By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director

It is U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) mission to “develop, maintain, and expand international markets to enhance wheat’s profitability for U.S. wheat producers and its value for their customers.” The overseas market has changed tremendously in the last 25 years. In the 1990s, the United States was a dominant global supplier. Today, it is one of many suppliers in a highly competitive international market. International trade has nearly doubled during that same time, driven by population and income growth. This growth has increased competition, elevating wheat quality as a vital component of value.

Russia now boasts that it exports more wheat than the United States. While Russia exports more tons, the United States continues to lead the world when sales are measured in dollars. In 2018, Russia exported $5.8 billion worth of wheat as compared to $6.1 billion exported by the United States. U.S. wheat commands a higher price in the international market because customers recognize its quality, consistency, and value.

In March, Wirsching participated on the Learning Session panel for “Putting Wheat Quality in the Spotlight ” at the 2019 Commodity Classic. His presentation focused on global markets for wheat, why growers should care about quality and selling their crop abroad.

USW supports the annual National Wheat Yield Contest sponsored by the National Wheat Foundation (NWF). Increasing wheat production is important to the long-term viability and competitive position of wheat as a food grain. However, wheat quality must not be compromised in exchange for higher yields. Growers need both higher yields and better quality. Along with the NWF and the National Association of Wheat Growers, USW recently helped sponsor a learning session, “Putting Quality in the Spotlight,” at the 2019 Commodity Classic in Orlando, Fla. The session focused on enhancing the message that quality is important. Panelists discussed why the top winning varieties should also be subject to minimum end-use functionality tests because some in the industry worry that the United States will adopt more wheat forage varieties to enhance yields, at the expense of quality. Farmers know you cannot sell something the customer does not need or want to buy. That is why quality is important.

Find more information about U.S. wheat quality and related resources here.



By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director, West Coast Office

In Latin America, the holidays are filled with special wheat food traditions. Mexicans celebrate the visit of the Three Kings to the Christ child with Rosca de Reyes (Kings Cake Wreath), a ring-shaped sweet bread. In Peru, wheat consumption increases with Panettone bread sales. This holiday sweet bread can be traced back to the Italian bakers that made Peru their home many generations ago.

Special holiday breads are thriving despite a baking industry transitioning from artisan bakery shops to highly automated commercial operations. Such modern bakeries employ equipment that drives a need for ever more consistent, high-quality flour.

It was in this context that U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), with funding from member state wheat commissions and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, assembled a team of leading wheat breeders to visit the top markets in Latin America. This Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) traveled to Mexico City, Mexico, Guatemala City, Guatemala, San Jose, Costa Rica and Lima, Peru, Dec. 8 to 18, 2018. Meetings with several food processing and flour milling industry representatives focused on U.S. wheat quality relative to the unique production challenges these customers face.

Wheat farmers, state wheat commissions, and public and private breeders understand that the end-use quality of U.S. wheat, as measured by end-use functionality, is more important than ever before in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace Such direct input from Latin American food processing companies to breeders is one of the ways USW is helping determine breeding targets, as well as helping develop selection criteria for new variety releases. The face-to-face interaction with breeders in this activity helps overseas buyers understand that U.S. wheat quality is no accident but is, rather, the product of investment from farmers and years of scientific work.

Customers shared several preferred characteristics from U.S. wheat including consistent quality from shipment to shipment, increased dough strength and water absorption, and lower polyphenol oxidase (PPO) to prevent color change. These messages and more will be relayed to state wheat commissions at upcoming Wheat Quality Council meetings in Portland, Ore., and Kansas City, Mo.

Market development programs like this Wheat Quality Improvement Team help ensure that Latin American sweet breeds like the Rosca de Reyes and Panettone continue to be a holiday tradition — made with high-quality wheat from the United States.

Participating Wheat Breeders 

The WQIT to Latin America in December included:

  • Guorong Zhang, Leader, Kansas State wheat breeding program and Associate Professor at Kansas State University;
  • Brett Carver, Wheat Genetics Chair in Agriculture, Oklahoma State University;
  • Mike Giroux, Co-director of the Montana State Wheat Quality Laboratory and leader of the Montana State durum breeding program;
  • Jackie Rudd, Leader of the hard winter wheat breeding program for the High Plains and Rolling Plains of Texas;
  • Arron Carter, Director of the winter wheat breeding and genetics program at Washington State University;
  • Mr. Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director, West Coast Office.

The team and USW Staff in front of the Presedente Hotel in Mexico City.


By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director, West Coast Office

The USW Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) connects wheat breeders who develop new varieties with overseas customers to discuss which quality characteristics end users value the most. This is essential to the breeding process because for farmers about half of their wheat is exported and importers expect high value from those purchases.

The latest WQIT travelled to Bangkok, Thailand, and Taipei, Taiwan, where they met with quality control specialists April 3 to 12, 2017. The team included:

  • Mike Pumphrey, Washington State University;
  • Phil Bruckner, Montana State University;
  • Robert Talley, AgriPro/Syngenta;
  • Steven Wirsching, USW.

To learn more about the team members, click here.

In Bangkok, the breeders met with milling managers from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines who gathered at the UFM Baking and Cooking School to test selected U.S. wheat varieties against their own flours made from competitor wheats under the supervision of Roy Chung, USW Bakery Consultant. An annual event, this year the WQIT observed test results demonstrating that U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat quality is improving with longer farinograph stability times and better water absorption. This group also provided feedback on hard red winter (HRW) wheat used for Asian style noodles that require color stability. Many new HRW varieties under development in Montana have very low polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzymatic levels that help noodles remain bright during processing. U.S. soft white (SW) wheat stands out as the best option for sponge cakes, cookies and crackers. Solvent retention capacity (SRC) values are used to distinguish U.S. wheat quality from other competitors that have similar protein values but vastly different starch and baking qualities.

In Taipei, the team met with the Taiwan Flour Millers Association (TFMA) to discuss wheat quality and supply reliability. Overall, the Taiwanese are satisfied with U.S. wheat quality, but there is always room for improvement, and the U.S. wheat industry is working to stay ahead of the competition. The WQIT also attended the Taipei International Bakery Show and met with several flour millers. Over the years, USW, in partnership with TFMA, has worked to develop this market, and the fruits of our joint efforts were in full display at this international event. The market is incredibly sophisticated with thousands of products that continue to drive wheat flour consumption higher, such that Taiwanese now consume more wheat than rice on a per capita basis. The team also met with China Grain Products Research and Development Institute (CGPRDI) staff who have trained thousands of bakers and other end users to create a wide range of products that keep consumers interested in wheat foods. Established in the 1960s with funding from USW and state wheat commissions, CGPRDI provides technical training for bakers and millers as well as wheat quality analysis.

The wheat breeders also discussed the benefits of hybrid wheat and other non-GMO plant breeding innovations. Talley, the Syngenta wheat breeder, is developing commercial hybrid wheat varieties that promise to increase drought tolerance, heat resistance and overall yield, which could bring benefits to the wheat industry within 5 to 7 years. Some of the millers asked if the new hybrid wheat would be considered a GMO. Talley explained that hybridization has been used for many crops, most notability corn, since the 1930s. Hybrid wheat will not be a GMO crop, but will benefit from the hybrid vigor of crossing two dissimilar high quality parent lines. Like all U.S. public and private breeding programs, Syngenta is committed to bringing high quality wheat to the market.

In today’s hyper-competitive market, overseas customers are not just looking for the lowest prices. More and more are seeking real value. USW is working with public and private breeders to develop high quality wheat varieties that perform not only in the flour mill, but also in the bakery or cookie/cracker line, delivering economic value to the end users and, in turn, to millers and farmers alike.


By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director, West Coast Office

This week and next, USW is conducting a top-level Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) of U.S. wheat breeders taking face-to-face meetings with Asian milling and baking quality control managers to discuss end-use quality and functionality.

The breeders will hear first-hand what quality characteristics customers in overseas markets need so they can apply that knowledge in their work on new wheat varieties.

This team includes both public and private wheat breeders from the PNW focused on bringing the very best genetic technology to U.S. wheat farmers. Team members include:

  • Mike Pumphrey, Associate Professor and the Orville Vogel Endowed Chair of spring wheat breeding and genetics at Washington State University, Pullman, where he has worked since 2010. He was previously a research geneticist employed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Kansas State University, Manhattan. Dr. Pumphrey’s participation is sponsored by the Washington Grain Commission (WGC).
  • Phil L. Bruckner, a winter wheat breeder and Professor in the Plant Sciences & Plant Pathology Department at Montana State University, Bozeman. Dr. Bruckner obtained bachelors and master’s degrees at Montana State and a Ph.D. in 1985 from North Dakota State University, Fargo.
  • Robert Talley, Plant Scientist and Head of the Hybrid Wheat Development team at AgriPro/Syngenta. Talley earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, in Soil and Crop Sciences. Prior to his current position, he was with Busch Agricultural Resources where he worked on the International Barley Research and Germplasm Exchange. Talley’s participation is also sponsored by the WGC.

The team will have the chance to interact with customers that are participating in a USW wheat quality analysis program at the United Flour Mill (UFM) Baking and Cooking Center in Bangkok, Thailand, as another team of wheat breeders did two years ago. Each breeder will make a presentation on how they are contributing to continuous quality and yield improvement of U.S. SW and HRS wheat, and, in Talley’s case, the potential for hybrid wheat varieties now in development. The breeders end their trip early next week in similar meetings with millers and wheat food processors in Taiwan.

Following their activity, the WQIT members will consider how to incorporate what they hear from customers into their breeding programs and communicate their activity to U.S. wheat farmers through the Wheat Quality Council and public as well as private breeding programs.

USW will post photos and other information from the 2017 WQIT on its Facebook page at


By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director

This winter the Pacific Northwest (PNW) has seen snowstorms and record rainfall that reduced vessel loading and inbound rail service. A slowing of rail service for just a few weeks manifested itself into long vessel lineups and loading delays of up to three to four weeks. Normally there are 12 to 15 vessels in the Columbia River waiting to load. However, the Daily Grain Bulletin, published by the Portland Grain Exchange, reported 38 grain vessels waiting to load a few days ago.

Almost every sort of natural disaster imaginable has interrupted rail service to the PNW. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad applied additional resources to restore full service as soon as humanly possible. Last week there was a break in the weather, which allowed the rail service to partially recuperate. This marginal improvement raised train velocities and increased the number of unit-trains arriving in Portland daily.

Export elevators are also struggling with the weather because they cannot load when it is raining. Reports are that vessel loading efficiency is down 25 percent due to the heavy rainfall. Portland set a record in the month of February when over 10 inches of rain fell in 28 days, the most precipitation since 1996. When it rains this hard, exporters must close the hatches to protect the grain from excess moisture. Some facilities have special hatch covers where some grain can be blown through a small hole, but the loading speed is dramatically reduced.

Further complicating the weather delays are the planned repairs of the Columbia Snake River System. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers closed the river system on Dec. 12 for necessary long-term maintenance, putting additional pressure on the rail system, now the sole mode of transportation to move grain to market. An ice storm in the Columbia River gorge stopped construction for several days, delaying repairs with possible impact on the planned reopening date of March 20. The Army Corp of Engineers is doing everything in its power which includes working on the weekends and adding labor to complete the repairs on time, but there is only so much they can do when fighting mother nature.

The grain trade is working its way out of this backlog and all expectations are that by April the Columbia River will be back to normal. Currently vessels entering the river are waiting two to three weeks to load. Loading delays and higher basis levels will potentially crowd out spot market demand limiting sales for the next year. However, most wheat buyers heeded the advice of USW early last year, when told to purchase wheat ahead of the river closure. Wheat sales and shipments are ahead of last year’s pace, a clear indication that buyers responded to USW’s recommendations. Grain (wheat, corn and soybean) exports are as much as 21 percent higher this year, the best year in the last 10 on a calendar year basis.

With a healthy dose of perseverance, the grain trade, railroads, barge lines, growers and overseas buyers will work through these logistical challenges and overcome the delays. Traditional U.S. folk lore says March weather “comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” There are hundreds of people here in the PNW, and among many of our customers, we are waiting anxiously for the lamb to arrive!