Richland conference focuses on sustainable ag futures

What some see as challenges in today’s society are opportunities in Karl Kuper’s eyes.  The Harrington man six years ago co-founded Shepherd’s Grain, an alliance of wheat farmers using sustainable practices to make flour that’s sold within the Pacific Northwest.

“What we’re doing is the most idealistic thing you can imagine,” Kupers told a gathering Wednesday at a conference addressing “Creating a Sustainable Future for Agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.”

The three-day event at the Shilo Inn in Richland is intended to bring people together to develop outlines for a plan to sustain agriculture and resources in the Northwest, said Jim Long, one of the conference planners.

Graduates of the WSU Kellogg Foundation Integrated Farming Systems/Holistic Management Project and other guests came to share their experiences with sustainability, tell what they’ve learned and craft a plan for future actions.

And part of creating the plan is looking at successful case studies, Long said, including Kupers and Shepherd’s Grain. “Economic, environmental and social challenges presented by today’s society are nothing but an opportunity,” Kupers said.

After deciding he didn’t like working inside using his pharmacy degree, Kupers returned to the land his dad farmed and began the multi-year transition from conventional till farming to direct seed methods.

He then realized he needed to find a market for his sustainably-produced grain. He started researching what consumers wanted and found he was going above and beyond. In the first year of the venture, growers produced 12,000 bushels of wheat for flour, he said.

Last year, that number had increased almost 5-fold to 550,000 bushels. “We learned the language of the consumer,” he said. Kupers also addressed the three main components of sustainable agriculture. “If you don’t make the bottom line, it’s not sustainable,” he said.

And while the economics and environmental components are vital, he argued the third was equally or more essential. “I think the one that is the least understood and the one in the long run that’s most important, is the social and cultural component,” he said. “I think it needs to take the lead seat at the table.”

He urged listeners to think big. “Start with the most idealistic program you can imagine,” Kupers said. “Why not?”


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