Dependable People: A Spotlight on the Oklahoma Wheat Commission
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: Oklahoma Wheat Commission
Member of USW since 1980
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Classes of wheat grown: Hard Red Winter (HRW), Hard White (HW)
USW Leadership: Don Sherrill, 1988/89 Chairman; Henry Jo Von Tungeln, 2001/02 Chairman; Keith Kisling, 2004/05 Chairman; Don Schieber, 2010/11; Michael Peters 2020/21 Secretary-Treasurer-elect (slated for 2022/23 Chairman).
Established in 1965, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission promotes greater utilization of wheat in domestic and international markets through research, market development and public education. Twenty percent of all producer funds collected by the Commission are allocated to the Oklahoma Wheat Research Foundation. The Commission supports numerous wheat research projects conducted by the Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, all aimed at ensuring the future of Oklahoma wheat.
Why is export market development important to Oklahoma wheat farmers and why do they continue to support USW?
Export markets are critical to the success of U.S. agricultural products because it allows us to capture value for the U.S. farmer in markets that might not be able to grow crops such as wheat. We continue to face greater competition from Russia, Canada, the European Union, Australia and other countries that also grow wheat, so it is extremely important for us to continue offering technical assistance to millers and bakers overseas. Demonstrating the benefits of U.S. wheat and why it is the most reliable choice for their products is important. If we do not tell the story about U.S. wheat value, nobody will. We must also continue working on quality analysis and research that offers the best value to our foreign buyers.
How have Oklahoma wheat farmers recently connected with overseas customers?
Mexico is the largest market for Oklahoma wheat and the relationships created between Oklahoma wheat farmers and Mexican flour millers over the past 30 years are greatly valued. This last year we have worked with Oklahoma State University (OSU) and the Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) in Portland, Ore., to focus on functionality studies for products like tortillas for the Mexican market. While traditionally our focus has been on Latin American, African and Middle Eastern export markets, we have also recently shifted some focus to Far Eastern markets, specifically China and Taiwan. Based on feedback from a visiting Taiwanese trade delegation in 2019, we are working on HRW and HW functionality studies for steam breads and Asian noodles. In the past, HRW wheat was not used for these types of products but we have seen Taiwanese customers react to technical assistance offered by U.S. Wheat Associates, WMC and on-going research at OSU. This past year Taiwan has sourced HRW to make up 30 percent of their production blends, or about 16 million bushels of U.S. HRW purchased over the last three months. In March, China also purchased 12.5 million bushels of HRW for the same blending purposes. These purchases are particularly important because it showcases the value of HRW for blending due to advancements in quality. Renewed Chinese purchases are a positive signal that the new Phase One U.S.-China trade agreement signed in January 2020 is working.
What is happening lately in Oklahoma that overseas customers should know about?
Our current focus is on end-use quality characteristics for the functionalities that our overseas customers need for many different end products. Traditionally Oklahoma is known for growing HRW wheat for bread consumption, and while that continues to be a significant part of our role in domestic and international markets, our focus is changing to meet changing consumer demands. We are trying to create products that can be prepared in a matter of minutes rather than products that take 30 minutes to an hour. We are seeing consumer preferences change across the globe. People want meals to taste good, but they also want them to be easy and quick to make. We certainly are seeing greater emphasis on tortilla demands and we expect to see more emphasis on steam breads that can be utilized for several different cooking purposes.