We all need to eat, so we all have a stake in the ag economy. 

So said commodity group leaders and equipment manufacturers who took part in a panel discussion at Commodity Classic in New Orleans.

Panelists included:

  • Bill Hurley, AGCO Corporation and AEM Ag Sector Board member
  • Richard Wilkins, American Soybean Association (ASA)
  • Brett Blankenship, National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG)
  • Chip Bowling, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA)
  • James Born, National Sorghum Producers (NSP)

The panelists agreed that while those in ag are not a majority, by working together they can get things done.

What issues are affecting farmers?

NCGA: We need to make sure we’re profitable and sustainable. We need to create demand through exports – including exports of ethanol. And we need to build the infrastructure to get ethanol to the consumer.

ASA: The next generation has embraced technology. Now we need to use the data to optimize our operations and be more efficient. Also, we need to find a solution to GMO-labeling to advance food production.

NAWG: It’s not sustainable to continue to lose planted acres. We need research and development. There is a great potential for double cropping the soil and rotating corn with wheat. We also need to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the Northwest 85-90% of the wheat crop is exported. In the U.S. as a whole, 50% is exported. We need exports and we need to expand exports to other countries.

NSP: We’re getting $38/acre this fall as part of the Farm Bill PLC program. We’d like to see $2-3 more per acre.

AEM: There are industry-wide issues that affect all of us that we can share ideas and join voices to make more noise. AEM is a strong proponent of policies that support our agricultural economy and America’s farmers.  Issues include renewable fuels, free and fair trade, and infrastructure investment. For example, infrastructure isn’t just roads and construction. An efficient surface transportation and shipping infrastructure system is essential to the health of our agricultural sector as well. We need a safe and reliable infrastructure to help manufacturers and farmers move their products to market.

What are your planting projections for this year?

ASA: At this point, we will likely see a 1.5% increase in acres planted. We need to optimize yields to feed a growing global population.

NAWG: We need to increase the interest in double cropping. Planting is going to be tough to predict, but we need to give growers a better choice.

NSP: We had a record crop in 2015 and a strong export market. Pockets of the country rotate between sorghum and corn, so we’re entering 2016 with optimism.

NCGA: Although the USDA projections that came out in February were a little high, we're still looking at a slight increase in planted acres for 2016 compared to 2015.

AEM: From a manufacturers perspective, we need to drive education with the end-user to get the most efficiency out of the equipment.

Do farmers have a reason to be optimistic about Washington DC?

AEM: From a manufacturing standpoint, we need to work with associations to have a stronger voice. Don’t underestimate the power of an individual voice. Producers need to contact their state and federal officials and get involved in the conversation.

NSP: Technology is giving us a reason to be excited, but there are regulatory issues that come with it. In a regulatory arena, there is a lot of opportunity for producers to make their voices heard.

NAWG: Not everyone farms, but everyone eats. As we enter discussions for the next farm bill we need to remember that nutrition programs come out of commodity programs. The bulk of the wheat crop is farmed in a handful of states that only have 17 total votes in Congress. We can’t divide our issues separately and get enough votes. We need a good safety net, we need to feed the hungry, and we need to help farmers.

ASA: We need to work on cultivating relationships here and overseas. The executive branch of government needs to get out of the office and on to the farm to understand the challenges we face. And for those that have, call your senator and thank them for their support. Finally, we need to regain the trust of non-farming families.

NCGA: Will things change in DC? Probably not. We need to work together to get things done. Going it alone doesn’t work anymore. If you don’t talk to the people you don’t agree with, you’ll never get anywhere. Farmers need to go to the hill and state their case.