The National Association of Wheat Growers policy committees are meeting this week at the Commodity Classic in Anaheim, California.
Haylie Shipp reports that trade is the top wheat industry priority on the agenda at Commodity Classic, with representatives from NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates taking the convention as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of trade to policy makers, their fellow growers and the media.
The pending free trade agreements – and particularly the U.S./Colombia FTA – are crucial to the continued growth of wheat exports and the wheat industry.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that Colombia alone purchased $1.67 billion in U.S. agricultural products in 2008. These sales would be all but lost if the U.S. does not ratify the U.S./Colombia FTA soon. The U.S. wheat industry estimates that imports by loyal Colombian customers have been valued at an average of $165 million per year, but most of those sales will be lost to Canada if it ratifies its own trade agreement with Colombia in the next few months.
“While the U.S. and Colombian millers have long-standing ties and strong customer loyalty, trade diversion will inevitably occur when Canadian wheat enters Colombia at $40 per metric ton less than U.S. wheat as a result of their bilateral agreement,” said USW Chair Janice Mattson. “This is just one example of how a robust trade agenda is critical to U.S. economic growth, to global economic recovery, and to meeting the President’s goal of generating two million new jobs in the next five years.”
The industry was pleased to see the release of the President’s Global Trade Strategy on Monday and looks forward to collaborating with the Administration to help meet its explicitly stated goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years.
According to the President’s strategy, work is underway to resolve pending issues on the Colombia, Korea, and Panama FTAs. The U.S. wheat industry supports the immediate ratification of all pending trade agreements and believes a robust trade agenda would lift economic opportunity for the entire U.S. wheat supply chain from which roughly half of annual production is exported in a typical year.
“We know the climate in Washington right now is tough, but we’re adamant that these agreements get their day before our legislators,” said NAWG President Karl Scronce, a producer from Klamath Falls, Ore. “They will help create and save jobs, which is what everyone needs to focus on right now.”
“Our industry has reason to be proud of the long-standing ties we have built with our customers around the globe,” Mattson said. “Our trade agreements can ease market access barriers and help us build on those ties to create more competitive opportunities.”
Industry leaders were also pleased to see the President’s new trade initiatives in the Asia Pacific region and his goal of seeking a balanced Doha agreement. As Mattson notes, “a balanced global trade agreement should give us significant new market access, eliminate monopoly export state trading, and protect the critical safety net for farmers and ranchers. Long-term it is our best hope for leveling the trade playing field.”
“With trade barriers cleared, U.S. wheat producers can compete more effectively,” Scronce said. “We look forward to working with the President to help clear the road to more open trade that will help increase the job opportunities and income our economy needs so much.”
There, wheat leaders have already begun to focus their discussions on farm bill programs and timelines for development of 2012 Farm Bill concepts.
Though the 2008 Farm Bill was passed just a year and a half ago and many programs are still in the initial stages of implementation, NAWG and other farm groups have heard the message from Capitol Hill that it’s time to start evaluating successes and opportunities before the next re-write of federal farm policy, which will assuredly face funding hurdles and an ever-growing list of competing priorities and needs.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota told growers at the NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates winter meetings in January that they should begin to consider what they want to see out of the 2012 legislation, even as the 2008 Farm Bill continues to be implemented. In later comments, he suggested that the farm bill process could be considered as soon as 2011, particularly if reconciliation instructions require the existing bill to be opened up for budget cuts.
Haylie Shipp says both the NAWG Domestic and Trade Policy Committee and the NAWG Environment and Renewable Resources Committee discussed specific farm bill programs within their committees’ charge at their meetings Wednesday. Both groups will finalize timelines for policy development and coordinate a plan of action this week.
“The last farm bill was a tough legislative fight, and we know that the next bill, whenever it happens, will be even more complex,” said NAWG President Karl Scronce, a producer from Klamath Falls, Ore. “We want to start this process now to advocate for programs that work for growers and policy that is responsible and can be broadly supported.”
Ag Secretary Vilsack Highlights General Session
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and grower-leaders of the Commodity Classic sponsoring organizations highlighted the 2010 Classic general session held Friday before thousands of attendees.
Vilsack talked about expanding trade through commodity promotion programs, feeding the world through biotechnology and the importance of agriculture and rural communities to national security. He reminded the growers in the audience that most citizens don’t have first-hand experience with being deprived of food, and that farmers now feed 150 people each, versus only 20 people each in decades past.
Commodity Classic is the annual convention and trade show of the U.S. wheat, corn, soybean and sorghum industries, and is also host to NAWG’s annual meeting. Sponsoring organizations include NAWG, the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the National Sorghum Producers.
As part of the general session show, NAWG President Karl Scronce of Klamath Falls, Ore., joined moderator Mark Mayfield on stage to discuss wheat priorities, focusing on the importance of a robust trade agenda and research and technology work. He also participated in a roundtable discussion with the other association presidents about sustainability in agriculture and how to communicate better with the urban populace.
Earlier in the morning, Vilsack met privately with association grower-leaders and senior staff. The conversation covered a wide range of issues including trade, the dynamics of rural development, nutrition programs, biotechnology and connecting farmers with consumers.
For more information on happenings at the 2010 Commodity Classic, visit www.wheatworld.org.