Jun 13, 2024

Wheat Scoop: Kansas Farmer Ron Suppes passes leadership baton

Posted Jun 13, 2024 9:00 AM

Kansas Wheat

From nutritionists with Pizza Hut to the chefs at Yale University to influential personal trainers, Ron Suppes shared his western Kansas farmer savvy to conversations across the grain industry value chain during his time as chairman of the Wheat Foods Council (WFC). In early June, he passed off the leadership baton — just ahead of harvest — during the organization’s annual meeting, but not before he helped facilitate a bit more education on how wheat is developed and grown.

“I really enjoy the ability to talk to different industries connected with wheat,” he said. “It’s not just about wheat farmers, but millers and bakers. You get a really good perspective of what’s going on out there in the industry and I’m able to spread the word about what’s involved with wheat breeding and farming.”

About 30 WFC members attended the summer meeting in Manhattan, Kansas, where the group explored the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, the Hal Ross Flour Mill and the IGP Institute, along with learning from some of the brightest minds in the global wheat industry about the latest in wheat breeding technologies and genetic studies.

“The meeting was great and well planned out,” Suppes said. “We showcased what we have in Manhattan, and it was very worthwhile. Even for the people who have been there before, every time you go through the north campus complex, you pick up and learn something else. The WFC does try to do that wherever they go — visiting flour mills or seeing new scientific techniques. It’s not all feel good; it’s also education.”

A long-time industry leader, Suppes assumed his role as WFC chairman in June 2023. The organization was established by wheat producers in 1972 to promote the entire category of wheat-based foods, including baked goods, cereal, crackers, pasta, sweet goods and tortillas. Since then, the organization has established itself as a leading source of science-based information on wheat and grain foods nutrition.

Membership is made up of millers, bakers, ingredient suppliers, equipment companies, state wheat commissions and wheat farmers like Suppes. Suppes and his wife Shirley, along with son Shayne, farm roughly 12,000 acres in west central Kansas. Wheat and sorghum make up their primary crops. Suppes has served as a Kansas wheat commissioner since 2003, serving as chairman in 2013-2014, and serves as chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission Research Foundation.

He has also traveled extensively overseas with U.S. Wheat Associates as a member of the USW Board of Directors, having served as chairman of the wheat industry’s export market development arm from 2007-2008.

The culmination of these experiences combined with his producer frame of mind helped focus his chairman’s agenda of building connections across the entire wheat value chain. That work entails not only connecting with leaders at major restaurant chains or chefs responsible for university food systems, but also committing to a shared mission — providing information and education about the production and nutritional value of wheat.

“The thing I still stress to industry is that we’re all in this together,” Suppes said, reiterating the need to stay involved and for the wheat industry, as a whole, to work together. 

At the end of the organization’s time in Manhattan, Suppes turned over the gavel to the next year’s chairman — Kent Juliot with Ardent Mills. While he looks forward to a bit more time in his rocking chair — well, maybe after wheat harvest ends — he said he still plans on staying involved with the WFC as past chairman and with other government and industry committees.

“They’re going to keep me busy,” he said. “And when I’m not doing that, in my spare time, I’m going to try and grow some wheat, too.”

Learn more about the Wheat Foods Council at wheatfoods.org.