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Kenya Opens Market
for Pacific Northwest Wheat

by George Plaven
Capital Press, March 4, 2020

2018 Wheat statistics
State Bushels Yield Est. Acres
Idaho 104 million 91.9 bu/acre 1.1 million acres
Oregon 50 million 67 bu/acre 0.56 million acres
Washington 153 million 71.5 bu/acre 2.1 million acres
Total 307 million 76.4 bu/acre 4 million acres
PORTLAND -- A new market is opening for wheat farmers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

After 12 years of negotiations, Kenya has agreed to lift its prohibition against U.S. wheat exports from the Pacific Northwest, the USDA announced on Feb. 25.

As part of the agreement, the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, will work with producers to increase crop surveillance for flag smut, a seed-borne and soil-borne fungal disease that poses no human or animal health risks but can reduce wheat yields by as much as 50%.

Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said Northwest farmers now have full access to the Kenyan wheat market, valued at nearly $500 million annually.

"This action proves our commitment to securing fair treatment and greater access for U.S. products in the global marketplace," Ibach said in a statement.

Flag smut affects primarily dryland winter wheat, grown predominately across Eastern Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Spores can survive for at least four years in the field. Symptoms of infected plants include stunted growth, twisted and distorted leaves and, in severe cases, no grain head development.

The disease has been found periodically in U.S. wheat since the early 1900s, according to the USDA, though it has been controlled through the use of treated seed, crop rotation and modern production practices. Chemical seed treatments are the most effective method of controlling flag smut, researchers at Oregon State University say.

Amanda Hoey, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League and Oregon Wheat Commission, said the deal with Kenya provides new opportunities for Oregon growers. The vast majority of Oregon wheat, between 85 and 90%, is exported.

"We need as many open markets as we are able to secure for our wheat," Hoey said. "The acceptance of export phytosanitary inspection and certification provides access to a market restricted to Oregon growers for more than a decade."

Kenya imports much of its annual wheat supply, since domestic production only supports about 10% of the country's overall consumption. Most imports come from suppliers such as Russia, Ukraine and the European Union. The U.S. currently makes up only 5% of Kenya's wheat imports, or about 120,000 metric tons.

The deal struck between APHIS and Kenya also has an impact on U.S. wheat being sold into landlocked Uganda, since they both use Kenya's port facilities. Between the two countries, Hoey said they import about 1.6 million metric tons of wheat a year.

"Even if we saw a 5% rise in the market share, it could be worth over $20M to the U.S. wheat industry," she said.

Steve Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Wheat Associates in Arlington, Va., said the industry supports continued free trade negotiations with Kenya, which could provide a model for other African countries to follow.

"Africa is a fast-growing continent, but one that the U.S. has had limited opportunity for trade negotiations with," Mercer said. "A high standard (free trade agreement) with Kenya should open the door for additional African countries to pursue two-way trade negotiations with the U.S."

George Plaven
Kenya Opens Market for Pacific Northwest Wheat
Capital Press, March 4, 2020

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