Eastern Markets Love Washington Wheat for Its Quality in Favorite Dishes – But That Won’t Matter without Access to Trade and The TPP

Lack of Access to International Markets Threatens U.S. Agriculture

Washington wheat in Asian noodles
High-Quality Washington Wheat Makes the Best Noodles

Washington wheat is the preferred standard of quality for buyers in Asian countries – Think of all those delicious noodle dishes! But, without proper funding to promote agricultural exports and without the benefit of access to the TPP, our Washington wheat growers face catastrophic consequences. Withdrawal from the TPP essentially slams the door on exports to many eastern nations that have long preferred Washington wheat for the quality our farmers deliver.

Washington Leads in Quality Wheat

Washington state leads as the fourth largest wheat producing state in the nation, but it tops everyone in quality. Washington has more than 2.2 million acres in production. But, what sets Washington farmers apart from growers in other wheat-producing states is the ability to grow more wheat on available acres—and to grow the best quality wheat.

Most wheat in Washington is dryland raised, or grown on non-irrigated land. Dryland farmers can raise about 65 bushels per acre. In fact,  Whitman County produces more wheat than any other county in the U.S. Wheat growers across the state are committed to producing the highest quality product.

“The Pacific Northwest cannot compete as the least-cost producer of wheat in the world, but we can compete as the highest-quality producer of wheat. Soft white winter is the flagship wheat class of the PNW and ensuring its quality is the highest possible is the responsibility of our entire industry,” says Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission (WGC).

Pacific Northwest Wheat Growers Adopt Tough Quality Standards

Committed to delivering wheat of the highest quality, Washington wheat growers voluntarily adopt tighter restrictions on quality. Together with other grain commissions in the region, as well as the Pacific Northwest Wheat Quality Council, the WGC adopted tighter regulations that protect the intrinsic quality of NW wheat by inhibiting the planting of lower-quality varieties and increasing acreage planted with the highest quality varieties.

In addition to growing better and stronger varieties, Mike Miller, chairman of the WGC, said he hopes the tougher standards convey a message to international customers that “the Pacific Northwest goes above and beyond our competitors when it comes to ensuring customers get the best quality available.”

Leaving the Door Open for the Competition

A commitment to quality won’t mean much for our Washington wheat growers without the ability to promote our wheat and without access to international markets. Most of Washington’s wheat, more than 90% of it, is exported out of the Pacific Northwest ports along the Columbia River. Most of it goes to eastern nations such as the Middle East, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

The U.S. isn’t the only country competing for those key eastern markets. Our biggest competitors for the international wheat market are Canada, Australia and the Former Soviet Union. Federally funded programs, the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) are facing significant budget cuts. Recently, the U.S. withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, giving significant advantage to competing countries who remained in the trade partnership.

Squires recently reported in an email that backing out of the TPP was “a very bad deal for our farm families and communities.” Japan leads as a top consumer of U.S. wheat, especially high-quality soft white and club varieties grown by Eastern Washington and Idaho farmers. These varieties are ideal for making popular Asian noodles. In fact, Japan imports about 3.1 million metric tons of U.S. wheat each year. Currently the U.S. tariff is about $150 per metric ton. Under the new Trans-Pacific deal, Canada and Autralia would see those tariffs reduced by about $65, or 43%, giving them a significant advantage over U.S. farmers.

“If the TPP agreement is signed without the U.S. being a part of it, U.S. wheat will be put at a $65 per metric ton disadvantage. Both Australia and Canada, two of our closest competitors, will see lower tariffs, making those countries’ wheat much more attractive than U.S. wheat,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

According to Squires, “It is very discouraging for our farmers, not to mention the grain trade, to have invested so much over the last 70 years establishing a profitable market in Japan, only to see it undermined and dismantled by politics and our own government.”