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Archive for Sunday, May 12, 2002

Farmers get incentive to grow white wheat

May 12, 2002

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— Farmers who plant hard white winter wheat this fall may be able to tap into a $20 million incentive program in the farm bill.

The new white wheat subsidy, which adds a premium on top of other government wheat subsidies, was designed to spur the switch from the traditional hard red wheat grown in the nation's breadbasket to white varieties more in demand by export markets.

Joe Martin, a wheat breeder, inspects a test plot of white wheat at
the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center in Hays.
Production of white wheat in Kansas could jump as farmers take
advantage of a new $20 million incentive program as part of the new
farm bill.

Joe Martin, a wheat breeder, inspects a test plot of white wheat at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center in Hays. Production of white wheat in Kansas could jump as farmers take advantage of a new $20 million incentive program as part of the new farm bill.

"We thought in order to get the mass of hard white wheat in the country, we needed to have this incentive ... after three years the incentive is off and white wheat will be strong enough on its own that the market will provide the incentive," said Ron Stoddard, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board.

Although white wheat may be more in demand by wheat importing countries, its proponents argued that a government subsidy was needed to get enough hard white wheat in the country so that the rest of the grain trade infrastructure such as grain elevators and other trade industry segments would gear up to handle it.

Nebraska, which last year grew 10,000 acres of white wheat and pioneered its own state-funded subsidy program for it, led the nationwide push to give white wheat an additional premium as part of the new farm bill. Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado supported those efforts.

Kansas, the nation's top wheat producer, took a "neutral stand" on the new wheat subsidy program. Kansas planted 100,000 acres of hard white among the 9.4 million acres of winter wheat seeded last fall.

"We thought the drive for white wheat needs to come from the marketplace, and not being pushed by the government," said Brett Myers, executive director of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "We were afraid people would be growing white wheat for all the wrong reasons, and not the right reasons."

But with the new farm bill nearly in place, Nebraska is now turning to other wheat producing states to help write the regulations to distribute the funds.

"We think this is a great opportunity for other states to step in," Stoddard said. "That provision is going to be there for Kansas producers just as they will be there for Nebraska producers. We need Kansas to help us with the writing of the actual provisions."

The $20 million in the fund covers the next three crop years, beginning with hard white winter wheat planted in the fall of 2002. The program caps the total number of acres that can be enrolled in the program at 2 million, Stoddard said.

Just how much of that subsidy each grower gets depends on the total number of acres enrolled in the nation i.e. the fewer acres enrolled, the bigger the individual cut.

Farmers likely would get less than $20 per acre extra for qualifying white wheat. To get the premium, the white wheat grown on enrolled acres must meet certain quality standards, Stoddard said.

At the end of the third year the 2005 white winter wheat crop the incentive program ends.

"Our thought was if hard white wheat has not caught on and is standing on its own by then, then it likely will not," Stoddard said.

Kent Symns, president of the American White Wheat Producers Assn. in Atchison, said it has been slower and tougher to convert farmers to hard white wheat than many envisioned.

"I was really cold on the idea of an incentive to grow white wheat at first. I thought it was uncalled for," he said. "Then as I thought it over more and watched the reluctance of farmers to do all kinds of value-added things ... I thought maybe it is an appropriate thing for government policy."

The impetus for the switch to hard white winter varieties in Kansas was driven in part by the new white varieties developed by Kansas State University researchers.

Symns said the incentive program now in the nation's farm bill puts those efforts in a bigger dimension: "It certainly adds credibility to what Kansas State has been trying to do all along."

Ron Madl, director of Kansas State's Wheat Research Center, said he expects the trend for white wheat to continue upward from the 100,000 acres planted this year.

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