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Your checkoff dollars at work...

Commission budget reflects new realities as concerns arise about next year's crop

By Scott A. Yates, July 2014

Ten heads are better than one pretty much sums up Steve Claassen’s philosophy when it comes to serving as chairman of the Washington Grain Commission (WGC). Which is why the Asotin County wheat and barley farmer made it a point to bring the entire commission into the budgeting process well before the ink was dry. Instead of a “Chairman’s Budget,” his goal was a “Commission’s Budget.”

That priority drove Claassen’s decision to make the commission’s finances the center piece of every meeting since becoming chairman last January. In addition to other business that came before the seven farmer commissioners, two industry representatives and a state official, they spent hours plowing through the budget line by line.

That chipping away process culminated May 25, when the WGC passed what commissioners referred to as a “zero increase” budget. Zero increase, that is, if you don’t count the one-time pass-through of $5 million to Washington State University (WSU) to build a second wheat greenhouse on the Pullman campus (see greenhouse sidebar on page 48).

Without the greenhouse expense, the 2014/15 WGC budget is $6.4 million. Last year’s budget came in at $6.5 million.

“We began the budget process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicting lower prices. Add that to the single digit temperatures much of the state suffered through in early December, not to mention a lack of moisture, and the board felt it was prudent to pursue a conservative course,” Claassen said, adding that while the crop is still hurting, prices aren’t nearly as dire as they once looked.

 “The drought in the Southern Plains and the Ukrainian crisis kept prices firmer than expected, but they now appear to be on their way back down,” Claassen said.

The downward trend in prices was reflected in the WGC’s 2013/14 assessment income, with the commission collecting a million dollars less than the previous year. Whether the same decline will be experienced in the current budget year is impossible to predict, but Claassen is cautious.

 “Although we’re concerned about this year’s crop, the big question is what kind of conditions we’ll have for planting. Soil moisture profiles are running near empty in places, and weather forecasters say there’s an El Niño coming. This year’s crop is going to be challenging, but it’s next fall and winter that I’m really worried about,” Claassen said.

Under the “Research” category of the budget, Arron Carter, WSU’s winter wheat breeder, remains the largest single recipient of commission funds with five line items totaling $516,828. Still, that is about $12,000 less than he received last year. Reflecting the WGC’s desire to see a high-yielding, high-quality hard white winter variety developed to respond to domestic and Pacific Rim demand, his hard wheat program, which includes funding for breeding new varieties of hard white as well as hard red, has exceeded soft white funding for the last five years. In the 2014/15 budget, that works out to $143,830 versus $129,606.

Other big budget research items include $390,070 to spring wheat breeder Mike Pumphrey spread over five budget items, about $74,000 more than last year. Most of the funding, $160,258, goes toward spring wheat breeding, but another of his budget items, precision breeding, also known as SMART breeding for Selection with Markers and Advanced Reproductive Technologies, is worth $140,062. Pumphrey’s funding also includes $30,000 for the last of a two-year falling numbers research project. That is separate from $44,000 for falling numbers research budgeted to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Camille Steber.

Kim Campbell, ARS wheat breeder and geneticist, will receive $127,050 from commission funds for club breeding and winter hardiness research. All together, breeders based on WSU’s Pullman campus received $1,033,948 of the commission’s $2,397,171 investment in ongoing research activities or 43 percent of total research funding. If research projects related to breeding but conducted by other scientists are included in the total, funding jumps to $1.4 million or 61.2 percent of the budget.

Other significant budget items under the research heading include Stephen Guy’s $175,000 for wheat and barley variety testing trials and evaluations; Kevin Murphy’s $141,750 for barley breeding; and ARS scientist Xianming Chen’s $95,000 for rust research. All together, ongoing research projects comprise 37 percent of the commission’s entire budget. When the greenhouse expense is included, total research funding jumps to 65 percent of this year’s budget, by far the highest level in the last five years.

Although the “Market Development” portion of the budget decreased by $110,000 year to year to $1.35 million, there were portions within that segment which saw an uptick. U.S. Wheat Associates’ funding rose from $596,900 to $625,600, but that includes a $56,000 increase in membership dues to $411,600 as a result of higher state yields and other class-specific projects. Membership in other organizations with a national focus includes $57,411 to the Wheat Foods Council, $10,000 to the U.S. Grains Council, $7,000 to the National Barley Foods Council and $2,000 to the Home Baking Association.

Meanwhile, the Portland-based Wheat Marketing Center saw its funding reduced from last year thanks largely to completion of the center’s biscuit line. Seven states contribute to the WMC. Washington’s share of support fell to $292,502 from $373,502 even with the addition of a line item for a biscuit line operator/consultant. Washington’s portion of the cost, which will be shared with other states, comes to $50,000.

The big news under the “Education/Information” heading was a $124,000 increase in classroom education to $384,600. Led by Kara Kaelber out of the Franklin County Conservation Commission office, commissioners supported continued expansion of the “Wheat Week” program into Western Washington. The series of five lessons educates fourth and fifth graders about water, soil, watersheds, transportation, energy and salmon—all through the lens of wheat.

Under “Growers Services,” several categories saw decreases, but overall funding rose $100,000 to $1,178,000 as the commission set aside $250,000 to be targeted to public relations/education. A new line item provides $30,000 under Pacific Northwest special projects to help establish an industry/university cooperative research center. There is also continued funding—$50,000—for Drew Lyon’s WSU Extension Education program and $30,000 for WSU’s Plant Pest Diagnostic Clinic.     Here's a full listing of the WGC 2014-2015 budget