Destination Asia: Wilco helps wheat farmers meet international needs

September 2013 Posted in Business
Mike Wilhoit of Wilco discusses where local wheat is sold and how much is grown.

Mike Wilhoit of Wilco discusses where local wheat is sold and how much is grown.

By Don Murtha

A major segment of the world gets a portion of its food by way of Mount Angel.

Headquartered on Industrial Way, Wilco employees ship more than a million tons of wheat to countries in Asia.

Wheat growers in the Willamette Valley provide food to Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

“Eighty percent of the  Willamette Valley wheat is purchased by Japan,” said Mike Wilhoit, account manager for the agricultural division of Wilco.

“The Asian countries prefer the soft, white wheat grown here for making noodles and other foods,” Wilhoit said. “We grow a quality wheat in the valley.”

The amount of wheat grown by Willamette Valley farmers varies from year to year, from 150,000 to 200,000 acres, he said.

“The big farmers have up to 3,000 acres in wheat but the smaller ones grow 20 to 30 acres,” he said.

Wheat has become the major crop for local farmers who are planting it instead of grass seed.

Until recently, farmers weren’t growing wheat in preference to grass seed, which brought higher revenue.

“But in 2007-2008, the market boomed as a result of  world  wheat shortages,” Wilhoit said. “There were food riots around the world in the countries that depend on wheat for food.”

Before the boom, wheat brought $3-$4 a bushel. In 2007-08, the price for wheat shot to $15 a bushel. At the same time the economy declined and farmers turned their fields to wheat.

“The commodities market is extremely volatile,” Wilhoit said. “It might be up 20 cents one day and down 30 cents the next day. I’m on the phone constantly to stay on top of the market and pass the word on to the growers.”

In 2012, the price of wheat was $9 per bushel. The present price ranges in the area of $7.25 per bushel.

The growers store their wheat with Wilco and sell it through Wilco when the price is right. Each truckload of wheat coming in to be stored is sampled and tested for quality by the Federal Grain Inspection Service.

Wilco stores the wheat at three locations: Stayton, Donald and Mount Angel. Currently, there  are about 20,000 tons equal to 665,000 bushels, stored at Wilco facilities.

There are seven exporters on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers who ship Willamette Valley wheat to Asia. Wilco ships to the exporters by rail. Each rail car holds 100 tons of wheat equal to 3,333 bushels. The wheat is stored in silos, warehouses and 24 giant plastic bags. Each bag holds 325 tons of wheat.

Wheat is not Wilco’s sole interest. The company has three divisions: retail, agriculture and petroleum. The retail division has outlets throughout the valley. The petroleum division supplies bulk petroleum products to farmers and other customers.

The agricultural division provides consulting services to growers of  hazelnuts, blueberries, broccoli, beans and other crops.

Keeping up on what’s happening with wheat  keeps Wilhoit busy most of the time.

“Wheat is very interesting. The whole world needs it,” Wilhoit said.

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