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Nick Jorgensen‘s approach to farming in the 21st Century is simple and direct. “First and foremost, we are stewards of this land so that we can pass it on to the next generation where it’s better than it was when we received it,” Jorgensen, whose family farms in Ideal, South Dakota, says in Episode 4 of U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) “Stories of Stewardship” series.

Watch Episode 4 here:

USW’s new video series focuses on the sustainable practices applied by five farm families growing different classes of wheat across the range of conditions in the United States. They share a commitment to farm in ways that sustain economic viability to produce safe, wholesome wheat for the world while ensuring the land is passed on in better condition for future generations.

USW wants to thank Jorgensen; Tom Cannon of Blackwell, Okla., Ben and Stephanice Bowsher of Harrod, Ohio.; Art Schultheis of Colton, Wash.; and Aaron Kjelland of Park River, N.D. for sharing their Stories of Stewardship.

Future episodes will be released March 6, and March 20.

To learn more about sustainable U.S. wheat production, visit the USW website at https://www.uswheat.org/stories-of-stewardship/. USW is also a member of the U.S. Sustainability Alliance where you can see a fact sheet on wheat sustainability.

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U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has a responsibility to help the world’s wheat buyers, flour millers, bakers, and wheat food processors better understand how U.S. farmers produce higher-yielding, higher-quality wheat while using methods that are better for the planet we all share. Our new “Stories of Stewardship” focus provides specific examples of this commitment.

It is also important to understand that farmers and the federal government have been partners in conservation for decades. The 2018 Farm Bill maintained a strong commitment to voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that have been utilized by wheat growers across the country and are expanding with the infusion of additional funding under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022.

The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) has reported that between 2018 and 2021, wheat farmers entered over 7,500 contracts with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Farm Bill conservation programs. These include such practices as cover crops, reduced tillage, erosion control terraces, and grassed waterways. NAWG suggests the flexibility and local decision-making included in the Farm Bill conservation programs is vital to their success.

Image shows the front of the USDA building in Washington, DC, with Department of Agriculture shown behind a U.S. flag.

Farmers and the federal government have been partners in conservation for decades. The 2018 Farm Bill maintained a strong commitment to voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that have been utilized by wheat growers across the country.

Effective Incentives

The Farm Bill conservation programs have a permanent budget, but the IRA provided an additional $18 billion for the programs. That extra funding represents an incentive for farmers and agribusinesses to implement green agriculture production methods and is being made available in tranches through 2026.

“Politico” reported in August 2023 that the agricultural industry is responding positively to the incentives. The article quoted a former senior director of government relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) saying the program’s popularity is based on its “voluntary, incentive-based approach” that he said allows for innovation.

Farmers Want Voluntary Conservation Programs

The demand for conservation programs among U.S. wheat farmers is strong according to testimony to Congress on Title II Conservation Programs in 2022 by then NAWG President Nicole Berg.

“Wheat growers and other crop, livestock and forest landowners are seeking assistance through the voluntary conservation programs and there is a backlog of more growers seeking assistance than funding (and staff time) available,” Berg said. “We recognize that the Inflation Reduction Act added a significant amount of funding to these programs and hopefully that backlog will be addressed, and we urge Congress to continue the commitment to voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs in the next Farm Bill.”

Despite predictable political opposition to elements of the IRA agricultural conservation programs, there is growing support for making additional conservation funding a permanent part of farm legislation. “Agri-Pulse” recently reported that under the budget rules used to pass the IRA, none of the money can be spent after 2031, and there is no lever to increase long-term funding levels.

Pressure to Do It Well

“We’ve got resources to do good things right now, but at the same time, we’re under some pressure to do that well and to get those resources put out into the field in a way that obviously works for the environment, works for our customers – the producers – and works for the taxpayer,” USDA Farm Production and Conservation Undersecretary Robert Bonnie said.

USW is encouraged by the on-going partnership between U.S. agriculture, including wheat farmers, and the federal government aimed at conserving farms and farmland and the gifts of soil, water, and seed. We will continue to share this and many other “Stories of Stewardship” with our customers everywhere.

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“If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.”

For Ben and Stephanie Bowsher of Harrod, Ohio, field tiling is an integral part of “taking care of the land” because it removes excess water from the soil, reduces erosion, and helps ensure higher quality soft red winter wheat and other crops.

Episode 3 of the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) “Stories of Stewardship” series features the Bowsher family and their efforts to improve their land.

Watch Episode 3 here: Stories of Stewardship – U.S. Wheat Associates (uswheat.org).

Wheat harvest in 2022 on BS Farms, Harrod, Ohio.

Soft red winter wheat harvest on Ben and Stephanie Bowsher’s farm in Harrod, Ohio, in 2022.

USW’s new video series focuses on the sustainable practices applied by five farm families growing different classes of wheat across the range of conditions in the United States. They share a commitment to farm in ways that sustain economic viability to produce safe, wholesome wheat for the world while ensuring the land is passed on in better condition for future generations.

USW wants to thank Tom Cannon of Blackwell, Okla., the Bowshers; Nick Jorgensen of Ideal, S.D.; Art Schultheis of Colton, Wash.; and Aaron Kjelland of Park River, N.D. for sharing their Stories of Stewardship.

Future episodes will be released Feb. 21, March 6, and March 20.

To learn more about sustainable U.S. wheat production, visit the USW website at https://www.uswheat.org/stories-of-stewardship/. USW is also a member of the U.S. Sustainability Alliance where you can see a fact sheet on wheat sustainability.

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On Jan. 30, 2024, Casey Chumrau, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, offered compelling testimony supporting the crucial infrastructure of dams and locks on the Columbia Snake River System (CSRS) at a U.S. House Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee hearing. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) sent separate letters with their observations of the essential nature of the CSRS for U.S. wheat export competitiveness.

Following are excerpts from Chumrau’s testimony.

Grain growers in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) rely on the Columbia Snake River System, and the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) in particular, for their livelihoods. More than 55 percent of all U.S. wheat exports move through the PNW by barge or rail. Specifically, 10 percent of wheat that is exported from the United States passes through the four locks and dams along the Lower Snake River. This is especially important for our state because Washington is the fourth largest wheat exporter in the nation, exporting 90% of the wheat produced in the state. Across the agriculture industry, the Columbia Snake River System is the second largest gateway for soybean and corn exports coming from as far as the Midwest. The river system also serves as an important channel to bring crop inputs, like potash, to farmers in the region who need fertilizer to produce the safe and affordable food supply that is found on every American’s table.

Casey Chumrau, CEO, Washington Grain Commission, giving testimony on Columbia Snake River System Jan. 30, 2024, to a U.S. House subcommittee hearing.

Casey Chumrau, CEO, Washington Grain Commission, giving testimony on Columbia Snake River System Jan. 30, 2024, to a U.S. House Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee hearing.

Economic Impact

Washington’s agriculture industry, and its ability to produce and export products globally, are critical to the state and region’s economy. The total value of wheat exported through the PNW is nearly $4 billion per year.

For Washington, the state is among the top 20 states for agricultural exports in the nation, with over $8 billion in Washington-grown or processed food and agriculture exports in 2022. A significant volume of food and agriculture products from other states including soybeans, wheat, and corn are exported through Washington state ports each year. Once these pass-through exports are combined with Washington-grown or processed exports, the total value reaches over $23 billion.

The Washington wheat industry alone contributed over $3.1 billion to the state’s economy in 2022, with a heightened impact in rural areas. In the same year, total direct employment associated with Washington wheat production amounted to 3,672 jobs in 2022. Indirect and induced employment also grew and supported another 11,676 jobs.

The impact that Washington farmers have on their local and regional economy is similar in communities across the country. In addition to direct sales of farm goods and commodities, farmers contribute to the economy and support other rural businesses through purchases of farm business inputs – everything from seed and fertilizer to business services. Additionally, the personal purchases of both farmers and their employees help to stimulate local economies and keep small businesses ruining.

Locks and dams on the Lower Snake River and the Columbia River provide essential infrastructure for moving U.S.-grown wheat to high-value markets around the world. We cannot overstate the positive value they create for U.S. farms, [the] economy of the Pacific Northwest and far beyond. – From USW letter to House subcommittee hearing on the Columbia Snake River System

Supply Chain and Transportation

Over the last seventy years, growers and their federal government partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have invested billions of dollars and countless hours to build strong relationships with our trading partners. The U.S. wheat industry differentiates itself by providing high-quality wheat and reliable delivery. The United States is a reliable trading partner in large part because of our world class, multi-modal infrastructure, which allow us to safely and efficiently ship products around the world. Any disruption to that system would hurt our ability to consistently provide abundant, high-value food products and remain competitive with other agricultural exporters in the world and weaken the competitiveness of U.S. producers in global markets.

Grain growers in PNW states are at the tip of the spear of those who would feel the disruption of having to divert export goods to trucking and rail because there is insufficient alternative transportation infrastructure to replace the barge shipments of grain along the Columbia Snake River System to export markets. For example, one loaded covered hopper barge carries over 58,000 bushels of wheat. It would take 113,187 semi-trailers each year carrying 910 bushels of wheat to replace the 103 million bushels shipped on the Snake River via barge annually. That is 310 more trucks each day, making round trips to the Tri-Cities, 365 days per year. To that end, barging is the most fuel-efficient mode of transportation when compared to railroads and trucking. Each barge that must be replaced by a truck means more pollution, more traffic, increased costs and increased wear and tear on our roads – and that’s if we could even hire the drivers needed to drive these trucks in the increasingly tight labor market for drivers.

Path Forward

We strongly believe that dams and salmon can and do co-exist. With a myriad of challenges facing the salmon population, we are committed to building upon current investments and technological advancements. Currently, the Lower Snake River Dams have world-class fish passage and juvenile survival rates upwards of 95 percent. We believe any work moving forward should build off the fish passages, instead of eliminating them. We also support investments made at the federal and state level for culvert removal, fish habitat restoration, toxin reduction, and predator abatement.

Conclusion

The opportunities to ensure salmon populations continue to grow do not have to come at the cost of destroying the integrity of the Columbia Snake River System and the livelihood of farmers. The importance of the river system for the agriculture industry, and particularly for grain growers across Washington, cannot be overstated. I look forward to discussing the importance of the four Lower Snake River Dams with you today. Thank you.

To read more about this issue, see these previous “Wheat Letter” posts:

Exports Depend on Snake River Dams

USW Expresses Support for Maintaining Lower Snake River Dams

Wheat Leaders: Protect Lower Snake River Dams

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Episode 2 of the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) “Stories of Stewardship” series features Tom Cannon, a wheat farmer and cattle rancher from Blackwell, Oklahoma. Cannon, who operates Goodson Ranch with his family, went “all-in” and became a 100% no-till farmer.  And he didn’t stop there.

Watch Episode 2 here: Stories of Stewardship – U.S. Wheat Associates (uswheat.org)

USW’s new video series focuses on the sustainable practices applied by five farm families growing different classes of wheat across the range of conditions in the United States. They share a commitment to farm in ways that sustain economic viability to produce safe, wholesome wheat for the world while ensuring the land is passed on in better condition for future generations.

Future episodes will be released Feb. 7, Feb. 21, March 6, and March 20.

Watch Now

Watch Episode 2 here and stay tuned as new episodes are released Feb. 7, Feb. 21, March 6, and March 20.

USW wants to thank Cannon, Ben and Stephanie Bowsher of Waynesfield, Ohio; Nick Jorgensen of Ideal, S.D.; Art Schultheis of Colton, Wash.; and Aaron Kjelland of Park River, N.D. for sharing their Stories of Stewardship.

To learn more about sustainable U.S. wheat production, visit the USW website at https://www.uswheat.org/stories-of-stewardship/. USW is also a member of the U.S. Sustainability Alliance where you can see a fact sheet on wheat sustainability.

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U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is happy to share a new video series featuring farmers explaining how they responsibly manage the land and natural resources entrusted to their care.

“Stories of Stewardship” premiered Jan. 10, 2024, on Facebook with Episode 1 focusing on the sustainable practices applied by five farm families growing different classes of wheat across the range of conditions in the United States. They share a commitment to farm in ways that sustain economic viability to produce safe, wholesome wheat for the world while ensuring the land is passed on in better condition for future generations.

Watch Now

Watch Episode 1 here and stay tuned as five new episodes are released Jan. 24, Feb. 7, Feb. 21, March 6, and March 20.

USW wants to thank Tom Cannon of Blackwell, Okla., Ben and Stephanie Bowsher of Waynesfield, Ohio, Nick Jorgensen of Ideal, S.D., Art Schultheis of Colton, Wash. (photo above), and Aaron Kjelland of Park River, N.D., for sharing their Stories of Stewardship.

To learn more about sustainable U.S. wheat production, visit the USW website at https://www.uswheat.org/stories-of-stewardship/. USW is also a member of the U.S. Sustainability Alliance where you can see a fact sheet on wheat sustainability.

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Five wheat farmers in five different states share how they work to assure the land they hand over to the next generation of farmers will be in better shape than it was when they started farming it. It’s just one aspect of U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) ongoing “Stories of Stewardship” project, but it perfectly demonstrates how producers approach the important job of feeding the world.

Important Project

In this short video, USW Vice President of Communications Steve Mercer gives an update on the Stories of Stewardship project and explains the importance of promoting sustainability efforts by U.S. wheat farmers . . .

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Tom Cannon, center, plays with one of his family's dogs on their farm in Blackwell, Oklahoma, as he discusses the day's plans with his son Jacob, left.

Tom Cannon, center, plays with one of his family’s dogs on their farm in Blackwell, Oklahoma, as he discusses the day’s plans with his son Jacob, left.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) recently spent a few days on Goodson Ranch, a Centennial farm in  northern Oklahoma. It is in the town of Blackwell, just outside of Ponca City. The purpose was to meet with Tom Cannon, a fourth-generation farmer who grows hard red winter (HRW) wheat. Cannon spends a lot of time and effort to improve the sustainability of his operation. He is one of the U.S. wheat farmers that will be featured in USW’s upcoming “Stories of Stewardship” series, a project that will highlight the work farmers are doing to improve soil health and production. Here we offer a preview – a snapshot, if you will – from Cannon’s farm.

Flurry of activity

A professional video crew wasn’t enough to slow things down on Tom Cannon’s Oklahoma farm. Early morning was dedicated to working cattle, afternoon set aside for seeding winter wheat. But as is the case with most family farms, a flurry of unplanned activity and chores book-ended the day’s official plans.

“Welcome to farming,” Cannon offered with a chuckle as he inspected a flat tire on his no-till drill. It was the same drill his daughter Raegan was about to use to plant winter wheat.

A historic farm

Goodson Ranch was started by Cannon’s ancestors in the 1890s. Today, Cannon and his family raise cattle and grow a variety of crops, including HRW, corn, milo and cotton. His care for the soil and his attention to the role sustainability plays in the quality and reliability of U.S. wheat make him a solid choice for U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) ongoing “Stories of Stewardship” project.

In the project, Cannon and other U.S. wheat farmers tell the stories of their farms and how they work to make sure the land they pass on to the next generation of farmers is, as Cannon put is, “in better shape than when I started farming it.”

Tom Cannon explains the workings of his direct-seeding no-till drill to USW Vice President of Communications Steve Mercer and a film crew from USW's creative agency on hand to interview Cannon about how he practices sustainability on the farm.

Tom Cannon explains the workings of his direct-seeding no-till drill to USW Vice President of Communications Steve Mercer and a film crew from USW’s creative agency on hand to interview Cannon about how he practices sustainability on the farm.

“We are standing on land where my family started farming all those years ago. Now, all of my kids are back on the farm. They are here with me and my wife Laurie. The hope is that someday they will be ready to continue what I, and those before me, have built,” Cannon said. He noted that the fifth generation of farmers – daughters Raegan, Rachel and Reece, along with son Jacob – are involved in the operation.

Producing quality wheat

Producing quality wheat is part of Cannon’s mission, as is meeting the needs of customers around the world who purchase U.S. wheat.

Tom Cannon prepares to work cattle with his daughters Raegen, right, and Rachel, left.

Tom Cannon prepares to work cattle with his daughters Raegen, right, and Rachel, left.

“My kids are going to eat the same things that I’m selling to other people,” he said. “So yes, I have a huge responsibility for what I grow for the general public. You know, a farmer feeds hundreds and hundreds of people. I am very cognizant of how I raise those crops.”

Cannon’s farm has produced crops for 25 years with zero tillage. He uses direct seeding. Soil health is the foundation of every decision his family makes.

Tom Cannon chats with Oklahoma Wheat Commission Executive Director Mike Schulte as he waits for the video crew to interview him for USW’s Stories of Stewardship series

Tom Cannon chats with Oklahoma Wheat Commission Executive Director Mike Schulte as he waits for the video crew to interview him for USW’s Stories of Stewardship series

Tom cannon and his daughter Raegan trade ideas as they get ready to work cattle.

Tom cannon and his daughter Raegan trade ideas.

Native grasses key

The Goodson Ranch features a lot of native grasses, which make grazing cattle a natural part of the operation. But the grasses also inspired Cannon, a self-described fan of biology.

“Watching how our native grasses work enabled me to see that there was maybe a better way to grow our crops,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘How do I start building my soil and how am I going to manage wheat from the roots up?’ To do that, we had to get more diversity and we had to get cattle on this property at least once a year. You not only improve the soils. You also improve the quality of those products that you are raising in those soils.”

What is sustainability?

Asked what sustainability means to him, Cannon had a simple answer.

“I just have to shut my eyes and think about what this place was like for the thousands of years before we were here,” he replied. “What was it like then? Because it was absolutely sustainable.”

 

 

 

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U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) continued a tradition of promoting the value of U.S. agricultural products together with other USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator organizations by co-hosting the annual U.S. Agricultural Cooperators Conference Sept. 12 to 14, 2023, in Da Nang, Vietnam. This conference is designed as a value-added service for Southeast Asian buyers served by USW, and co-hosts U.S. Grains Council (USGC) and U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC).

USW Regional Vice President Joe Sowers on a panel at the 2023 U.S. Agricultural Cooperators Conference

USW Regional Vice President Joe Sowers participated in a panel discussion of U.S. cooperator leaders at the 2023 U.S. Agricultural Cooperators Conference.

“Our collaboration with these organizations on conferences in South and Southeast Asia not only increases opportunities to connect with our milling customers in the region, but also with grain trade and other industry representatives,” said Regional Vice President Joe Sowers who represented USW and the conference. “Many flour millers in the region also have feed milling operations, so this conference leverages the investments of all three host organizations to educate and increase positive contact with regional stakeholders.”

Building Bridges, Sharing Knowledge

Titled “Globalization 2.0: Building Bridges for Food Security, Sustainability, and Innovation,” the conference in Da Nang covered the global challenges identified in its name and, according to USGC, emphasized “the need to build bridges that facilitate collaboration, sharing knowledge, and acting on common issues.”

“It is very important that customers hear the message that U.S. farmers are producing safe, reliable and abundant supplies of wheat, feed grains and oilseeds,” Sowers said. “Vietnam, for example, is a quickly growing market with an exploding middle class eager to consume more and better-quality wheat-based foods.”

Vietnam’s annual milling wheat imports are more than 2 million metric tons and growing at a similar rate in the South and Southeast region.

Visit the USGC website for more information about the 2023 Southeast Asia U.S. Agricultural Cooperators Conference.

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A business card to describe the jobs Art Schultheis fills in a typical year would be too big for any pocket.

“I drive a tractor and harvest with a combine – all the things people think a farmer does,” explained Schultheis, a fifth-generation farmer from Colton, Washington. “But behind the scenes I’m also a mechanic, I’m a bookkeeper, and, like most farmers, I have a whole long list of other jobs.”

Planning Ahead

On a late August afternoon, in a wheat field a dozen or so miles north of his home, Schultheis greeted a film crew (photo above) with a glance to the sky and a shrug. A soft rain had begun to fall, bringing that day’s harvest to a reluctant halt.

“I am not going to even try to predict it,” he announced to the film crew, while taking another glance upward. “But I think we may as well plan to get back at it tomorrow.”

Yet another job for Schultheis: planning strategist.

The film crew was commissioned by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), which is collecting “Stories of Stewardship” from wheat farmers across the country to highlight their efforts to produce high-quality crop using sustainable practices.

In August, the 61-year-old Schultheis was harvesting his 40th wheat crop. His diversified operation typically grows hard red winter (HRW), soft white winter (SRW), hard red spring (HRS), and hard white spring wheat. The farm has also produced barley, garbanzo beans, lentils, Kentucky bluegrass seed, oats, canola, and alfalfa. There are also 10 beef cows to take care of.

Photo shows two men, farmers, standing next to each other and looking to the left side of the photo; in the background there is a tractor pulling a wagon through a golden wheat field.

Colton, Washington, farmers Art Schultheis, right, and his son Kyle Schultheis.

An Eye to the Future

Schultheis took over Diamond S Farms from his father more than three decades ago. With an eye to the future, his son Kyle has returned to the farm and is being mentored to one day take over all his father’s jobs. Bringing Kyle into the mix is part of the family’s approach to sustainability.

“To me, there are three parts to sustainability,” Schultheis explained. “Number one is I want to leave the land in better shape than when I started farming. Number two is my farm must be profitable. If you are not profitable, you are not sustainable. Number three is that you need a succession plan for your farm to continue to operate through generations.”

As the film crew set up the next morning to capture his story, Schultheis pointed out that sustainability is second nature to him and all other farmers.

“We have always cared for the land, but now we have tools that we never had decades ago,” he said. “We can do things today that we could not do in the past, and the soil keeps producing at higher and higher levels. One of my hopes for Kyle is that when I’m gone, he can stand here and say he learned things from me and makes the land even better than it will be once I call it quits.”

USW’s Stories of Stewardship series will be available for all to see and explore. It is expected to be of special interest to customers of U.S. wheat around the world.

Responsible as Possible

“I think consumers here in the United States and across the world are asking questions about where their food comes from,” said Schultheis. “On our farm, we do not raise commodities, we are raising food. And we need to be as responsible as possible because we know the end-consumer is making that connection between where food comes from and how it is produced. To be honest, it makes my job a lot more fun.”

And by his “job,” Schultheis means every single one of them.