Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
Better farm prices are right around the corner and farmers, the eternal optimists, want to be ready.
So this year, at Commodity Classic — the annual gathering of the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and National Sorghum Producers — for the first time ever included the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, who brought an expanded trade show exhibition.
“You could spend a whole day and not get through it — it was maybe one-third bigger than previous trade shows, maybe more,” said Tom Haag, a farmer in Eden Valley and past president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Haag spent much of the three-day gathering in New Orleans introducing himself to corn grower leaders from across the nation. Five positions are up for election on the National Corn Board, with two incumbents running to retain their seats and six grower-leaders – including Haag — competing for the three remaining seats.
The election will take place at the July 20-21 meeting in Washington, known as “Corn Congress.”
“I didn’t have any babies to kiss, but I sure did shake a lot of hands,” Haag said. None of the current 15 National Corn Board members is from Minnesota.
Haag says Commodity Classic is known among Minnesota farmers as the national farm show to go to, and he estimated 300 or more Minnesotans made their way to New Orleans. The show saw a record attendance of 9,500 people. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) fielded 15 delegates to the NCGA annual resolutions meeting.
Haag wasn’t the only Minnesota grower leader busy with politicking. Noah Hultgren, a farmer in Raymond, Minn., and president of MCGA, described a very productive meeting with presidents of state corn associations, chairs of state corn councils and executive directors of state corn groups, who met to talk through a diverse set of issues, such as ongoing NCGA projects like the NASCAR E15 promotion, as well as political issues that impact farmers like global trade policy and environmental concerns.
“We all have some of the same issues,” Hultgren said. “Water is a big deal across the country. The guys from Ohio talked about Lake Erie and in Iowa the Des Moines Water Utility has challenged farmers’ use of nitrogen fertilizer. Another big issue was TPP, the Trans-Pacific trade agreement. People shared different perspectives, and talked about how important it would be for agriculture. One big concern is that if TPP is not passed, it will make it that much more difficult to get the same type of trade pact with Europe, where we have negotiations under way. A European trade agreement would help solve our differences over GMO labeling and the balance of trade with Africa, among other issues. The Pacific Rim countries will negotiate trade agreements among themselves, so TPP is our opportunity to get our foot in the door.”
NCGA approved a new strategic plan for 2020, Hultgren reports.
“We set the top four strategic priorities: increase demand, strengthen customer and consumer trust, increase both productivity and environmental sustainability, and strive for organizational excellence,” Hultgren said.
MCGA approved a similar strategic plan this summer, which emphasizes strengthening customer and consumer trust, and seeks to communicate positive messages across the nation about the role of agriculture.
Hultgren notes that conference attendees were amazed to hear the results of this year’s Corn Yield Contest, where a Virginia farmer, planting on irrigated land achieved 532 bushels per acre — the highest yield ever reported in the contest.
“That really shows that doing the right things works and there is the possibility that our yields could go up significantly,” Hultgren said. Nationally, corn farmers averaged a yield of 168.4 bushels in 2015, and Minnesota, which had a record year in 2015, saw an average of 188 bushels per acre.
One of the highlights every year, according to Haag, is a report from the Secretary of Agriculture. Secretary Tom Vilsack made his sixth and last report at this year’s meeting.
“Especially with low prices for our crops, we have to keep the crop insurance program in place because we really need that safety net,” Vilsack emphasized this point, according to Haag, who described other key points of Vilsack’s report:
“The dollar is strong, which is challenging for exports. We also have to be careful with the different countries, to make sure which GMO traits they accept. We don’t want to repeat the trouble we ran into with China. The thing about it is, with our dollar being strong and other currencies being weak, our products are more expensive, even though we have low commodity prices for us in our domestic markets. One bright spot is biofuels. Our exports of ethanol are picking up in China and India because of their concern about cleaner air. So if we are not using all of our ethanol here at home, we can export it overseas.”