” “Increasing Protein of Soft Red Winter Wheat,” and “Managing for Fusarium Head Blight.”

Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board is also helps fund Maryland Farm & Harvest, a 30-minute, educational public television show that shares the good news story of farming with the public. Born from an idea at an MGPUB board meeting, the series is now an Emmy-winning, No. 1 rated local program, attracting an audience of over four million viewers.

Learn more about the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board on its website and on Facebook and Twitter.

Eric Spates, Maryland wheat farmer, traveled with USW on the 2017 Board team tour to Latin America, to visit U.S. wheat customers, including this one in Haiti.

Jason Scott (far right), Maryland wheat farmer and Past USW Chairman, joined USW for its 2019 Crop Quality Seminar Tour, visiting several countries in South America to share about the soft red winter wheat crop.

In 2014, a trade delegation from Brazil traveled with USW to the United States and stopped by Jason Scott’s farm in Maryland where they visited with several Maryland wheat farmers.






By Vince Peterson, USW President

As a new decade and a new future for wheat export market development dawned in January 1980, the urgency facing the wheat-producer boards of both Great Plains Wheat and Western Wheat Associates could not have been much greater.

They were under the strain of discussions and negotiations for months in the effort to merge the two existing regional wheat market development groups into one, single national association. Then, on January 4, these farmer leaders and all U.S. wheat producers sat in disbelief hearing President Jimmy Carter address the nation and summarily cancel 17 million metric tons (MMT) of existing wheat, corn and soybean sales contracts between U.S. exporters and the former USSR. That was 17 MMT of production that had already been grown and harvested and scheduled for movement by truck, barge, rail car and ocean vessels through the U.S. grain export system; 17 MMT of system revenue, margins and farmers’ annual income – all cancelled.

In announcing this action and a longer-term grain embargo as sanctions against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the President promised protection to farmers. He also said he had faith that our competitors would not exploit the opportunity to take up the cancelled U.S. sales. Never was such a naïve assumption more foolishly made. Spurred on by the unfilled Soviet demand, export origins in Europe and South America were quite literally handed a windfall on a silver platter. It is hard to criticize them for taking up that opportunity, but that was the spark for many of them that launched them into a new permanent place as competitors of the United States in the export market.

A crisis was at hand and it was becoming clear that no action of the government was going to heal the long-term financial damage and repair the loss of export markets suffered on that day. Those making an honest historical analysis can fairly claim that the next 20 years of high inventories, stagnant prices, booming farm programs and an export subsidy war all had their roots firmly planted in that one single policy decision.

The newly founded U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) had more than its hands full as a national market emergency now far outpaced any internal issues that may have seemed monumentally disagreeable during the merger discussions. Those were now just minor bumps in the road by comparison to the tasks in front of them. Ultimately, USW’s new leaders and staff fought hard to replace the lost export sales, build a reputation for reliability and create a more conducive policy environment for global trade.

Never Again

One of the longer-term benefits to the U.S. wheat industry and its domestic and overseas customers that came out of this very difficult time originated in a very simple thought and demand: “This can never be allowed to happen again.” The U.S. grain export industry from farm to port were all completely unified in the pursuit of legal protection from an action of this nature for all time. These political efforts were successful. The U.S. Congress eventually passed, and the President signed, new contract sanctity laws which, short of a national emergency or war, precluded even the President from canceling any pre-existing grain export sales contacts.

The implications of this important protection echoes through the years to today, a new time of global crisis and uncertainty in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Selfish hoarding is causing shortages and prices to rise. To combat that, some countries retreat behind protectionism to limit, tax or cut off exports in order to secure their own domestic supplies and hold down inflationary prices at home – with little apparent concern about the effects their actions will have.

Today, very concerned import-dependent countries are rightly asking: “Are there adequate supplies of wheat in the United Stated to cover all of our demand? Is there hoarding or a price shock? And, will our vessels be loaded?”  We are quite humbled and yet proud to be able to tell them yes, there is plenty of wheat available. In the commercial market, there is no hoarding and prices remain relatively low during this time. Perhaps most importantly, as opposed to governments that hide from global obligations, the U.S. government has declared the entire U.S. food industry, from farm to table and to export, to be essential services. We are also very pleased to know USDA’s agencies that handle grain inspection and phytosanitary compliance and certification are committed to making every effort possible to maintain those services to both domestic and export markets during this time.

No Export Taxes

As for the export taxes that some countries are so quick to consider and employ as the easy tool to control their own domestic market and economy, our country’s founders took care of that issue for us in 1787 when they wrote the Constitution of The United States of America. Article I, Section 9, Clause 5 states that “No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.” No export taxes. Period.

Situations such as the Soviet Grain Embargo and, perhaps, the coronavirus pandemic, while very difficult to experience and understand, can provide lessons and new policies that continue to serve wheat farmers, our country’s export supply industry and our customers securely and quite well.

Today, in part because of what happened back in 1980, the U.S. wheat store remains open, equally and fairly to all market participants at home and abroad.


By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications

Wheat farmers in post-World War II United States were producing more wheat than ever before. So, to improve marketing opportunities, they organized and reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for help. These visionary state wheat leaders ultimately formed two regional organizations to coordinate export market development: Western Wheat Associates and Great Plains Wheat Market Development Association.

In the third of a series on the “Legacy of Commitment,” Wheat Letter offers historical perspective on how changes in federal programs, global market factors and relationships drew Western Wheat Associates and Great Plains Wheat ever closer together and led to the establishment of one export market development organization – U.S. Wheat Associates.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change, that lives within the means available and works cooperatively against common threats.” – Charles Darwin

In 1959, foreign currency funds were building in several countries that were buying U.S. wheat under U.S. Public Law 480. The funds could only be used for export market development.

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) told Great Plains Wheat Market Development Association (GPW) it was time to step up their efforts. And when Western Wheat Associates (WWA) was founded, FAS told its leaders that the agency wanted to move wheat to overseas markets regardless of their potential for becoming cash customers.

“It is interesting to note that FAS, being the banker of market development funds, has had an influence on our internal policies from the very first meeting,” wrote WWA CEO Richard K. Baum in his report The First Twenty Years.

As the history of organized, public-private export market development of U.S. wheat evolved, these three partners would find themselves adapting to many changes and threats at home and abroad. Though the relationships at times were tested – and there was what Baum termed a “healthy and friendly competition” between WWA and GPW – the spirit of cooperation remained strong.

Regional Focus

The formation of regional export promotion organizations by state wheat farmer leaders was a logical outcome of circumstances in the 1950s.

In Kernels and Chaff, A History of Wheat Marketing Development, Marx Koehnke noted that soft red winter (SRW) grown east of the Mississippi River had been the most exported U.S. wheat class because it was more accessible to export points. Overseas buyers were not getting the quality they needed to make bread from SRW. Koehnke also wrote that hard red winter (HRW) grown in the Great Plains and “needed by the foreign buyers” was going into government surplus stockpiles. With support from FAS, GPW was established specifically to promote HRW and hard red spring (HRS) in Europe and Latin America served by Gulf, East Coast and eventually Great Lakes ports.

With soft white (SW) production concentrated in Pacific Northwest states, a region gifted with natural export tributaries, it was logical for WWA to focus on promoting SW in Asian wheat markets. Even as state wheat commissions in Oregon, Washington and Idaho were organizing WWA, however, discussions with GPW leaders revealed an interest in promoting HRW in Asian markets, too.

GPW and WWA signed a Memorandum of Understanding in May 1959 to share expenses equally for export development programs in the PL 480 markets of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Koehnke wrote this agreement “was a coordination of joint efforts to expand the total market for U.S. wheat…and was to continue through the years.”

Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

Dealing with Resistance

A bit of early resistance to coordinated market development appeared after GPW identified in 1961 the growth of bread and roll consumption in Japan. Even though the higher protein wheat grown in the Plains was needed to meet that demand, Kernels and Chaff indicates that the organization sensed some reluctance on WWA’s part to have GPW participate in the Japanese market. The reasons for this alleged “reluctance” are not recorded, although in hindsight PNW farmers had opened and developed this market and WWA’s leaders may have had strong feelings of ownership.

The spirit of cooperation prevailed and in return for promoting hard wheats in Japan, GPW invited WWA to participate in European and South American market activities to identify potential demand for SW wheat. A committee to help coordinate all wheat export market development activities was also formed with members from WWA, GPW, the domestic export grain trade, and the domestic U.S. milling organization (which was likely selling bread flour to Japan at the time). In addition, WWA gained agreement from GPW to represent the interests of both organizations in Washington, D.C. FAS strongly supported such cooperation – support that, to Baum at least, indicated FAS was “already pushing for a merger of GPW and WWA.”

The cooperation on promoting HRW and HRS in Asia was tested over the next several years because of the cost constraint to move these U.S. classes to ports and to Asian markets. There were proposals by Plains farmer organizations to increase the existing U.S. government subsidy on wheat exported from Gulf ports, and to reduce rail rates on wheat moving from the Plains to West Coast ports. The WWA board of directors opposed these proposals “without similar reductions from states closer to the West Coast.” Ultimately, WWA’s board created a transportation committee that worked out agreeable solutions with GPW.

By maintaining frequent contact and coordination, customizing ways to represent all regionally produced wheat in markets designated in their separate marketing agreements with FAS, GPW and WWA developed a steady collaboration. For example, they worked together to try to gain representation at PL 480 planning meetings and International Wheat Agreement negotiating sessions, observing that there was not enough representation from people well-versed in wheat production and trade. Together they also supported FAS in resisting calls from other U.S. farm and business organizations to reduce PL 480 program funding. By 1971, both organizations and USDA were celebrating the fact that Japan was the first overseas customer to import an annual volume of U.S. wheat valued at $1 billion and now including more HRW and HRS than SW .

Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

The Waring Report

In the mid-1960s, FAS sponsored a team to evaluate the work of GPW and WWA. Fred Waring, a retired USDA auditor, led the team on visits to Europe, Asia and the Middle East to review specific activities and confer with U.S. ag officials, importers and others engaged in wheat trade. The so-called Waring Report recommended many changes to improve and strengthen market development. In terms of activities, the report suggested that detailed plans with clearly defined and measurable goals, objectives and activities be developed, and recommended emphasizing trade and technical services customized for each market.

In addition, the report suggested that one organization focused on U.S. wheat export development should be developed.

Kernels and Chaff notes that GPW and WWA responded to the evaluation “by agreeing to the general observations and recommendations.” Specific responses are not carefully recorded but in 1965, GPW was surprised to learn that the Nebraska Wheat Commission (NWC) intended to end its membership in the organization and join WWA. Koehnke wrote that NWC cited several issues leading to its decision including “resistance to recommendations in the Waring Report…a tendency to avoid cooperation with WWA…and a perceived belief among GPW staff that FAS gave WWA preferred treatment.”

After GPW reviewed and reorganized its operations, NWC returned to membership in the organization, but maintained its membership with WWA. In some ways NWC’s actions offered the first signs that circumstances in the global wheat market were changing. As new states formed commissions, more of them joined both GPW and WWA, whittling away at regional views of how best to promote the wheat their farmers were growing.

Stronger Together

Once again, there is little specific insight into why the concept of combining U.S. wheat farmer groups into one organization continued to be put forward. In 1967, at a meeting of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), a committee to study the feasibility of combining NAWG, GPW and WWA was formed. No change was made but it appeared the committee continued to meet. In 1971, Baum and Koehnke recorded that WWA authorized funding to evaluate the merits of merging WWA, GPA and NAWG. Koehnke wrote that of mutual concern to GPW and WWA was pressure from FAS to increase the portion of producer funding for export market development. Looking back, the dramatic effects of the huge U.S. wheat purchases by the Soviet Union probably put merger talks on hold for many years.

Adjustments to accommodate market factors continued without a merger. In about 1972, WWA assumed all responsibility for promoting all U.S. wheat classes in Asia and GPW assumed the same responsibility for Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Separate agreement with FAS continued but this meant that, for example, GPW would bring potential customers on trade team visits to the Pacific Northwest to learn more about SW wheat production and value. The circumstances were drawing GPW and WWA even closer together.

Gene Vickers was a cereal scientist who worked for many years for both WWA and GPW. Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

Plans Revived

In Kernels and Chaff, Koehnke wrote that enthusiasm among farmer leaders for a merger of GPW and WWA seemed to grow during 1976. Merger plans and joint committee work were “revived.” In conjunction with NAWG’s annual meeting in Hawaii in January 1977, GPW and WWA held a joint meeting, billed as “Meeting Your Customers Half Way,” that included 220 Japanese executives and representatives from many other Asian countries. At separate discussions during these meetings, the farmer leaders identified several advantages of a merger including “greater efficiency, avoiding duplication of efforts, greater strength in obtaining federal funding, and expansion of markets for all classes of U.S. wheat.”

At this meeting, the name “U.S. Wheat Associates” was first proposed for a merged organization.

It is interesting to note that an FAS representative at the meeting said the agency was “neutral on the proposed merger and the decision was up to the producers themselves.” Funding would be based on the merits of proposed projects, the representative said.

Even as they took the time to take care of their own seasonal farm work, enthusiasm among the farmer leaders for a merger remained. Koehnke wrote that GPW took up discussion of a merger proposal and analysis completed by the North Dakota Wheat Commission in December 1978. At GPW’s January 1979 board meeting, WWA presented its own merger plans. That is when the hard work of making the merger a reality really started.

Wheat Letter has attached Koehnke’s detailed description in Kernels and Chaff of the merger actions in 1979.

One Organization

Recently, former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture and Kansas wheat farmer Adrian Polansky, who represented his state on a merger task force as a first-year Kansas Wheat commissioner in 1979, told High Plains Journal that “combining two distinct entities with differing geographical regions, differing market focuses and completely different structures was a large challenge … but the challenges had to be met.” USDA, from then Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bergland to everyone at FAS, now believed the merger should take place.

U.S. Wheat Associates was officially formed at a board of directors meeting on Jan. 12, 1980, in Phoenix, Ariz.

Koehnke summarized the 20-year history of Great Plains Wheat and Western Wheat Associates this way:

“Both Dick Baum [WWA CEO] and Mike Hall [GPW President] had built formidable staffs and organizations which were merged into U.S. Wheat Associates. Both [organizations] were highly respected by FAS and the U.S. wheat industry, from producers to exporters, and by the import trade in many countries over the world. Other exporting countries with wheat boards respected the competitiveness of the U.S. wheat [organizations] and emulated their activities in many areas.”


Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”


Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”


Sources for this post include:

Read other stories in this series:

Western Wheat Associates Develops Asian Markets
Great Plains Wheat Focused on Improving Quality and HRW Markets
The U.S. Wheat Export Public-Private Partnership Today
NAWG, USW Lead the Way Through Issues Affecting Wheat Farmers


By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications

Wheat farmers in post-World War II United States were producing more wheat than ever before. So, to improve marketing opportunities, they organized and reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for help. These visionary state wheat leaders ultimately formed two regional organizations to coordinate export market development: Western Wheat Associates and Great Plains Wheat Market Development Association.

In the second of a series on the “Legacy of Commitment,” Wheat Letter offers historical perspective on the founding of Great Plains Wheat and its activities. Additional stories will review how Western Wheat Associates and Great Plains Wheat evolved together into one national export market development organization.

Wheat production on the Great Plains took root in the late-1860s with Mennonite farmers emigrating to the heartland of the United States to escape religious persecution in the Crimea. They planted the hardy, drought-resistant winter wheat seed they carried with them to Kansas and Nebraska, and “Turkey Red” would become the parent for most hard red winter (HRW) wheat varieties well into the 20th Century.

After surviving the infamous “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, inconsistent quality and yields, and the challenges of a world war, Plains farmers pooled their time, talent and treasure to improve their industry. They established the Western Kansas Development Association in 1947 with a “Farm and Wheat Division” (which later became the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers). Three years later, with knowledge of a similar effort by farmers in Oregon, Nebraska formed the Nebraska Wheat Research Foundation. It was funded by about 300 members who agreed to authorize local elevators to collect one-half of one cent per bushel that would be spent to “help stabilize wheat production.”

Improved agronomics and varieties followed but added to a burdensome wheat surplus in the 1950s. This caught the attention of the U.S. government, which created federally managed grain reserves to help increase cash prices. In 1954, Public Law (PL) 480 was implemented to help expand exports of surplus agricultural products while supporting so-called “friendly” nations as the Cold War intensified.

Yet “there had been no effort to promote wheat exports by growers,” according to Marx Koehnke, author of Kernels and Chaff: A History of Wheat Market Development. The Nebraska Wheat Commission, formed in 1955, changed that as the first Plains state organization to sign an agreement with USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to co-fund and implement export market development activities. They sponsored two teams of government buyers and milling industry representatives from Italy in 1956 and Greece in 1957, who observed wheat production, handling, milling and baking in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The resulting purchases of U.S. wheat encouraged signing of the first regional agreement between Plains farm organizations and FAS to promote U.S. wheat exports in Europe and Latin America.

Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

A two-month long survey trip in 1957 to evaluate the market opportunities in Europe by representatives from Nebraska, the newly formed Kansas Wheat Commission and FAS proved to be a pivotal activity. The insight into customer needs gained from that trip formed a basis for export development strategies that U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) still emphasizes more than 60 years later.

In its report, the survey team made these recommendations:

  • Establish a permanent presence in the market (the Nebraska and Kansas wheat commissions opened a U.S. wheat export office in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in January 1958);
  • Discourage production of “low grade” wheat worldwide;
  • Establish tighter grade specifications for U.S. wheat exports;
  • Make information about the milling and baking quality of wheat in each cargo available to the buyers before arrival.

A survey of South American markets added the recommendation that grower organizations should help wheat buyers, most of whom were government officials, write specifications for U.S. wheat to ensure they receive the best quality at the best value.

Something for Themselves

According to Kernels and Chaff, the Nebraska wheat organizations first discussed a regional organization in 1958. Their contacts at FAS recommended that an organization of Plains states must also promote U.S. hard red spring wheat (HRS). That is why North Dakota farmers were represented at a meeting in Dodge City, Kan., where influential Kansas farmer Herbert Clutter advocated a regional organization so “growers can be in a position to do something for themselves instead of expecting others to do something for them.”

Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

With a goal to add more resources from more farmers to export market development, Plains state wheat leaders drafted bylaws and proposed a name for a regional organization. On Dec. 15, 1958, state commissions from Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado made the commitment to form and fund Great Plains Wheat Marketing Development Association, Inc., later shortened to Great Plains Wheat, Inc. (GPW). Over the next 10 years, state commissions from Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota would join GPW.

The new organization took over already established export promotion offices in Rotterdam and Lima, Peru. A prior agreement with Pacific Northwest (PNW) states Oregon and Washington to promote HRW in Asian markets transferred to Western Wheat Associates (WWA) after it was established in 1959. Garden City, Kan., was selected as the first GPW headquarters office and the organization integrated into a Washington, D.C., office set up by the Nebraska Wheat Growers Association in 1958 to maintain coordinate contact with FAS officials.

The first Chairman of GPW was Lloyd Kontny of Nebraska who led the staff (left) and the first President of GPW was Clifford R. Hope (right), a wheat farmer and former U.S. Congressman from Kansas. In a later restructuring, these titles were switched, and the President was given additional responsibilities for staff and activities. Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

Those officials had a big influence on the expansion of GPW’s activities in the early years. With foreign currency funds growing from PL480 sales, FAS strongly encouraged GPW to study broader opportunities in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and in Africa. Of course, the U.S. government wanted to move wheat from reserve stocks into PL480 export markets and that required trade servicing and local support that GPW provided, but FAS also supported GPW’s export development efforts in commercial markets.

Better Quality Needed

No matter where U.S. HRW was being promoted, the issue of quality was a significant constraint. Because U.S. wheat grade standards at the time included much more tolerance for defects, overseas customers had legitimate concerns about imported U.S. supplies. Export supplies often came out of long-term storage and limited oversight of grain inspectors licensed by USDA occasionally created complaints about short sales and out-of-specification cargos.

Based on previous survey work, GPW started collecting samples of U.S. wheat export cargos in Europe and established a wheat and flour testing site in Lima. This yielded information GPW could use to inform grain handlers and government reserve managers about problems. The organization also advocated for expanded storage at U.S. Gulf elevators and for limiting the export of government owned reserve stock wheat to PL480 markets. Progress on such changes was slow, however, and alternative exporters like the Canadian Wheat Board aggressively touted quality relative to U.S. wheat. The general reputation for poor quality persisted. More work needed to be done.

GPW turned to James Doty, one of GPW’s cereal consultants and head of Doty Laboratories in Kansas City, Mo., to start conducting wheat quality analysis on HRW export supplies as the laboratory had been doing for U.S. flour mills. The “Doty Report” on the 1960 HRW crop quality was the first in an annual effort to inform overseas buyers, millers and wheat food processors about each year’s crop, which has expanded to include all six U.S. wheat classes in the annual USW Crop Quality Report.

The first printed promotion of U.S. wheat from 1957. Even before GPW was formed, farmer organizations from Nebraska and Kansas were educating overseas customers about U.S. hard red winter wheat and its benefits. Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

The need to build U.S. wheat into a quality supplier grew with market development to Europe, most of Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa, Nigeria and South Africa, and to Asian markets through contracts with WWA. Herbert Hughes, a dedicated wheat leader from Nebraska, who had served as the first Vice President of GPW, was selected to chair a Grain Standards Committee that identified that crucial changes to U.S. wheat grade standards for HRW and HRS were needed to remain competitive in global markets.

According to Kernels and Chaff, Hughes warned the GPW board and staff in 1963 that improving the official standards “is a fight we cannot…and must not lose.”

GPW promoted the changes to country elevators and their farmer customers, farm organizations, local and state officials, and the grain trade, ultimately winning support from Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman. USDA held several hearings on the proposed wheat grade standards. With government export subsidies in place at the time, GPW argued that improved standards would allow the government to adjust the subsidy more accurately.

USDA implemented revised standards in 1964 and adjusted the export subsidy based on grade. The results of a GPW cargo sample study and “reactions of many buyers attested to definite improvement in quality of [exported U.S. wheat]. Compliments were taking the place of complaints…” wrote Koehnke in Kernels and Chaff.

Photo from “Kernels and Chaff; A History of Wheat Market Development.”

Organization Expands with Export Sales

GPW programs were supporting significant export sales growth in Latin America with offices now added in Bogota, Colombia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Panama City, Panama In 1965, for example, GPW developed mobile demonstrations and school lunch programs that introduced pasta made from HRW to Brazilian children and families. GPW supported a new baking school in Caracas, Venezuela, and baking trade schools in Colombia. Even in the face of tight specifications enacted among members of the European Economic Community U.S. HRW and HRS continued flowing to the port of Rotterdam to be offloaded to barges and smaller vessels for delivery to European customers. Trade service and technical assistance to developing markets in Africa from a GPW office in Rome initially. Coverage of the Middle East shifted from an office in Beirut, Lebanon, to Cairo, Egypt.

In addition to its local market development support, GPW invested significant effort in general promotion of U.S. HRW and HRS wheat as well as reports back to the farmers and state organizations who directed and co-funded its activities. Brochures, wheat sample cards and a series of films about U.S. wheat were produced. Printed newsletters translated to local languages kept customers informed about U.S. and global wheat market supply and demand factors and a magazine called The Great Plainsmen informed stakeholders at home about progress.

GPW leaders and staff, like their counterparts at WWA, had to operate within the parameters of active government policies and regulations for most of its existence. For example, they fought through the battle of the “Great Grain Robbery” by the Soviet Union and advocated for more transparency and information from USDA to help farmers and their overseas customers that helped lead to weekly commercial sales reports. Their testimony about the critical need for more oversight of export grain inspection informed the Grain Standards Act of 1977 that established the Federal Grain Inspection Service and independent certification of export specifications.

Tried…and Tried Again

With more than 800 names identified in the Kernels and Chaff book index and hundreds of export market development activities in dozens of countries, a complete survey of Great Plains Wheat, Inc., achievement in this space would be almost impossible. Marx Koehnke summarized the experience well.

“Ideas were tried and rejected, and tried again, before success was achieved…Many problems had to be solved; but with a spirit of compromise…and a determination to succeed, a viable organization was formed. By collaboration with its sister WWA and of course with FAS, many successful projects were accomplished.”


Sources for this post include:

Read other stories in this series:

Western Wheat Associates Develops Asian Markets
Evolution of a Public-Private Partnership
The U.S. Wheat Export Public-Private Partnership Today
NAWG, USW Lead the Way Through Issues Affecting Wheat Farmers


Behind the world’s most reliable supply of wheat are the world’s most dependable people. Those people, from U.S. Wheat Associates staff to the state wheat commissions and U.S. wheat farm families to the many hands along the U.S. supply chain, represent an industry that is always changing. But many of the overseas customers USW works with overseas can also say the same. Despite the different roles or distances between us, all of the people in our story share an unspoken connection, not only through U.S. wheat but through our shared values of growth, hard work and family.

These connections are a part of our story.

Retired Washington Wheat Farmer, 2011/12 USW Chairman

“I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel with USW to many countries and visit with buyers, millers and bakers. My thanks to those who made us feel so welcome. The millers are most gracious hosts and always showed up in large numbers at USW events. I was very proud to attend the 50th anniversary of U.S. wheat market development organizations in the Philippines. After one event, Norman Uy and his family honored me by hosting dinner. His son Stevie visited my farm the following year and is now taking over the mill.”

AVP & SBU Head, Flour Division, RFM Corporation, Republic of the Philippines

“RFM Corporation pioneered the regional flour milling industry in 1958. Today, it is one of the biggest food and beverage companies in the Philippines. I am in the 4th generation managing part of the company. I have been to the United States with USW twice. In Washington, Randy Suess took us to a plateau overlooking fields of golden soft white wheat in every direction. U.S. farmers are all proud of their production and heritage. These visits helped me appreciate where our raw materials come from and how much work and risk the farmer must take every year.”


Oklahoma Wheat Farmer, 2010/11 USW Chairman

“In 2014 a USW trade team visited my farm. I had a great time giving the team members rides in my combine. Anna-Mart Rust with Pioneer Foods in South Africa really enjoyed it and we talked about the differences between our lives. This memorable experience came full circle in September 2018 when I met Anna-Mart again, this time in South Africa on a USW Board Team visit and she took me to a farm equipment dealer and farm show, and hosted me in her home. That kind of connection is so important.”

Procurement Manager, Pioneer Foods, South Africa

“It was wonderful to reconnect with Don Schieber when Pioneer Foods hosted a USW group in 2018 in South Africa. I took Don to a John Deere retailer, to a big agricultural show and to our Stellenbosch Winelands. This day is memorable as I could show Don how farmers and other South Africans live compared with American farmers, as he did when I visited his farm in 2014. We shared our differences but we found we had the same goal — to produce the best wheat and food possible!”

Discover more stories about the connection between U.S. wheat farmers and their customers.


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In the United States, the fourth Thursday in November is officially set aside as the country’s Thanksgiving holiday. As the holiday approaches, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) wants to express its sincere thanks to several colleagues who are moving on to new life paths by the end of 2019.

Three of our colleagues are retiring from full time positions with USW this year.

Ms. Linda de Hoog recently retired from her position as Regional Program and Administrative Manager for USW’s European Region in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Linda held the distinct honor of being USW’s longest serving colleague, having joined what was then Great Plains Wheat in June 1971. She has been a faithful and diligent worker on behalf of U.S. wheat farmers and says representing them and being part of the USW family was the best career decision she ever made. For her long service and fond friendship, all of us offer Linda our special thanks and best wishes.

Linda de Hoog

Mr. Gerald Theus is retiring from his current position as Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, on Dec. 31, 2019. A U.S. citizen, Gerald first worked in Africa representing the music industry, then joined Pioneer Hi-Bred Seeds International as a representative in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). He joined USW in 1992 and served for many years as Assistant Regional Director before being named Director in 2017. Thank you, Gerald, for your dedicated work over the years.

Gerald Theus

Ms. Mina El Hachimi is now serving a part-time role as Senior Administrative Consultant for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region based in Casablanca, Morocco. Mina joined USW in 1985 as executive assistant and held several positions in managing responsibilities throughout the years. She will continue to support both office management and export market development activities in the region.

Mina El Hachimi

In addition, Ms. Casey Chumrau is leaving her position as USW Marketing Manager for the South American Region in Santiago, Chile, to join the Idaho Wheat Commission in Boise, Idaho, as Communications Director and Associate Administrator. A Montana native, Casey joined USW in 2011 as Market Analyst in the Arlington, Va., Headquarters Office to monitor, analyze and report on U.S. and global wheat market trends. After four years in that position, Casey joined the experienced team representing U.S. wheat farmers in the growing South American region. We wish Casey all the best in her new position and are very glad she will remain a part of our industry.

Casey Chumrau


By Catherine Miller, USW Program and Planning Coordinator

One of the most important types of activities U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) overseas representatives conduct is trade service. In other words, they help their customers understand how to get the most value as possible from their U.S. wheat purchases. A crucial part of trade service is giving many of those customers the chance to experience the U.S. wheat supply system first hand.

Each year, USW brings several delegations of international wheat buyers and end-product processors to the United States. These trade delegations help forge a direct connection for customers with farmers, state wheat leaders and industry organizations. In many ways, these visits represent the legacy of commitment from farmers, state wheat commissions, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service of USDA and USW to demonstrate the dependability of the people who produce and handle the reliable supply of U.S. wheat.

In 2019, the number of USW hosted trade delegates doubled from the previous year, with a total of 18 delegations. Almost 100 customers from around the world visited 14 states.

One delegation from Brazil, for example, was the first trade team from South America to focus exclusively on the technical staff from major mills. The participants were chosen because they have significant input on buying decisions and wheat classes used by their respective mills. They visited farmers and industry representatives in Ohio and Kansas, reflecting their interest in soft red winter (SRW) and hard red winter (HRW). The photo at the top of this page was taken as the delegation visited the Stover Farm in Shelby, Ohio. The timing of the delegation in June was ideal because in March, Brazil’s government had announced it would work toward opening a tariff rate quota to allow a significant volume of wheat to be imported from outside the South American Mercosur trade agreement.

U.S. wheat farmers benefit directly from USW helping customers around the world succeed in growing the profitability and consumer appeal of their flour and wheat foods products. That starts with activities like trade delegations demonstrating that, despite obvious differences, the people who grow, move and sell U.S. wheat share values of growth, hard work and family with the people who import, mill and process it.


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.