The name “Desert Durum” was trademarked in 1999 by the California Wheat Commission and the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council. Only durum wheat produced in California and Arizona qualifies for the Desert Durum trademark.

Desert Durum has an excellent reputation globally for milling into high-quality pasta. The mills value the wheat for its consistent low moisture content (less than 8 percent), large uniform kernels, and high gluten strength.

Most Desert Durum is harvested about three months before Durum grown in other wheat-producing states. Due to the consistent quality and yields under desert-growing conditions, growers have an opportunity to forward contract the crop if warranted by market conditions.

In 1996, the fungal disease Karnal bunt was detected in Durum wheat seed in Arizona by the Arizona Department of Agriculture. The disease can reduce flour quality, but does not pose a threat to human health.

Karnal bunt was more of a regulatory issue. There was never enough Karnal bunt found to impact wheat quality.

Yet the Karnal bunt label threatened wheat exports from desert-production areas. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a Karnal bunt quarantine in Arizona and six adjacent counties in New Mexico and Texas. A month later, APHIS extended the quarantine into California’s Imperial County and eastern Riverside County.

Motter decided to jump into the Karnal bunt debate through involvement in the California Wheat Commission (CWC). Founded by wheat growers in 1983, the CWC supports research to improve wheat quality and marketability plus expand domestic and international wheat sales. Motter has served with the CWC since 1998; today as the board vice-chairman.

APHIS’ efforts, he says, were unfairly aimed to reduce export sales of Desert Durum from quarantined areas when the problem was actually little to non-existent.

Motter remembers representatives of APHIS entering his fields at harvest time to inspect and certify the fields as Karnal bunt-free before the combines could proceed.

“APHIS hired people who came out dressed in moon suit-looking outfits complete with face masks using a small machine to take field wheat samples,” Motter said. “They allegedly found a few spores in the Imperial Valley, but never any bunted kernels. There were incredible amounts of paperwork for producers to complete. It was more of a problem for harvesters and handlers than producers.”