"The strength of the Oregon Wheat Growers League is the result of hard work and dedication of its members and leadership ... " Those words, penned by Stan Timmermann (OWGL president 1981), reveal why for the past 75 years the Oregon Wheat Growers League has been a model for the nation.
The OWGL became the nation's first wheat commodity organization, having been formed in 1926. It has benefited through the years from the abilities, the knowledge and the dedication of its leaders. Men like E.R. Jackman, crop specialist, D.E. Stephens, superintendent of the Moro Experiment Station and Frank Ballard, county extension agent who were faculty members of Oregon Agricultural College, took their roles as researchers and educators to heart. It was these men that many farmers sought out when they were threatened with a crop failure by a devastating freeze in December 1924.
Paulen Kaseburg (OWGL president 1949) remembers his father Albert Kaseberg of Wasco being one of the farmers that sought out help. "Nobody knew where to buy seed. My father and others asked their extension agents where they could buy seed. Dad said most everybody got their seed in Pendleton that year," Paulen Kaseberg recalls. An economic conference planned by the Extension Service in the spring of 1926 received heightened interest among the agricultural community after they were credited with saving the 1925 harvest crop. "They held a meeting in Moro and invited all the wheat growers in the Columbia Basin," Kaseberg recalls. Two hundred fifty citizens attended. The bulk of those in attendance were wheat farmers, but they were also joined by bankers, millers and even officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This meeting was called the Eastern Oregon Wheat Growers Economic Conference. It was held Feb. 11-13, 1926 and it was at that meeting, the farmers were told where they could find seed for planting.
Conference leaders facilitated discussion about other pressing topics as well. "They talked about marketing, but more about transportation. How to get grain down the Columbia River," Kaseburg recalls. Committees were also formed at this time to tackle grower issues. One of the committees emerged into an organization designed to promote the interest of wheat growers. Specifically, the group wanted to unite their efforts to help growers deal with emergencies and to coordinate educational programs with OAC Extension Service. Marion T. Weatherford (OWGL president 1947) summed up the focus of that group this way: "Wheat producers recognized they had problems that could not readily by solved by the growers as individuals. Concerted cooperative efforts were needed."
And, that, Paulen Kaseberg said is how the Eastern Oregon Wheat League initially was formed. The group began meeting annually. Even, though I'm a Duck (University of Oregon alumni) through and through, I think those agents from Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) were invaluable. County agents are always providing us with information," Kaseberg said. Over the past 75 years the dynamics of the wheat industry and the grower's concerns have not changed significantly. "Look at any annual meeting agenda from past decades and you're likely to see the same issues being bantered about," said Daren Coppock, Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Wheat Growers. Topics such as market development, grain prices, fuel costs and transportation woes have taken center stage down through the years.
Roy Forman (OWGL president 1944) said he doesn't believe the problems growers face today are any different than those faced in years past. "In fact," Forman suggested, "they aren't problems at all. What we thought were our biggest problems - things like getting our wheat to market, or fuel costs - weren't really problems. We just didn't know it," he said laughing heartily. Coppock laughed, too, when told of Forman's philosophical remarks. Addressing problems and seeking solutions takes up a big chunk of Coppock's daily schedule. Coppock assumed his NAWG job in August 2001. On a crisp October afternoon, he sits in his Washington D.C. office with one ear tuned to the House Hearings on the 2002 Farm Bill and the other to a long-distance phone call.
It's been three weeks since that fateful Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists swooped in from the nation's clear blue sky and blasted a crater through the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the hearts of Americans people. Suddenly, Forman's outlook seems more plausible. How important can the price of wheat be when contrasted against weapons of mass destruction? Yet, it is this very same act of terror that underscores for Coppock the necessity to address the nation's foreign trade policy. "Unilateral export sanctions almost always end up hurting us," Coppock said. "When we impose sanctions on Iraq, it isn't Saddam Hussein who goes hungry, it's the people on the street who go hungry." Another important issue Coppock is focused on is helping obtain trade promotion authority for the President. "There are 111 countries that have formed
130 free trade agreements that don't involve the United States. Nobody wants to negotiate a trade agreement with the U.S. when Congress can turn around and nickel and dime the thing to death," Coppock explained. These are all pretty weighty topics for a boy who grew up in rural Adams, OR, but Coppock will tell you that's exactly why he's able to do the job as well as he does. "The fact that I grew up bucking bales in a small town really helps me here," he said. "I find I'm able to talk to farmers or folks in town." When asked who he considers to have been the most influential people in his career, Coppock doesn't hesitate. "There have been several of them. John Oades, U.S. Wheat in Portland, Tom Winn, from the greater urban metropolis of Helix, officers in the Wheat League and men like Stan Timmerman and Bob Buchanan, who have been leaders in the industry.
It's been 75 years since the Oregon Wheat Growers League got into the business of growing hard-working, dedicated leaders like Harry Pinkerton, Loyd Smith, Ralph McKwen, Jr., Floyd Root and numerous others. Some say that Daren Coppock could be further evidence that the Oregon Wheat Growers League is continuing to grow hard-working, dedicated leaders. "Daren was always a bright and shining star, from the time he was in 4-H 'til he got his first job right out of college as director of the Oregon Grains Commission," Don Stonebrink said. "We're lucky to have him."
Today, OWGL boasts a membership of over 1700 such leaders. Men and women who like Coppock, possess a variety of skills and talents and whose knowledge and experience is as vast and deep as the mighty Columbia River. Morris Wilson (OWGL president 1954) summed up his own personal success this way, "Everybody builds on somebody else's shoulders." In other words, one generation's achievements are built
upon the shoulders of the previous generation’s. Wheat growers today need to take a moment and reflect upon the sturdy set of shoulders beneath them. It's time to give thanks for these individuals, who have given this generation of growers the boost up.
Those early years:
During those early years, a nationwide economic depression led to bank closures. The bank in Moro was just one of thousands of banks that folded. Farmers throughout the Columbia Basin faced bankruptcy. Leaning against his tractor one evening in 1932, Albert Kaseberg told his young son, that he hadn't paid on the mortgage for years. Paulen Kaseberg recalled his father words as he admonished the youth to seek another career besides farming: "They could come and take this farm any day and I'd be powerless to resist it."
But in 1935, under Roosevelt's administration, relief finally came in the form of the Agricultural Adjustment Act. It called for federal payments to wheat growers, allowing them 54 percent of their normal production for reduced production. Initially, the act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which forced the reconvening of agricultural and governmental interest for a new bill in 1938. Implementation of such national programs was facilitated by the existence of the League.
Moreover, EOWL had additional national impact in 1939 when it sponsored a national contest for compliance with the acreage adjustment of the AAA. As part of the League's 1939 annual event 26 state representatives took part in the annual conference, held in Condon that year. And only two years later, on Dec. 6, 1941, the AAA director stood before the crowd that had gathered for the annual conference in Heppner and told them of the nutritional needs created in wartime England. Two days later, of course, the U.S. was also at war. Those war years created shortages of all sorts. But one that directly affected wheat growers was the shortage of jute. Oregon growers, who were still sacking their wheat in 1941, bought their jute from India. But after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and took control of the shipping lanes, jute was hard to come by, Kaseberg
recalled. "That's when we switched to bulk storage," he said. But with a world war underway there was no need to store the grain for long. "We didn't have overproduction problems in those years," Kaseberg noted. "We had to feed the world." It was at the tail-end of this wartime climate that Roy Forman accepted the leadership mantle of OWGL president.
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