The Shepherd's Grain Story

By Sterling Allen, AgriTimes Northwest on August 10, 2012

The “story” is Shepherd’s Grain Wheat and about the family farmers who grow it.

“We are selling a story,” said Karl Kupers, founder of Shepherd’s Grain, the brand operated under the entity of Columbia Plateau Producers, LLC. Kupers and Fred Fleming founded Shepherd’s Grain in 1999. The rural farm families, some date back 4-5 generations, are stewards of their land by practicing direct seeding and conservation farming practices that have become a “story” that the company’s customers, such as flour millers and pizza makers, tell their customers. Product quality and the story behind the production system distinguish Shepherd’s Grain in the marketplace. They targeted an economic sustainability goal by creating a new business model that uses strategic business partnerships to develop and market high-quality regionally identified flour at premium prices. “Great partnerships and friendships, capitalizing on local production is a dominant feature in generating sales,” said Kupers. Their initial sale of flour in 2003 was to Hot Lips Pizza, a small pizza chain in Portland and sales continue to grow. The third-party Food Alliance certification helps all involved verify for the end consumer the practices and the values that set the company apart from other grain dealers.“I had been farming for 30 years near Harrington, a 10-12 inch annual rainfall region,” said Kupers. “By 2000, I had grown over 16 different crops no-till and wanted to strive to develop a farm without government subsidy, so it was time for me to do something different. Kupers and Fleming thought current farming and marketing practices were not sustainable in the Palouse farming region.Kupers called on prospective customers in the Portland market who found favor in their identity preservation that can trace flour back to farms on each bag. Extensive testing of flours from different varieties and locations showed there was a difference in flavor among different regions. “I feel there is a difference in flavor and flour components between no-till and conventional farming, said Kupers”

Shepherd’s Grain sells flour, and is not a miller.Shepherd’s Grain partners with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) milling plant in Spokane to turn wheat into flour and operate a value added chain. Shepherd’s Grain primary markets are direct-to-wholesale markets, particularly food service buyers and small and midsize bakeries in the Pacific Northwest region. Recently Shepherd’s Grain has achieved a presence in retail markets through co-branding arrangement with Fisher/Conifer Specialties.“What in the marketplace are we seeing that customers are requesting,” stated Kupers?

1-Consistency in baking

2-Quality of the protein- protein is a variable by which we need to measure amino acid chains.

3- Good taste. Wheat’s that have flavor.

Shepherd’s Grain flour products serve five market niches. High gluten strength flour (DNS), Low gluten strength flour (HRW), Whole wheat (DNS), Pastry (SWW) and Cake (SWW).

Their pricing model has decomodified the traditional wheat marketing system. “We became a price maker versus a price taker,” said Kupers. Wheat prices are set by targeting the farmers cost of production, milling and administrative fees . This year’s target prices at the farm are SWW $6.25, HRW $7.87, HWW $8.12, and DNS $9.53.

Shepherd’s Grain will market 600,000 bushels this year from 40 growers throughout the PNW. The average farm member will place 10-15% of their production through this channel.The outlook for Shepherd’s Grain future remains strong, as PNW sales continue to grow annually.Shepherd’s Grain will soon be entering the California market, with growers from that state producing wheat to be marketed through the branded name amongst the large California core population base.