The Russians are indeed coming

The Russians are indeed coming

Business Commentary: an in-depth view of issues impacting people and our economy

In the 1960s, there was a popular movie called: “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming”. The plot was a Soviet naval commander runs his sub aground off a Massachusetts coastal island and sends two English-speaking crewmen ashore to procure a boat with enough power to pull them free. The Russian sailors didn’t exactly blend in and chaos ensued.

That was fiction, but today American farmers face the hard facts that the Russians are invading our wheat markets worldwide.

Many of us remember Soviet Union collective farms which were a dismal failure. Joseph Stalin, the brutal Russian dictator, confiscated individual landholdings and enslaved workers. The farms were operated under government-established five-year production plans.

It destroyed Russian farm system. Wheat production, which led the world under the czars prior to the communist revolution, plummeted and the communists imported grain to feed their starving people.

When the Soviet Union collapsed nearly 30 years ago, the Russians slowly started letting farmers have their farms back and modernize to compete with wheat growers in the United States, Canada and Australia. Recently, Russia’s government has focused on building modern grain elevators and trucking and railroad systems.

Russian farmers now buy modern American high tech farm equipment, plant more productive seed, and, apply fertilizers and pesticides to increase yields. Many of those products were developed in our research labs.

The results are stunning and Russia is now the world’s top wheat producer. While they are increasing the number of acres planted, U.S. farmers are losing money and sowing fewer fields. America is on the brink of the farm collapse our country experience in the 1980s when high interest rates and inflation ran rampant.

Today, large Russian investments, a weak ruble against our strong dollar, falling grain prices, high equipment costs, and the uncertainty of tariffs on U.S. agriculture products resulting from new trade negotiations, are hurting American farmers. It is particularly harmful for our farmers attempting to sell more wheat to China.

Today agriculture products (largely wheat) account for 40 percent of Russia’s revenues. “Given the fall in the price for oil, grain has come to the fore. Grain is our oil,” former Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Tkachev told the Wall Street Journal.

The burning question is how will our farmers compete?

Alex McGregor, former Washington Wheat Growers Association (WGA) president, believes American growers, especially those in Washington, have an advantage because of our high quality grain. He heads the McGregor Company, a 70-year old family fertilizer and crop protection enterprise based in Colfax.

McGregor believes our transportation network, ongoing research, farming experience and customer relationship give Washington growers hope. However, farmers worry that the ongoing trade war with its accompanying tariffs could damage trade relations which took decades to build and deepen our competitive disadvantages.

According to WGA, Washington has 2.3 million acres in wheat production and 90 percent of it is exported. Our wheat crop is heavily dominated by white wheat exported to Japan and other Asian countries to make Asian-style noodles, sponge cakes and cookies.

BNSF railroad hauls grains from as far as Minnesota to Washington and Oregon terminals. Our ports have developed efficient systems to transfer the gain onto ships. For example, the Port of Vancouver can off-load a grain rail car in 7 minutes.

McGregor believes WSU’s agriculture research gives our state an advantage. Researchers have developed over 100 wheat varieties many of which are targeted for eastern Washington.

The Russians are indeed coming and they are rapidly upgrading their research and transportation networks. To compete, our country must continue our research, upgrading our infrastructure and not estrange our long-time customers.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of

Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after over 25 years as its CEO

and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Business

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
News of market volatility has felt like a pinball machine lately | Guest column

Webster’s dictionary defines the word volatility as “characterized by or subject to… Continue reading

Kinwell clinic lobby in Renton (Courtesy of Kinwell Medical Group)
Kinwell Medical Group opens new clinic at The Landing in Renton

Kinwell clinics offer in-person and telehealth visits, online appointment scheduling, and they tout reduced wait times.

A chicken sandwich from Yummy Meats Deli (Photo by Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing)
Here’s a Szechuan-style take on Nashville hot fried chicken

Why a literal hole-in-the-wall chicken joint is worth the trip to Renton.

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
Volatility and disciplined planning in 2022’s stock market | Guest column

The stock market in January experienced significantly increased volatility. In the first… Continue reading

Menchie’s location in Federal Way. (Photo by Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing)
Investigation: Menchie’s locations failed to pay workers, stole tips

Multiple King County locations involved, including Federal Way, Bellevue and two Renton shops.

Snoqualmie Casino. Courtesy photo
Kirkland-based company sues to challenge ‘tribal gaming monopoly’ in Washington

Company called the state’s policy an “erroneous application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
The forces behind our current COVID-induced inflation | Guest column

Recent inflation numbers have been quite high and at levels not seen… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
The ‘year end’ elements of financial planning | Guest column

With the end of the year fast approaching, we remind clients that… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
How financial planners address plan uncertainty | Guest column

One of the key challenges we face as financial planners is dealing… Continue reading

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
Is cryptocurrency really an investment? | Guest column

Undoubtedly you have heard about the new form of money known as… Continue reading

Stock photo
Grocery store workers have right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons

National Labor Relations Board ruling against ban by Kroger-owned QFC, Fred Meyer

Big Island Poke in Renton (courtesy of The Intentionalist Facebook page)
Small-business advocacy group wants you to try minority-owned businesses and put it on their tab

The Intentionalist is opening up $400 tabs for folks to use this weekend at select businesses.