Growers look to revitalize wheat industry; users seek details

by Jay Sjerven
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The National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Wheat Foundation will develop a business plan.

WASHINGTON – The National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Wheat Foundation on Nov. 10 announced a joint effort to develop a comprehensive business plan to revitalize the U.S. wheat industry. The North American Millers’ Association and the American Bakers Association applauded the goal of revitalizing the wheat chain but requested further details on the initiative and urged their perspectives be included in the process especially if what is envisioned as part of plan may be the development and commercialization of bio-engineered wheat varieties.

“The wheat industry is not keeping pace with other crops. As a wheat grower-leader, I want to see the industry flourish not decline,” said Brett Blankenship, NAWG president and a wheat grower from Washtucna, Wash. “Reinvigorating the wheat industry will come from increased productivity and profitability. This strategic plan will provide us with the insight and analysis we need to move the U.S. wheat industry forward in a stronger direction.”

Dusty Tallman, chairman of the N.W.F. and a wheat grower from Brandon, Colo., noted the wheat industry has faced decreased profitability in comparison to other crops, a lack of significant productivity gains, increased global competition and negative consumer sentiment regarding the healthfulness of wheat-based products.

“Wheat has a lot of potential,” Mr. Tallman said. “We want to make sure that potential is fully achieved. We recognize that current efforts are insufficient to generate the turnaround the U.S. wheat industry needs, and we need to change that.”

The NAWG and the N.W.F. indicated the effort will include research to analyze producer attitudes, best practices and views of the future of the wheat industry, stakeholder input from across the industry and a review of existing research funding models both in wheat and other commodities.

The NAWG and the N.W.F. said following the information gathering, they will develop a comprehensive business plan that will identify the best revenue generation model for wheat, outline the steps needed to develop that model and identify specific uses for national funds and a process for application, distribution, reporting and accounting.

Joining the NAWG-N.W.F. as executive partners in the initiative were CropLife America, a trade association whose members produce and distribute virtually all crop protection and biotechnology products used by American farmers; Monsanto, Syngenta North America and WinField Solutions.

“Our nation’s wheat growers have worked tirelessly for generations, making sure that Americans are able to enjoy food products made with wheat,” stated Jay Vroom, president and chief executive officer, CropLife America. “Bread, bagels, cereal and pasta: These are all staples of a healthy diet, and the crop protection industry will continue to support wheat growers in producing these nutritious foods.”

Jeff Koscelny, Ph.D., wheat commercial and WestBred brand lead, said, “Monsanto is investing in wheat research and commercialization to bring value to our customers today and into the future, but truly raising the bar on wheat productivity and profitability will require innovative technology transfer techniques and a collaborative approach from everyone in the industry. With both of these at the heart of this initiative, we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Ryan Findlay, Syngenta North America industry relations lead, said, “Syngenta is pleased to support the U.S. wheat industry as it develops the new National Wheat Action Plan. This is a true partnership where farmers and industry can have an open dialogue to develop the platform driving wheat’s profitability. Syngenta is committed to providing farmers with industry-leading genetics, crop protection and innovative solutions such as hybrid wheat to transform how crops are grown.”

The NAWG and the N.W.F. said their goal was to release their action plan in fall 2016.

Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer, A.B.A., said, “A.B.A. strongly supports a stable, viable and profitable wheat growing community. As the single largest users of high-quality wheats, America’s bakers fully appreciate the enormous risks and entrepreneurial spirit required to grow wheat for our wholesome and nutritious products,

“A.B.A. supports the goals of the NAWG National Wheat Action Plan. We are eager to learn more regarding this new unilateral effort,” Mr. MacKie continued. “It is our sincere hope that A.B.A. will be invited to include the bakers’ perspective on opportunities and hurdles for the future of wheat. The grower community must recognize that no matter how supportive bakers may be of a variety of wheat innovation opportunities, if consumers reject technology there will be zero acceptance on the part of bakers.

“A.B.A. was disappointed that NAWG in its announcement made specific reference to bakery products without acknowledging there is no commercially available biotech wheat and without consulting their end-user customers.” Mr. MacKie noted. “It is particularly troubling, given an environment where there are significant consumer questions surrounding the country’s food supply including the misperception that there is commercially available biotech wheat.”

Jim McCarthy, NAMA president, said, “NAMA supports the central goals of the National Wheat Action Plan, and we are eager to learn more about the program. We hope to work with NAWG and N.W.F. toward the goal of urging greater acreage devoted to wheat production. We look forward to learning what the program entails.”

In a joint statement, Mr. MacKie and Mr. McCarthy said, “A.B.A. and NAMA are committed to continue their inclusive joint dialogue regarding wheat innovation and look forward to working with key stakeholders, including retail and foodservice customers, consumers, technology providers, academia and reliable wheat grower partners.”
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