U.S. wheat farmers know that improving economic and environmental sustainability is increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors.

The commitment each person makes on the journey to those customers is what makes U.S. wheat unmatched in both quality and reliability. Farmers especially feel a responsibility to preserve this legacy, to act as stewards of the land, and promote new practices that improve economic and environmental sustainability.

Reflection First

“Sometimes we need to reflect on what we have done, visit with experts regarding farming practices, and continually try to improve,” said Scott Huso who with his wife Elizabeth and an experienced team of employees operate Ridgeline Farm near Aneta, N.D. “We are not trying to improve our farm for us, but for the next generations to come.”

To show the productive quality of soil

Productive Soil. Using implements that allow Aneta, N.D., farmer Scott Huso to do a little tillage as possible, leaving crop residue on the field and planting cover crops keeps the soil on the Huso family’s Ridgeline Farm very productive to grow more and better wheat and other crops for people around the world. Photo from a Ridgeline Farm video.

The Responsible Way

“Members of my community, members of my family will be consuming this crop, as well as families around the United States and families across the globe,” said Kansas farmer Justin Knopf.

“When I make a decision to use a particular product, whether it be to fertilize the crop, to give it the fertility, the nutrition that it needs to grow and produce nutritious grain and good grain quality,” he said, “I always weigh those trade-offs with the end in mind and in a responsible way that consumers can be confident that we’ve done our due diligence.”

To show a responsible farmer

Sharing His Story. Kansas farmer Justin Knopf has invested in soil health through cover crops, no-till farming and crop rotation. “What I do impacts consumers, so it is important to share the bigger story of what is happening on our farm,” he said.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is sharing a new video production called “Sustainability: Sustaining the Legacy” that features U.S. wheat farmers like Scott Huso and Justin Knopf explaining how they go about improving economic and environmental sustainability practices on their farms with end-use qualities and future farm families in mind.

A Better Future

These individual actions contribute to the whole in a big way – a future with better quality wheat and better land management, leading to better food products for people across the world.

Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

Wheat harvest photo

On Feb. 24, 2021, Thomas Duffy, the Director of the Office of Agricultural Policy at the U.S. Department of State, joined the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) Joint Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee meeting to discuss global agriculture. The Office of Agricultural Policy promotes global food security, ensures a level playing field in agricultural trade, and advocates for agricultural biotechnology. 


Thomas Duffy, then Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, giving remarks at the Launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises addressing global food security.

Thomas Duffy, then Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, giving remarks at the Launch of the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises.  Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti Copyright: FAO.

We Need Science-Based Policies

“With climate change at the center of the U.S. foreign policy, we believe that innovations that support resource-efficient and climate-smart agriculture can promote resilience and sustainable food production globally,” Duffy said.  Some of the areas which hold the greatest promise, according to Duffy, include biotechnology twinned with “Big Data” and advances in artificial intelligence. As users of these innovations, farmers play an essential role in adopting and embracing new technologies to sequester carbon to mitigate climate change further and protect their investments.


Still, global access to and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology is a long way from reality. On a positive note, drought-tolerant and herbicide-tolerant GE (genetically engineered) wheat has been approved for the first time in Argentina. This advancement could have huge implications for global wheat markets if successful. USW and NAWG positions on biotechnology are available online.  

 Duffy stressed the need for global engagement, saying, “It’s important for us to leverage international forums and agreements to continue to advance science-based policies globally.”

We All Have a Role

International organizations play a critical role in setting worldwide standards and policies that underpin global trade in food and agriculture and responding to global challenges, such as feeding a growing population. As the Biden Administration has made clear, “The United States is committed to the international organizations that shape our world.” 


U.S. farmers traveled to East Africa to learn about global food security and food aid programs.

U.S. wheat, sorghum and rice growers observed East African food aid programs in 2019.

Duffy said, “We are all proud of the work done by the World Food Programme – headed by David Beasley who, while an international civil servant, is an American citizen. WFP was the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize and I am proud to note our steadily increasing support for WFP over the last several years. We believe American leadership in and support for international organizations is crucial, and we will continue to maintain or re-establish leadership roles in order to champion advancements in food and agriculture and represent U.S. farmers, ranchers, innovators, and workers.”


“In communities that rely largely on agriculture for their food and income, gender inequality translates into a large gender gap in agricultural productivity, for which countries pay a high price,” Duffy continued. Previous macro-level studies by UN Women have calculated potential gross gains of $100 USD million in Malawi, $105 million in Tanzania, and $67 million in Uganda per year from closing the agricultural productivity gap between men and women.


Given the challenges facing global food security and agriculture, it is more important than ever that the agriculture sector performs to its full capacity, which includes enabling women as leaders at all levels in the industry, leading to more efficient, inclusive and sustainable results. 

Safeguarding the Entire System

Finally, global access to food must be protected in the face of pandemic trade restrictions, increasing levels of poverty, international conflict, and the impacts of climate change. The United Nations SOFI report warns that the global rate of hunger has continued to rise despite the goal of zero hunger by 2030, and COVID-19 may increase the number of food insecure by up to 130 million people. 


The United States government, Duffy stated, is working to ensure the upcoming 2021 UN Food Systems Summit addresses global food security challenges through science-based solutions for sustainability in food production methods, supply chains, and regulatory policies. 


Duffy concluded by saying, “To achieve true and lasting food security, we need to build and safeguard the entire food ecosystem – the land and water, the local economies, the supply chain, the farmers, and the communities that depend on one another to thrive.” 


By Shelbi Knisley, USW Director of Trade Policy  

Across the United States, farmers produce more and better quality wheat using fewer natural resources, including land. According to an American Farm Bureau Federation report, in 2018, farmers needed about 8 million fewer acres (3.24 million hectares) to produce the same amount of wheat as in 1990.

The Biden Administration is currently establishing clear policy goals to fight climate change and reward conservation. It is more important than ever to share the success stories of how U.S. wheat farmers employ sustainable practices to protect their land and positively impact the environment.

U.S. wheat farmers are more economical and sustainable today by implementing agronomic practices and investing in technologies, research and development. Technology plays an essential role in making U.S. agriculture sustainable. When wheat breeders use advanced techniques and technologies to produce high-yielding, high-quality wheat varieties, it contributes to preserving the land’s natural resources through water and soil nutrient conservation that work in harmony with local conditions.

In their production, U.S. wheat farmers apply many aspects of the following sustainable tools and practices:

Reduced Tillage

The USDA Economic Research Service reports that reduced tillage has grown in popularity, and farmers implement the practice on nearly 70% of U.S. wheat acres. While at times a necessary tool, traditional plowing and other deep tillage can be concerning. Continuous wheat production with deep tillage contributed to the infamous U.S. “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. The introduction of reduced-till and no-till practices has helped reduce soil erosion and increase water retention on dryland crops. This practice also reduces fuel use and promotes carbon sequestration. Read more about the sustainability of practicing no-till farming here.

Crop Rotation and Cover Crops

After harvest, most wheat farmers practice crop rotation and switch to a different crop in the same fields. However, more and more farms are planting “cover crops” after harvest. Farmers incorporate this crop into the soil before planting the next crop. Both these practices are beneficial in preserving soil health as well as conserving water. Cover crops add soil nutrients and organic matter and help prevent soil and water runoff. In one study, Desert Durum® wheat farmers who rotate to lettuce crops following their durum harvest reduced water use on average about 30%.

On his family’s Kansas farm, Justin Knopf has invested in soil health through cover crops, no-till and crop rotations.

Water Conservation

Wheat is a naturally water-efficient crop. In much of the United States, wheat is grown during cooler months and has a longer growing season – providing more opportunity for it to capture naturally occurring precipitation. Only about 10% of U.S. wheat acres are irrigated. Even when farmers irrigate their wheat, it often needs less irrigation than many other crops.

California grower Roy Motter uses Desert Durum® as a rotation crop to let the soil rest between vegetable crops and to help control weeds and disease. Growing durum in a rotation with lettuce reduces water use on his farm by 24% to 50%.

Precision Agriculture

Farmers use technologies such as crop yield monitors, soil maps and global positioning systems (GPS), and drones. These technologies allow farmers to apply inputs more precisely, monitor plant health and collect data on soil nutrients and other natural resources. For example, such technology enables farmers to adjust seed, fertilizer and crop protection inputs with near pinpoint accuracy, ensuring the correct rates are applied or seeded in the right location while on the go in their fields. Greater efficiency through precision agriculture practices means greater economic and environmental sustainability.

Oregon soft white wheat grower Bob Johns (right in the photo at the top of the page) and his farming partner Chris Williams (left) say technology from improved breeding to drones help them make better-informed decisions about how inputs and management affect their yields, soil and crop health, and profitability.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) supports finding new ways to improve wheat quality and increase production with less impact on the environment. To learn more about how U.S. wheat farmers are adjusting their practices to produce more food and fiber sustainably, visit the “Innovation and Sustainability” section of our website.

Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability


By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, West Coast Office

Early in 2019, I attended a presentation given by the Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA), Kristin Meira. In the audience were farmers eager to hear how U.S. legislators shared their interests regarding the ongoing navigability of the Columbia and Snake River systems. Open waterways are a crucial and efficient source for U.S. farmers to export their product to international markets. In the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia and Snake River systems are a leading gateway for wheat exports with 53% of U.S. wheat destined for export coming down the Columbia River alone. The rivers can move more volume at once, with greater fuel efficiency, making them more effective for moving grain to market then by rail or truck. One barge can carry the same amount as 35 rail cars or 134 18-wheelers, and a barge tow can carry more than one 100-unit train or 538 trucks. One barge can move a ton of wheat 647 miles per gallon while a truck can only move a ton of wheat 145 miles per gallon

The commercial benefits are apparent and the PNWA is an active voice in promoting the benefits of keeping the river systems open for navigation. In their own words, the PNWA is a collaboration of ports, businesses, public agencies and individuals who combine their economic and political strength in support of navigation, energy, trade and economic development throughout the Pacific Northwest. The organization’s history dates back to the projects of the New Deal in 1934 when the group, known as the Inland Empire Waterways Association (IEWA) at the time, petitioned President Roosevelt to fund a navigation lock along the Columbia River just east of Portland, Ore. Since then, the PNWA has been a leader in securing Congressional authorization for the necessary funds to build another seven locks and dams along both the Snake and Columbia River. The PNWA also works hard to maintain and improve navigability by advocating for deepening the draft and improving the jetties that allow safe passage into the Columbia River.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) recently had the opportunity to attend a tour of United Grain Corporation’s terminal on the Columbia River with the PNWA executive director and Doug Walker, a State Department senior advisor assisting in negotiations for the Columbia River Treaty with Canada. Taking in the view from atop the highest grain elevator in the Western Hemisphere, you could see the convergence of commerce made possible by the Columbia River that forms the border between Oregon and Washington.

While the importance of the river system is not lost on the farming community, balancing the interests of environmentalists is difficult. Save Our Wild Salmon, an organization with the goal of increasing wild salmon and steelhead populations to the Pacific Northwest, advocates for the removal of dams on the Snake River and expanded spill ways on remaining dams. They would also like to modernize the Columbia River Treaty with Canada to include the river’s health as an equal portion of the treaty, which currently only governs energy production and flood management.

Many environmental groups do not place value on the beneficial role that the dams play in efficient grain transportation and clean renewable energy. The four dams on the Snake River power up to 800,000 homes while producing zero carbon emissions. Environmental groups are instead focusing their argument on enhancing the railroad as a replacement for barge grain transportation, which would take billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades to be productive and would not be as efficient nor as environmentally friendly

The value of the river system as a transport hub from farm to market is link necessary to connecting the United States to its trading partners. The river system keeps U.S. wheat competitive by moving higher volumes at more efficient prices. The wheat associations that make up the tri-state region of Idaho, Oregon and Washington all support, through their PNWA membership and resolutions,  the ongoing navigability of the rivers system. There will continue to be controversy surrounding the river system and the rich ecosystem that they sustain. The shared interest between farmers, sportsmen, environmentalists, scientists and commerce are diverse which is why having an organization like PNWA, that has spent more than 80 years advocating for an open river system, is the key to keeping it open for decades to come.


By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications

No two wheat fields in the world are alike. The fact is, there can be wide variations within a field or even a very small sections of a field.

Not that long ago, farmers had limited ability to change production strategies in ways that more directly correlated with this natural variability. Now, however, farmers in the United States and around the world have high-technology systems that allow them to instantly adjust seed, fertilizer and crop protection inputs with near pinpoint accuracy, ensuring the right rates are applied or seeded in the right location while on the go in their field.

According to information from “Let’s Grow Together,” an online information source in Washington state to help consumers better understand agriculture, “farmers collect information using crop yield monitors, soil maps and global positioning systems (GPS). The yield monitor measures the amount of wheat harvested and the GPS uses satellite signals to track the exact location where the yield measurements were taken.”

The resource notes that software creates a detailed map of high- and low-yield zones. Using enhanced GPS guidance systems, the wheat farmer can operate seeding and application equipment with as little as 2.5 centimeters (about one inch) of overlap. Such precision drastically reduces waste and the unnecessary application of fertilizer and crop protection products.

“I believe this technology makes us far more efficient,” said Janice Mattson, who with her family grows hard red winter and hard red spring wheat in Montana’s “Golden Triangle” region. “There is a financial benefit in using only what we need, but we also see environmental benefits on our own land, in our communities and for our customers.”


Janice Mattson sees environmental benefits from precision agriculture.


U.S. farmers know that seeking ways to improve the sustainability of the crop and environment is increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors.

Jeff Newtson, who with his family grows soft white wheat in northeastern Oregon, says technology like satellite imagery of crops helps them vary the rate of fertilizer across the hilly terrain of their farm to produce more uniform wheat.


Jeff Newtson says precision agriculture helps his family produce a more consistent soft white wheat crop for overseas buyers.


“We know that our customers want high-quality food products and 90 percent of the wheat we grow is exported,” said Newtson. “They come from overseas to support our farm and our families, so we have to give them a good product in return.”

“We have changed and adapted and we will keep changing and adapting,” said David Clough, who grows hard red spring wheat in central North Dakota. “We are doing that to survive economically and to keep our land in good shape for future generations.”


David Clough says farmers will keep changing and adapting to survive economically and keep their land in good shape.


“First and foremost, sustainability is economical and generational, which leads to environmental sustainability,” said Mark Linnebur, a family farmer from Byers, Colo.

His family’s focus on applying high-technology and no-tillage systems as well as other practices is all about being good stewards of the land.

“We are not trying to mine the land for what we can get out of it in the near term,” he said, “because we want to pass it on to our children.”


Mark Linnebur says sustainability on the farm is economic and generational.


Caption for image at the top of this page: Precision agriculture is allowing farmers to adjust inputs to near pinpoint accuracy, enhancing sustainable wheat production. Photo copyright “Let’s Grow Together.”


The American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) have jointly developed “Innovature,” a new resource to encourage a thoughtful dialogue around innovation in food and agriculture and the tangible benefits for our planet, our health and our food.


Through its website, social media and other activities, “Innovature” aims to foster productive conversations between key thought leaders and the public and cultivate broad partnerships that can help realize the full, positive potential of evolving breeding methods like gene editing.


U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) supports finding new ways to improve wheat quality and increase production with less impact on the environment. New research in biotechnology and plant breeding innovations, and a deepening understanding of DNA, will help make this possible. Scientists can now make far more precise genetic changes to plants and animals to help address some of society’s most urgent challenges including climate change, sustainability, hunger and improving health and wellness.


USW welcomed the opportunity to have a place where wide-ranging, inclusive viewpoints about such innovations can be shared and discussed and we have collaborated on “Innovature” with the sponsoring organizations. We will continue to offer our support and recommendations moving forward.


The website features original content and news about plant and animal breeding methods and their beneficial effects. We encourage our stakeholders at home and around the world to explore and share the site and engage with “Innovature” on these social media platforms:


BIO and ASTA welcome story ideas and other submissions at To learn more about the two organizations, their missions and membership please visit and



“Innovature” is a new platform for engaging in discussion about plant and animal breeding methods and their beneficial effects on our plant, food and health. It includes the website above,, with original information and news, and an active social media agenda.


Photo Above: Copyright Oklahoma State University/Todd Johnson


With the 2018 U.S. winter wheat harvest complete and October right around the corner, U.S. wheat farmers are now seeding a new crop. Across the 18 states that represent 90 percent of the area planted to winter wheat last year, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimates that 28 percent of the 2019 crop was planted as of September 23.


An image of wheat planting that caught our eye came recently from John McManigal, who grows soft white wheat with his family in Wasco County, Ore. John is an excellent agricultural field photographer and, with Mt. Hood looming over this mid-Columbia region, has a remarkable landscape on which to work. The photo he shared with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) that we have posted here and his words tell an inspiring story of hope and renewal.


Seeding in Dust, Wasco County, Oregon,

Photo © John McManigal, Used with Permission


The Substation Fire started Tuesday, July 17, on US 197 near The Dalles, Ore., about 3:30 p.m. By evening it had raced east across Wasco County, jumped the Deschutes River and started up into Sherman County. The next day brought more wind. The fire gathered itself again and started another run to the east. By the end of the day on Wednesday, Mid-Columbia Producers figured roughly 2 million bushels of wheat went up in smoke.”


“That is my son Brad in the photograph seeding on Rich Kortge Farms, only about five miles east of where the Substation Fire started. This field had been left fallow last season but the vegetative cover was lost to the fire. The field in the background to the left of the fence was standing wheat that went up in flames on the afternoon of July 17.”


“It has not rained in months here and the seeding conditions look a little bleak.”


“But you know farmers. Maybe next year…”


By Jennifer Latzke, High Plains Journal, May 22, 2018, Excerpts Reprinted with Permission

Editor’s Note: This article covers innovative ways wheat farmer organizations and public universities in several Plains states are investing to produce more wheat with improvements for farmers and end users in ways that are most sustainable.

The reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can feel bleak. This year farmers are projected to plant the second lowest total wheat acreage on record for the U.S. since 1919 — 47.3 million acres.

Winter wheat acres for 2018 are at the second lowest acreage since 1909, at 32.7 million acres. From new branding efforts, to new structures, to innovative research many scientists and industry professionals across the High Plains are working to ensure that the breadbasket of the world stays right here.

Farmers growing hard white (HW) winter wheat have dealt with a “Catch-22” situation for years. To grow demand, they must grow more white wheat. But to grow the quantities to meet demand, they must have an established market for the wheat that makes segregation worth the price.

Kansas Wheat is rolling out a branding campaign, “High Plains Platinum,” that aims to capture the added value of hard white wheat while still growing production.

Aaron Harries, vice president of research and operations with Kansas Wheat, explained that Platinum is a project developed with a grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture to establish and promote the high quality of hard white winter wheat grown in Kansas. Farmers plant Platinum-identified hard white winter wheat varieties that have excellent quality characteristics that millers and bakers demand. At harvest, the farmer takes his Platinum white wheat grain to a participating elevator that can then market that wheat to buyers as meeting the standards established by the program.

“It’s an effort to differentiate by establishing a market for hard white wheat through branding,” Harries said … In this case, Platinum white wheat must have: a minimum 12 percent protein; a minimum 60-pound test weight; less than 11.5 percent moisture; and contain less than 2 percent other classes of wheat. However, because of grain inspection rules a label or certificate can’t be attached to white wheat coming from a producer’s field.

With this attempt to establish a level of quality under the Platinum name, the hope is farmers and elevators can fully capture the value of their crop. And if this proves successful, the hope is neighboring states can come on board under the Platinum umbrella too.

Oklahoma Builds Capacity. In November 2017, [Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks] (OFSS) cut the ribbon on its new 20,000-square-foot facility at the Oklahoma State University Agronomy Research Station in Stillwater … to support the growing demand for certified seed from the public breeding program at Oklahoma State University.

Jeff Wright, coordinator of production and operations at OFSS, said this facility’s improved storage space means they can keep larger numbers of seed available for seedsmen to increase earlier in the variety release process.

“We are trying to have a larger amount of seed available so that when we do release a variety, it can get to the farmer at the end certified level quicker,” Wright said …

Currently, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission estimates that half of all the state’s wheat acres are planted with OSU-bred varieties. Sales revenue from those varieties goes back to OFSS to support future wheat breeding and research efforts. OFSS also licenses certain wheat varieties to Oklahoma Genetics, Inc.

Colorado Releases Grassy Weed Control. Grassy weed control in wheat acres is a challenge to growing high quality grain the market demands. But a new discovery out of Colorado State University is poised to revolutionize the market.

CoAXium is a wheat production system using the genetic trait, AXigen, identified through traditional wheat breeding methods at Colorado State University. Wheat varieties with the AXigen gene are immune to … a Group 1 ACCase inhibiting herbicide that controls grassy weeds, such as brome, feral rye, jointed goatgrass and wild oats.

Brad Erker is the new executive director for the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation. The CWRF takes ownership of CSU wheat varieties, and provides money to the wheat breeding program from royalties charged on those varieties …

“If we have a successful launch of a trait from a public institution like this, it shows that trait development at CSU is fruitful,” he said. “It could be the start of more patentable traits, and proving we can tackle the big problems wheat farmers face.”

Texas Drones Gather Data … Jackie Rudd, Texas A&M University wheat breeder, explained how his breeding program is utilizing new technology to better capture and crunch data.

“We’ve used a lot of sensor type data collecting rigs…” he said. “But this year we jumped in and we are using a drone to fly over plots and collect data.” Texas A&M invested in a data processing system that … tabulates that data and in a day’s time Rudd has at his fingertips plot by plot data and can make breeding decisions.

“We are increasing our efficiency and doing more with the resources we do have. We can reduce the time frame new varieties come out, and provide growers more and better material.”

And, the drone flyovers can happen on a daily basis, allowing Rudd to see how the plant changes day by day according to weather and other stressors. This year alone he’s been able to see daily changes to moisture on the dryland plots that he’s never been able to capture and quantify before. That makes a big difference when you’re trying to breed the next wheat variety that will perform well in harsh environmental conditions.

Nebraska Uses Genetic Markers for Improvement. Data is the key to finding the next great wheat variety. Today, with the sequencing of the wheat genome, Stephen Baenziger, wheat breeder for the University of Nebraska, can use genetic markers along with estimated breeding values to better select what lines to advance in his purebred and hybrid wheat variety trials.

“So, let’s say you go to a field and a couple of lines look similar, but you can predict one will work better,” Baenziger said. “Phenotypic data augmented with genotypic data shows us which is better.” It’s evaluating by sight, but also with genetic information found from DNA sequencing.

In 2016, … genomic data saved six years of wheat breeding and countless dollars invested. Ultimately, this tool means his program can be more efficient and provide a quicker return on investment for wheat growers …

“We are committed to the economic sustainability of the American farmer,” Baenziger said. “We’re going to try to get high quality and profitable wheat and save farmers money while they produce more.”


By Ben Conner, USW Director of Policy

Many European farmers breathed a sigh of relief this week as the European Commission chose to extend registration of the broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate for five years. But farmers in Europe and elsewhere around the world are justifiably worried about the challenges represented by the European Union’s pesticide policy.

The extension of glyphosate approval is good news — even a bit surprising. The European Food Safety Authority has been emphatic in its position that glyphosate presents no human safety hazard when used in compliance with regulations. Yet the Commission only extended the registration for five years based only on a political compromise rather than sound scientific evidence or and accepted risk assessment standards. The activists trying to derail the glyphosate approval process are ignoring the integrity of that agency’s risk assessment process, which undermine the principles of scientific approaches to regulation.

The fight over glyphosate re-registration is symptomatic of broader concerns about pesticide policies in the European Union. Its so-called “hazard-based” approach to registration of certain pesticides and innovative plant breeding ignores scientific risk assessments that lead to standards for proper use of pesticides. This creates a greater risk of major trade disruptions, potentially including wheat and certainly including other food ingredients.

It should be noted that there are many well-meaning individuals who are sincerely concerned about the safety of their food supply and environment. As the father of two small children, I can certainly understand that. But to my mind, being able to put food on the table and ensure our planet can support future generations clearly outweighs immeasurably small odds of harm. My children deserve to live in a world that is willing to thoughtfully evaluate the risks and rewards of progress, based not on fear, but rather on accepted scientific evidence and standards.


By Elizabeth Westendorf, Assistant Director of Policy

It’s no secret that the U.S. wheat industry and its customers rely heavily on international trade rules to keep markets open and wheat moving. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the prime example of this, particularly in its limits on tariffs and subsidies that have done so much to push towards a level playing field in global trade. But along with the WTO are other institutions that play a critical role in trade.

As traditional barriers to trade have decreased due to the WTO and other trade agreements, many countries have adapted and found new ways to protect industries, limit imports, or retaliate on trade issues (and clearly there are still many issues with traditional barriers!). Technical barriers – in particular sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers that purportedly address health, safety, and environmental problems – are a big challenge in trade today and likely to be a growing concern in the future.

The WTO SPS Agreement identifies two additional international treaties that are relevant to wheat trade: the Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of standards, guidelines and practices that aim to protect consumer health while also ensuring fair practices in international trade, and the IPPC is the international standard setting body for plant health.

The most visible standards in wheat are probably the maximum levels for pesticide residues (MRLs), mycotoxins, and heavy metals set by Codex, but there are other influential standards for things like phytosanitary certificates and pest risk assessments adopted by the IPPC.

The SPS Agreement requires that any measures that a country adopts that are more trade-limiting than the standards developed by Codex and IPPC be scientifically justified, taking into account relevant factors like exposure and risk. Countries have every right to limit imports of unsafe products, whether they’re unsafe to their consumers or the environment, as long as they have gone through the process of providing sound justification. The WTO provides a clearing house of announcement for regulatory changes proposed by member countries, giving all others an opportunity to comment and object if needed. USW staff routinely monitor these announcements for any potential new restrictions on wheat trade.

Divergence from an international SPS measure is not necessarily a violation of trade commitments, but it can be a sign that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. The U.S. government has personnel dedicated to fixing these sorts of technical barriers and ensuring that standard setting bodies rely on the best science available and avoid acting as unnecessary impediments to trade.

The highly technical nature of SPS measures means that these measures are often difficult to implement properly and address if something is wrong. Following these standards or an alternative science- and risk-based process is extremely important for trade in wheat and wheat products to avoid market disruptions. The evolving nature of trade also means that these institutions need to pursue robust agendas while maintaining their scientific integrity so that they do not become pawns of agendas, but remain independent arbiters of good trade practices in SPS measures.