Anne Osborne is the project director at the National Wheat Foundation, working on the National Wheat Yield Contest and other initiatives. The Tiller recently sat down with Anne for a conversation.
What do you do in your role at National Wheat Foundation?
Of course, one of our big projects is the National Wheat Yield Contest (NWYC), and I am the director of that. But we also have other projects that we’ve developed by doing strategic planning with our industry partners. A recent initiative will look at high yield and high grain quality and does that always equal higher profitability for the farmers? We have a project called Nutrition Through Wheat that searches for ways to make wheat more profitable for farmers by better communicating the nutritional benefits that only U.S.-grown wheat can offer thereby opening more markets for our product. We also educate legislators and hold congressional farm tours when we look at farms during wheat harvest in June. We have held webinars for congressional staff, such as the Crop Insurance Basics for Wheat, and I work on leadership trainings, including one that Bayer sponsors, for our future wheat grower leaders.
How did you get involved in the ag business and specifically the wheat business?
I went to school studying agriculture education extension because I really like teaching and helping people, and I really wanted to work in an outdoor setting in a small town. I landed an internship with DuPont in Twin Falls, Idaho. It was a research and development internship, and we did a lot of work in wheat, so I really enjoyed working out there and I enjoyed working in wheat so that's kind of how I got involved in the agriculture business.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I would say that I try to always help farmers and it's a big picture thing for me because we all think about why farming is important, but I also think about feeding the world. It's important for us to be able to grow crops that are safe and provide food for the world. We launched new products during my career with DuPont and I saw needs farmers had, whether it was weed control or a disease that was causing problems for them, and we were able to help, and their yields would turn out to be better than they were before. That's what I am the proudest of, just helping farmers.
What's been your experience working with the NWF?
The farmers who serve on our board, either the National Wheat Foundation or the National Association of Wheat Growers, are people who want to be involved with continuous improvement. They want to make their farms and their communities better places to live. They're giving their time voluntarily to serve on these boards. They are progressive farmers who want to try new things and be involved and that's what I love — working with those farmers and other industry people. It’s the same thing for the NWYC. They are farmers who want to continuously improve and measure that improvement and learn how to do better next year. That is what has made my job at NWF a great experience.
Why is the NWYC so popular?
We always want to get better. Most of us as human beings, we want to get better. How much better can I get? How much more can these seeds yield? What if I change this? What if I put a little more fertility here or plant a little different seeding rate? We always want to get better, and the NWYC is a way to measure that. We all have a little competitive spirit in us and farmers who enter get to compare themselves to other farmers in their area and even in the nation. First and foremost, I hope that growers look at the NWYC as a way to learn how to improve their own farm, to make it more productive and more profitable. It's not just about winning for the one year. It's about getting better and measuring your farming practices and learning and improving.
Why should growers be interested in entering the NWYC?
Those growers who have participated for years are telling us that they are getting nearly 20 bushels more on their farms because of the things they've learned. Take a small field and learn from it. Do some different things and try some new genetics and try a different fertility plan. Participating farmers are raising the yields on their farms. Wheat farmers interested in learning how to raise a more productive crop by learning from other farmers should enter the NWYC. At our Commodity Classic NWF reception, the NWYC winners could have gone on all night talking with each other, exchanging ideas that they've implemented on their own farms.
Also, my job is to take what has been done and learned in the yield contest and report some of the successful agronomic trends we're seeing the winning farmers employ. For example, we saw winning growers in Kansas had applied extra fungicide, so we will probe that practice as a possible way to improve production for Kansas wheat farmers. We are now working with Kansas State University and other industry partners to gather research data on this practice. Our goal is to share what farmers are doing to move the needle to help all wheat farmers be more successful.
Why is wheat an important crop to the United States?
The U.S. wheat farmgate value is about $9 billion. Think of the whole value chain that wheat goes through after it is harvested at the farm. It goes to the millers, to the bakers and to the consumers. That $9 billion is very important to our national economy. There are also a lot of agronomic reasons that wheat is important to farms. Farmers get better yields on their rotational crops when wheat is part of the rotation. Some of those reasons are because of the soil health. Many of our wheat growers are doing minimum or no till where they are leaving residue on the surface year around, which helps with erosion control. Wheat offers a chance to control resistant weeds and diseases with different products and timings. Wheat has been a very beneficial crop for farmers who have added it to their rotation. It is profitable and can grow in areas where other crops might not do as well, thanks to improved genetics developed by universities and companies such as WestBred Wheat. There is a lot being invested in research and development and the NWF wants to be a source for information on practical best management practices to help farmers be more productive and profitable.