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Missouri to Explore State Wheat Growers Organization

The Show-Me State is bullish on wheat.

Like many of their Midwest counterparts, Missouri’s farmers once grew a lot of wheat – 2 million acres of the stuff as recently as the late 1980s. By 2015, that figure shrank to about 750,000 acres.

But grown in rotation with corn, soybeans, and cotton, wheat helps break weed, disease, and insect cycles and can add more profit potential to the state’s farmers. That’s why some Missouri ag leaders are trying to establish a Missouri Wheat Growers Association.

Through a grower’s association, a per-bushel checkoff could be established, which would support the University of Missouri’s wheat breeding program and support other initiatives to help wheat growers succeed.

“We are the No. 1 state for soft red winter wheat,” says Greg Luce, Extension grain crops specialist at the University of Missouri. “In 2018, Missouri was 10th in the nation for total production and 11th in total acres.”

Missouri has the wheat acreage, and growers are interested, says Luce, who with the Missouri Crop Improvement Association, has initiated conversations with growers about objectives of a wheat growers association, issues facing wheat production and management, and a feasibility study for putting an association together and establishing a checkoff group.  

Wheat used to be an easy crop to grow, says Richard Arnett, executive director of the MCIA, but growers need to set their sights for higher yields. “It’s gotten to be pretty difficult. If growers can’t get 80 to 90 bushels per acre, it’s a failure,” Arnett says. “But you can do that, economically.”

Wheat farmers need some simple tools and research to help them achieve those goals, he adds. Informal conversations with growers have revealed several objectives for a grower’s group, including enhancing the University’s wheat breeding program; developing best management practices for wheat production; exploring wheat’s role in conservation, cover crops and soil health, and scab research.  

Wheat into focus

Missouri is not alone in its interest in wheat production. Illinois has a wheat growers association, but no checkoff. Indiana, like Missouri, is studying the feasibility of a state wheat organization.

In Missouri, a small group of interested producers is needed to start the process of forming a state wheat grower’s group.

“Once that starts, the plan is to get the group together sometime in mid-February. We have to have a board of directors. Then, that board goes to the Missouri Department of Agriculture to put out a referendum. The question goes to all wheat growers in Missouri, ‘Should we form a state wheat group.’ If 5% of the growers say yes, we do it.”

To establish a state wheat checkoff requires a separate referendum, and is a bit more complex. The Department of Agriculture collaborates to develop checkoff language, followed by a statewide referendum to wheat growers in the state. If more than 50% of growers approve, a checkoff will be collected.

The money would stay in-state, unless the new organization chooses to be a member of the National Association of Wheat Growers. Arnett says an immediate infusion of capital in the University of Missouri wheat breeding program would be a huge benefit to the state’s wheat farmers, and would be the organization’s top priority.

“Wheat can help a lot of producers in this state, and diversify their operations to get away from continuous corn,” Arnett says.

If approved, the Missouri Crop Improvement Association would manage the wheat grower’s organization. It did the same thing in the 1970s when the Missouri Soybean Association was formed, until it was able to sustain itself. 

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