It can be commonly agreed on that it takes a village to raise a child, but as it turns out, it takes a village to do other things too, like market wheat. Formed over 50 years ago, the Montana Wheat and Barely Committee (MWBC) is comprised of industry knowledgeable individuals who are dedicated to working behind the scenes using checkoff funds to support research efforts, in addition to developing markets, for Montana’s premium grown wheat.
The MWBC is completely producer-funded. In its beginning, the committee was primarily wheat-focused until a barley checkoff was added in 1973. Growers of both cereal crops pay a per bushel checkoff for wheat and a per hundredweight (cwt) checkoff for barley. The generated funds are budgeted and allocated by a seven-member, Governor-appointed board of directors.
“To be a board member you have to be actively engaged in farming. Our board members are very passionate about what they do,” said Sam Anderson, Industry Analyst and Outreach Coordinator for the MWBC.
Supporting research efforts specifically geared towards the interests of Montana growers is the primary avenue for the MWBC checkoff funds. Nearly $2 million or about 44 percent of the MWBC funds are budgeted for research each year. In addition to researching solutions to industry problems, MWBC works closely with Montana State University on variety development research, especially work on varieties that will grow successfully in Montana’s diverse climate.
“Everything we fund is voted on by our directors so they are aware of what kind of challenges Montana farmers are facing and what will impact them the most,” Anderson stated.
Also of top priority for the MWBC is developing and maintaining markets for Montana’s wheat, both domestically and internationally. About 25 percent of MWBC’s budget is exclusively used for marketing with some of the funds going towards larger industry groups like the Montana Grain Growers Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, U.S. Grain Growers, Wheat Foods Council, Northern Crops Institute and the Wheat Marketing Center. According to Anderson, promoting U.S.-grown wheat in general is actually really good for Montana wheat, as well.
“Montana’s wheat is typically higher protein, so when a miller is trying to make a blend for bagels, for example, they are going to use Montana wheat to bring that protein up. Wherever wheat is sold, it is an advantage to us,” he added.
MWBC also helps with marketing by bringing foreign grain buyers directly to Montana so they can experience Montana wheat production first-hand. Of course, COVID and the travel restrictions brought about by the worldwide pandemic has caused this portion of MWBC’s marketing efforts to look a little different in 2020.
“Normally, we have over 100 people come visit us each summer, but due to COVID we haven’t had any visitors, so we have been focusing more on trying to reach them virtually through a video series, weekly crop updates and many Zoom calls,” Anderson explained.
He went on to say that replacing face-to-face interactions with technology was challenging at first, but the MWBC has found a way to make the best of an unprecedented situation. Anderson notes there are great benefits to having the videos and using them as a documented, education resource that can be referenced time and again – something that isn’t possible for international travelers who usually have to see so much of the Montana wheat industry in so little time.
“We just recently filmed one of our directors and he was able to talk about crop rotation and all these things that will help international buyers understand why Montana grain is unique. We will also be doing a video at the Montana State Grain Lab so viewers can learn about how consistent and reliable grain grading is important to the market. I think these videos can be used for a long time, well after COVID,” Anderson said.
The MWBC’s efforts to create a video series has the potential to be beneficial to many people, not just international buyers, Anderson pointed out. These videos can provide the general public with the opportunity to see the Montana wheat industry through the eyes of a prospective buyer, while also explaining to them the nuances within the industry they may not have even been aware of.
COVID has certainly presented agriculturalists with challenges, but through challenge comes growth and new opportunities. In addition to the video series, MWBC is making an effort to update their website on a regular basis with current photos and crop condition reports. Anderson says the effort is gaining traction and a weekly blog will most likely become a standard thing for the MWBC.
Good things are happening within the MWBC, despite hardships caused by COVID. During times like these, the work done by the Committee is as important as ever because it is vital for Montana wheat to maintain a competitive advantage across all market landscapes. Of course, none of the work done by the MWBC would be possible without the continual support of Montana grain farmers.
“The Montana Wheat and Barley Committee is very thankful for the support of the farmers. What we do with the money really does effect Montana,” Anderson concluded.