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Opinion by Keith Kennedy

Wyoming Wheat Industry Faces Challenges

By Keith Kennedy, Executive Director, Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission

By the time this article is published, the annual farmer tour of the hard winter wheat trials we conduct with the University of Wyoming will be over, with harvest and publicizing results the only remaining tasks. The entire wheat industry depends on continued research in the public and private sector, in the same manner that all of agriculture depends on continued science-based research to remain competitive and be able to feed an increasing world population.

In recent weeks, two events have occurred that may chill the enthusiasm for continued research using the latest technology. Many of you may be aware that a farmer in eastern Oregon found several wheat plants in a fallow field he had treated with Roundup. Initial tests on samples of those plants by Oregon State University appeared to be positive for the presence of a genetically modified (GM) glyphosate resistance trait. USDA APHIS started an investigation and on May 29, confirming that the plants contained the GM trait. The investigation continues. Monsanto is independently investigating seed supplies, and our overseas buyers now have testing protocols to detect any presence of this event. 

We are very pleased that USDA has responded to the industry’s request with a public statement about its investigation on June 14. We have confidence that APHIS understands the need for more information as soon as possible, and we expect to see more information soon. The statement provides more detail on why USDA has reconfirmed that this is an isolated event, with no indication the trait discovered has moved into commercial supplies, either of seed or wheat for feed or human consumption. 

It should help boost the confidence of farmers and the grain trade that they are supplying the safest, highest quality wheat possible – especially since the Taiwan Flour Millers Association purchased U.S. western white wheat last on June 20. We will not know for some time if this information and other outreach will renew confidence in the U.S. wheat supply or help re-open Japan and Korea to new purchases of western white wheat. Farmers, the grain trade and U.S. government officials continue to work closely with our overseas customers to help reinforce the safety, value and wholesomeness of U.S. wheat. 

The second event also occurred in Oregon; genetically modified sugar beets were destroyed on June 8 and 11by unknown persons. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to determine who committed this act of “economic sabotage and a violation of federal law involving damage to commercial agricultural enterprises.” 

I find it interesting that thus far, a quick search reveals 11,700 articles on the discovery of the glyphosate tolerant wheat, as a similar search reveals 630 articles on destruction of the sugar beets. Admittedly, the initial announcement regarding wheat was made May 29, while the statement regarding the destruction of sugar beets was made public on June 20. I’m willing to wager that the mass media coverage of these events will continue to more widely publicize the wheat event. I’m hopeful that agriculture media will continue to offer a balanced and accurate view of both these events.

If agriculture successfully faces the challenges of feeding a growing world population, we will need to use all available tools, not only tools favored by certain groups.