KANSAS CITY — Representatives spanning the entire wheat chain took part in a forum focused on the future during the Wheat Quality Council annual meeting held Feb. 17 at the Embassy Suites hotel in Kansas City.
Asked by Ben Handcock, executive director of the W.Q.C., to develop a “wish list” for the future of the wheat industry, the panelists — breeders, producers, millers and bakers — weighed in with a wide range of ideas.
Neal Fisher, administrator for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said he would like to see earlier analysis of wheat varieties and suggested the best program might be one that includes all breeding programs. He also noted that partnerships with private industry will be important going forward with new technologies.
Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, stressed the need for education.
“We need to continue to tell the story of quality,” Mr. Schulte said. “Having people with social media savvy to get the message out is important.”
He said it’s important to make people aware of the qualities and consistencies the wheat industry is striving for.
“I’d like to see us as an industry get on the same page with standards, parameters that has everybody trying to achieve the same goals,” he said.
Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board, agreed that quality is important. He also urged those in attendance to look for ways to find consistency in wheat surveys across state borders. Doing so, he said, may lead to more unification across the industry.
For Brian Walker, technical services manager at Miller Milling, communication is key.
“We need to keep talking,” he said. “When we talk about the consolidation of the industry, there are fewer bakers, millers, but there are more and more products. With clean label, organic and all the things, who knows what we’ll be talking about in (the future). … The key thing is we listen to each other and we’re addressing these things. So I’d like to see us continue to learn from each other about our technologies. I know that there is a lot of money involved, and a lot of privacy involved today in what we’re doing, but we need to continue to talk about what’s important because that’s the lifeblood of this organization.”
Likewise, Terry Selleck, director of milling quality assurance at Bay State Milling, put cooperation and communication atop his “wish list.”
He urged the W.Q.C. to look for ways to expand its footprint, mentioning cooperative efforts with international groups as a possible avenue for growth. Given the opportunity to address any issue with “all the money in the world,” Mr. Selleck said he’d focus on wheat disease.
“If I had a wish list and all the money in the world, the one thing I would want is wheat that is disease resistant,” he said. “Especially vomitoxin, which is a big one right now for us. If the milling industry didn’t have to worry about vomitoxin, it would take about 50% of our headaches away, at least on my side.”
Len Heflich, vice-president of quality systems for Bimbo Bakeries USA, spoke highly of what the W.Q.C. currently is doing.
“This is a very special meeting,” he said. “We do things that no other group in this country does. We give breeders feedback, data so they have information on their varieties and know what to release. We are the conscience and barometer of the wheat quality in this country.”
But he also sees room for improvement.
“We need to work on our database to collect all the information on the test results and then use them to create reports,” he said. “Right now we have three different systems, and some of them are not maintainable. Like most computer systems, they become obsolete. We need a maintainable database that we can use to sustain us in the future. It needs to be integrated from three into one. It needs to be something we can support and maintain every year. I can’t tell you how important that is, because if one of these databases crashes and it’s not fixable, we literally don’t have a report.”
Dave Katzke, senior technology manager at General Mills, agreed with Mr. Heflich in espousing the value of the W.Q.C.
“We are all here to try and make the wheat industry a healthy industry from end to end,” he said, adding that the passion of the W.Q.C. is unmatched.
Mr. Katzke’s wishes were to continue and grow the annual wheat crop tours and to strengthen the end-to-end participation within the W.Q.C.“We’re weaker on the baker side, and we’re weaker on the producer side,” he said. “We’d like to see greater participation on both ends.”