UNLOADING — Ken Johnson pauses in the field of winter wheat on Friday to drop off a load from his combine. I-O Photo by Buck Traxler
“It is vital that our young agricultural leaders understand the grain industry in Montana,” stated Cheryl Tuck, Information Specialist, with the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee.
She was talking to the state officers of the Montana FFA Association as they were about to take a four-day tour “following the grain” from Montana to the export terminals in Portland. The Montana Wheat and Barley Committee sponsor this educational activity. They also sponsor the state FFA agronomy winning team to take the same tour. For two years now, both groups have traveled together.
Attending were state officers Jayleen Harris of Conrad, Lane Nordlund, Laura Frazee, Sarah Snow, Brooke Cather, Kristen Scott, Mick Mosher and Cody Donaugh; state advisor Bill Jimmerson (former Conrad resident and CHS AG instructor); Park City FFA advisor Kari Hanson; Flathead FFA members Tristen Wise, Kelsey Ovik, Kyler Woll and Carter Krantz; and Flathead advisor, Clark Krantz.
The group left on Aug. 8 to learn how over 150 million bushels of wheat produced in Montana is marketed and how 120 million bushels of it are shipped west.
Some of the wheat ends up getting milled into flour for bread products in the U.S. but nearly 70% (85 million bushels) ends up on a ship bound for markets in the Pacific Rim countries. They also learned that 95 percent of Montana’s wheat for export is shipped via the railroad and the other five percent is hauled in trucks to the terminals at Lewiston, Idaho.
The Montana FFA group of 15 started their tour in Lewiston and learned how the wheat is graded before being loaded onto a barge. The two river terminals they toured were the Lewis-Clark Terminal and CLD Pacific Grain. CLD is a joint venture between Cargill, Inc. and Louis Dreyfus. Both terminals are on the Clearwater River junction with the Snake River.
Columbia Grain also has a terminal in that vicinity. Barges carry 80,000 – 120,000 bushels each and take about three days to navigate to Portland, entering the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities (Pasco, Kennewick, & Richland).
The group then toured the Palouse growing area of Washington where harvest was 10 days late but a bountiful harvest of soft white wheat was expected.
They toured the WSU Veterinary Medicine hospital and the Walla Walla Community College (John Deere training facility and Viticulture program) before heading back to the river at Kennewick to tour the CHS-Connell Grain Company before heading to Portland.
The first evening in Portland was spent at a social with grain buyers from Thailand, Viet Nam, and the Philippines at the home of Dr. David Shelton, Executive Director of the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland. These buyers were especially interested to know about the crop conditions in Montana. Dr. Shelton hosted the group for a full day of education about how Montana grain is marketed.
A visit to the Shin Shin Foods Company was exciting for the group because this company uses only Montana hard red winter wheat for their noodle products which are sold in the U.S. to many customers, including the Panda Express outlets.
The group also witnessed the loading of a vessel bound for the Philippines being loaded at the Columbia Grain Export Terminal. This terminal ships 14 percent of all U.S. wheat exports annually. This amounts to over 15 million bushels! The ship was being loaded with soft white wheat and hard red spring wheat.
At the Wheat Marketing Center in downtown Portland, foreign countries send their representatives there to learn how to utilize wheat in their food products. The Center trains them, as they did us, in using wheat to produce noodles, flat breads, tortilla’s, steamed breads, and bagels.
As most Asian countries do not produce bagels for their citizens, the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee purchased a bagel machine for the Wheat Center to use in training these foreign teams, creating a new product and new market for Montana wheat.
John Oades, VP of the U.S. Wheat Associates, explained to the group why the price of wheat has risen recently and the role the Wheat Associates play in helping market U. S. wheat to the world.
The group returned home with a much better understanding of the grain industry and will utilize that knowledge as they visit FFA members throughout this year.