Telling the Wheat Story with Scott Yates


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For questions or comments, contact Scott Yates at

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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guess today is Scott Yates. Scott has been the Director of Communications and Producer Relations at the Washington Grain Commission for the last ten years. Before that, he was a reporter for Capital Press, the northwest premier agricultural weekly for 22 years. Scott began his weekly podcast, Wheat All About It, in January 2017 and has recorded nearly 130 episodes since then. I was featured in episode 46 entitled The Challenge that Will Not Wait, about wheat resistance. You can access Scott’s current podcast on an array of podcast app platforms like iTunes or go to the Washington Grain Commission website at wagrain, that is W-A-G-R-A-I-N, dot org for the full archive. Hello, Scott.

Scott Yates: Hello. Actually, it’s wagrains with an S.

Drew Lyon: Oh, wagrains. So, I spelled it incorrectly here. Okay. So, Thanks for that correction. So, you are kind of my icon I looked up to when you started this podcast, because quite frankly, I didn’t even know what a podcast was just a couple years ago. How did you decide to start a podcast?

Scott Yates: Well, you know, it was after a year of bad discounts as a result of low falling numbers when the Washington Grain Commission Board met to discuss the late maturity alpha-amylase phenomenon called LMA. Now, we’ve all learned how LMA creates low falling numbers in the spring due to a temperature shock, but at the time, there was still a lot of basic questions and I had written in a story in Wheat Life explaining what was known about LMA and wondered why the Board wasn’t referencing that article in their discussion. So, I stood up and told them about the article, at which point a board member told me I don’t have time to read magazines. Well, you can imagine how a writer feels when one of his bosses tells you that he doesn’t read what he’s writing. So, after complaining to myself for a few months, I began to ask how I could convey information another way. And, you know, the podcast was an obvious answer. And, I dinked around for about, well I don’t know, two years just getting my feet wet and then over Thanksgiving 2016, I told myself I had to get serious and go to a once a week schedule. And, boy that was teaching an old dog new tricks. But, you know, I’m really glad I did it. It’s been successful. The numbers are growing. And, you know, if you just stick with something for long enough, people will take notice.

Drew Lyon: Ah, good advice. So, what do you like about the podcast format and what don’t you like about the podcast format?

Scott Yates: Well, you know, podcasts are a great way of conveying information without the filter of the writer. And, although I still think of writing as a crucial ingredient, especially when conveying information you can’t see, I also like how the podcast amplifies the message of the Grain Commission. For instance, the WGC sponsored Washington State Economist Randy Fortenbery at Farm Forum this year. There were perhaps 150 to 200 people in the audience, but the podcast I created from his presentation got another 400 listens. Not only does Fortenbery’s message get a wider audience, the Grain Commission gets credit for both the sponsorship and the podcast.

Drew Lyon: Very nice. So, you’ve been involved in the wheat industry as my introduction stated for quite some time, is there a particular challenge facing wheat farming these days that you really worry about?

Scott Yates: Oh, my, there’s so many. You know, from an agronomic perspective, as you just mentioned, your episode that I did with you back a few years ago now, weed resistance is one, but I also think low soil pH is another. And, it’s interesting that both of these are a phenomenon that have occurred because of farmers, you know, resistance comes as a result of herbicide application, low soil pH comes as a result of nitrogen application. So, it’s like a double whammy. Now, in terms of a challenge facing farming from a cultural perspective, I think that the hollowing out of small farm communities is a challenge to wheat farmers. And, it’s also very sad as you go through these small communities and see the boarded up main streets. I mean, you know, many of them don’t even have a saloon or a grocery store anymore. And, there are many reasons for the exodus from small town American, including farms getting larger and more and more mechanized and young people looking for other opportunities. But I think one of the first steps that’s needed to reverse that trend is bringing high speed internet to the rural areas. And, I really can’t understand why so little is being done in that regard.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, that’s a challenge throughout rural America, these small towns, they’re fighting to stay relevant and current and they’re just really having a struggle.

Scott Yates: Where would you rather live? I mean, you know, I’ve got to say, they’ve done studies on rats in close conditions. I mean, they start biting each other’s tails. You know, I would much rather live in a rural area and do my job out there than live in a city.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, today where people don’t go to the stores to buy clothes. They go to Amazon. You know, you might not need to live downtown to have good shopping anymore.

Scott Yates: Absolutely.

Drew Lyon: So, you’re not a farm kid. You know, I think you told me once before, you grew up in Reno. What have you learned from being around farmers for more than 30 years?

Scott Yates: You know, it’s really funny. I have three daughters and so, I really talk to them a lot about patience. And, you know, I have learned patience from farmers and it really is a virtue. You know, farmers view life through the lens of seasons and rotations and even farm programs. You know, we look at, you know, the future in terms of tomorrow or next week. So, our sense of having to be patient is much shorter. You know, consider when prices skyrocketed, wheat prices skyrocketed for a few years beginning in 2008. You know, there were pundits out there who were saying that this is the new normal, you know, the agricultural cycle is no more. Now, the farmers who were patient and took their time, they didn’t go out and, you know, in debt themselves with a bunch of new equipment. They understood that they needed to be patient and be careful. And, these are the folks who are the survivors. Patience I almost think equals survival. I don’t know exactly whether I am just saying the word, patient, or whether I have become more patient. I’d like to think I am a more patient person. You know, the other thing is that I have learned about farmers is that people who live in the country and people who grew up in the city are different. They’re just different. I mean, there have been studies. There was a Swedish study that looked at this and, you know, people who grew up in rural environments are less prone to certain psychological problems, not saying that I have them, but in any case, you know, farmers are different from you and I.

Drew Lyon: I think we see that even in our politics. There’s quite a divide between rural and urban. It’d be nice to get a little more communication, because I think they both have things to offer, but there’s a very different lifestyle.

Scott Yates: We definitely have to bridge the divide, don’t we?

Drew Lyon: Yep. So, farmers, you’ve also been working all these years with researchers. Have you learned anything about interacting about researchers by your interactions with them?

Scott Yates: Well, I’ve learned a lot of science. Yes, I have. And, I’ve also developed a real appreciation for the work that researchers do and, in some cases, even a certain fondness. Although our areas of expertise are completely different, the one commonality that researchers and I both hold is curiosity. And, you know, I think that’s, you know, a basic human element that if you want to figure out how things work and improve, you have to be curious to begin with.

Drew Lyon: Very good. I’m relieved to hear that’s [laughter] a positive you’ve learned about us researchers. You’ve been involved with the wheat industry here in eastern Washington for a long time, you’re aware of the industry across the country and really around the world, is there anything that really frustrates you about the wheat industry today?

Scott Yates: Well, I’m going to just make it into a microcosm. I’m not around the world, but just here in eastern Washington and, you know, I helped compile the Preferred Variety brochure. That’s the listing of all of the wheat varieties that we grow in, actually the Pacific northwest in terms of their quality. And, you know, it’s frustrating to me when I go out and interview farmers and some of these are really respected individuals that I ask them what variety they’re growing and it’s an inferior variety, but it yields a few more bushels an acre. Now, I understand that farmers are paid on their yield, but I’m also of the opinion that we’re all in this together. During the Revolutionary War, I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said we must all hang together or we’ll all hang separately. Well, you know, that holds true for the wheat we produce too and the market. The only thing that differentiates wheat growing in the Pacific northwest from wheat growing elsewhere is our quality. So, it’s frustrating to me to know that certain farmers put their financial advantage ahead of the industry as a whole. Of course, I say this as a bureaucrat who gets a monthly paycheck too.

Drew Lyon: Yes, it’s a struggle, the financial versus – we see that in all sorts of areas, wheat control, you know.

Scott Yates: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: What’s best but what’s the most economical? So, you’ve been at this for a while, what do you like best about your job?

Scott Yates: In Buddhism, there is the concept of right livelihood, that is the idea that you shouldn’t have a job that is morally suspect. Now, the job I had in college in a casino in Reno wouldn’t have been considered right livelihood, but the job I have now certainly is. I like working for farmers who grow wheat that feeds the world. Imagine the hubbub there would be if there wasn’t enough wheat. I mean, you know, it’s just amazing to me that we don’t think about the food that we consume and how important it is to us and that, you know, if suddenly for some reason it wasn’t there, we’d all starve. But I also like the job because whether I’m writing a letter or an article or producing a podcast, I’m creating. The fact that at the end of each day, I can point to something concrete that I accomplished is very important for my state of mind.

Drew Lyon: That’s a great thing to go home and know you did something.

Scott Yates: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: It doesn’t always happen everyday for me, but – Scott, I really appreciate having you on. Like I said, your podcast is what kind of motivated me to do this podcast and I keep eye on what you’re doing and really appreciate your support for the wheat industry over the years. It’s been fun working with you. Thanks.

Scott Yates: Thanks, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s –( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.