Van Gough's pictures of reapers bending aging backs in richly yellow fields of wheat is still the image
of grain production many people carry in their mind's eyes. When they purchase grain for consumption in the home,
it is rarely in the form of flour, even more rarely in the form of kernels, and never in the form of sheaves of
wheat. And when new grain products arrive at the market place, they are often a surprise to both farmers and consumers.
Modern grain production, grain processing, and grain product development are complex activities that rely on sophisticated
science. To be commercially viable, those activities must also produce profits for farms, transportation firms
(country elevators and other grain handling companies, railroads, trucking firms, etc.) and agri-business firms
(seed companies, millers, bakers, and supermarkets) that are involved in grain production, grain handling and grain
transportation. They must also produce incomes for the scientists and venture capitalists who develop the new science
and technologies that improve end-use product mix and quality. The United States exports approximately fifty percent
of all the wheat it produces and a substantial proportion of its barley production. Both domestic and foreign consumer
and user tastes and preferences are therefore important in determining the success of the US grain industry. In
international markets, the Pacific Rim countries are particular important destinations for Montana grain because
of the high quality/high protein wheat that many Montana farmers produce.
Montana State University is offering a three-credit multidisciplinary seminar course, Follow the Grain, this Spring
(Spring, 1999). In this course, co-organized by Vince Smith (Ag. Econ. and Econ.) and Debra Habernicht (Plant Sciences),
we will literally follow the grain from the laboratories in which new varieties of wheat and barley are developed,
to the fields in which they are grown, to the county elevators in which grain is stored, to the Portland terminals
from which grain is shipped around the world, and to mills and bakeries in the US and mills and bakeries in the
Pacific Rim country of Taiwan where grain is processed into end products. Along the way, we will meet with geneticists
in laboratories, plant breeders operating field trials, farmers producing grain under real world agronomic and
market constraints, grain handlers, grain shippers and marketers, and millers and bakers.