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Wheat matchmakers

Munching a steamed bun –
popular with consumers in Asia’s wheat market – conjures up great memories for
grain elevator warehouseman Dan Brown.

“It reminds me of the
chicken and dumplings my mother made,” says Brown, who took a two-day class on
managing wheat inventory to maximize profits at the Wheat Marketing Center
(WMC) in Portland, Oregon.

Classes like this one, as
well as others for foreign buyers of U.S. wheat, make an important connection,
says Steve Wirsching, U.S. Wheat Associates West Coast office director.

The center’s research,
testing, publishing, and technical education helps USW in its international
market development work, Wirsching says.

And it provides growers with
quality end-use information when making variety planting decisions, WMC
director David Shelton says.

Targeting Wheats To Buyers

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Chris Cullan, a Hemingford,
Nebraska, wheat grower, is vice chairman of the center’s board of directors.

“The name says it all: The
Wheat Marketing Center,” Cullan says. “They simply market wheat internationally
and domestically from the very diverse wheat production area of the Great
Plains, Dakotas, and the Pacific Northwest.

“The value I see as a
producer is that the WMC has the ability to find a use for a given quality of
wheat from a given class of wheat from a given production area,” Cullan says. “They
understand what qualities are available for the desired end users’ needs.”

Staff at the center can help
millers change formulations if products aren’t turning out as desired, Cullan
says.

The center increases wheat
industry awareness about the importance of wheat and flour quality tests. It
also helps provide the wheat industry with test results to meet buyer contract
specifications, Shelton says.

Different foods require
different types of wheat. Asian steamed breads, like the one Brown enjoyed, use
medium to high protein. Sponge cakes – particularly popular in Japan, Korea,
and China – take low-protein wheat.

Testing wheat for protein is
a given in the industry. In the future, “elevators may be testing a little bit
more in depth for gluten,” Brown says.

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Founded in 1989, the center
has a staff of four and an annual budget of around $1 million. Financial
support comes from wheat commissions in Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South
Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and the USW.

The center also generates
income from grants, research, seminars, and rent from 50% ownership in its
building, a historic flour mill.

The center works mainly with
soft white winter wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest, but it also tests other
classes of wheat. Each year, USW has the center test the quality of soft and
hard white wheat. Then USW distributes the results worldwide.

Up to 90% of wheat grown in
the Pacific Northwest and 40% of all U.S. wheat exports leave through five
grain terminals in the Portland area.

In 2007 those exports
totaled 6.85 million metric tons – 251.81 million bushels – valued at $1.67
billion.

Two of the grain terminals
are just across the Willamette River from the center. Seeing wheat filling
ships bound for foreign markets reinforces the connection between suppliers and
customers. Selling grain under exacting specifications is of worldwide
importance.

More than 300 industry
people from 40 countries visit the center every year, Shelton says. On any
given week, the center may host growers, grain elevator staff, and foreign
customers who import and use U.S. wheat.

The two-day workshop on
managing wheat inventory “was the best thing I’ve ever been to,” says Brown,
the Mid-Columbia Producers’ warehouseman. “I learned a lot.”

Each January, the Nebraska
Wheat Board takes 14 people to visit the center. Cullan says a comment from a
Nebraska wheat grower on one of these tours stands out: “Everybody should have
the chance to go to the Wheat Marketing Center.”

Cullan summarizes the center’s
work when he says, “They teach professionals how to do their jobs better.
People do business with people. Our employees at the WMC are known worldwide,
and the relationships they have with the people who buy our wheat are
invaluable.”

By Dan Zinkand

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