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Bakers vs. Wheat Farmers

Wheat Growers have a message for America's baking industry: We told you so.

For years, farmers warned that the milling and baking industry was pursuing policies that would eventually create wheat shortages. This year, faced with short supply and high prices, the baking industry has asked Washington to ban all wheat exports. It also wants CRP land to be released so that farmers will grow more wheat on it.

It's not that simple. Many farmers stopped growing wheat years ago because the milling and baking industry always demanded top quality at prices that many times were below the cost to produce it. We converted our acreage to other crops because it simply was no longer profitable to produce wheat.

This had nothing to do with ethanol production. Harvested wheat acres dropped from a high of 80 million in 1982 to about 63 million a decade later to about 47 million last year.

Bakers also have stood against wheat farmers in their pursuit of productivity-enhancing practices such as biotechnology. When wheat farmers had the opportunity to plant herbicide-tolerant wheat, the bakers refused to accept the grain. Even though the technology would have increased yields by 10% and lowered production costs, the bakers suggested that there was no benefit for them or consumers.

So it is no surprise that astute farmers are committing their acres to crops that put more money in their pockets.

Now the bakers want to further punish the remaining wheat farmers by ending exports and denying growers the markets necessary to maintain wheat production viability.

Rather than yielding to the bakers' demands, Washington should lay down a strong lecture on the merits of teamwork to ensure enough grain for customers everywhere.

Allen Skogen, a wheat producer from central North Dakota, is chairman of Growers for Biotechnology (www.growersforbiotechnology.com).

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