Minnesota Well Represented at Commodity Classic 2013

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Thousands of farmers converged on Kissimmee, Florida (near Orlando) February 28 through March 2, for the unparalleled opportunities to network, to catch up on the latest technologies and tools of the trade and to forge a united political voice–all the benefits of Commodity Classic, one of the nation’s largest agricultural conferences. In addition to the tradeshow, exhibition and learning events, Commodity Classic includes the annual meetings of National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), as well as meetings of the soybean, wheat and sorghum growers organizations.

Minnesota’s Corn Organizations were amply represented by more than two dozen grower leaders and many others along for the learning and enjoyment.

“Commodity Classic brings so many of us farmers together, so we can learn, so we can understand what issues we need to take to the public and the lawmakers and policymakers so that we can keep farming strong, and be the best, most productive farmers we can be,” said Tom Haag, a farmer in Eden Valley, Minnesota, who serves as president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

A key element of the three-day gathering is consensus-building for the direction of the 34,000-plus member NCGA. By gathering with the other farmer groups, the common bond of farmers is strengthened, and a stronger voice for farmers develops.

“Having these discussions in a respectful, public way–that’s a big part of the reason for having our annual meeting and delegate sessions,” said Greg Schwarz, past MCGA president and current chairman of the MCGA government relations committee. Schwarz farms in LeSueur, Minnesota. He said, “Our grassroots determine what we do as an organization. Our farmers express their opinions and then our staff and our lobbyists carry that out.”

The number one concern for farmers across the country remains the passage of the long-delayed Farm Bill. For Minnesota’s corn organizations and many other groups, the public support that allows broad participation in crop insurance seems to be the most fundamental, strategic element in preserving independent family farms and assuring that the collective know-how they possess continues to give America the safe, abundant, economical food supply that is the envy of the world.

“There were many informal conversations going on about the Farm Bill, and the gist of the ones I took part in, is the need for unity and finding some kind of middle ground on issues that have divided some of the farm groups,” said Schwarz. “There is a recognition that, to pass a Farm Bill under regular order in Congress, we have to be unified, or Congress members may be confused on how to vote.”

Other key issues received discussion and resolutions, including support for keeping the current Renewable Fuels Standard and developing a single label for E15 fuel to be used everywhere, in order to prevent confusion among consumers. NCGA opposed single-state rules on GMO labeling in order to prevent having 50 different sets of regulations. The resolution supports the FDA’s power to pre-empt rules on agricultural biotechnology products, passed by individual states.

Another NCGA resolution opposes tying crop insurance eligibility to conservation compliance, arguing that the current farm program already provides a robust means to ensure conservation compliance by requiring farmers obey conservation rules in order to receive any form of federal farm support.

“We put a resolution together to say that ‘We support local ownership of corn processing, livestock and grain operations,'” Schwarz reported. He said, “The local ownership part is what really gets the value back to our rural communities and provides a good consistent tax base for rural communities. We wanted to put this down in black and white, so that when the next new thing comes along that makes use of farm products… whether it’s biochemicals, or nutriceuticals or energy–we are on record that we support local ownership so that we get some of those dollars back to local communities. We have seen that value with ethanol companies and livestock facilities in Minnesota and we want to support these industries and keep them strong. This is not just about farmer ownership, but also supporting our neighbors in town owning businesses that add value to agricultural commodities, as long as it’s local–if it’s an ethanol plant in a farming community or a biochemical company in a Minnesota suburb–whenever we can have some local ownership we get so much more out of it than if some large multinational company owns it.”

A number of first-timers to Commodity Classic joined the veterans, and saw for themselves that the three-day event deserves its reputation for being an incredibly valuable experience.

“I’ve heard it said how large Commodity Classic is, and how many people there are, and the number of displays, and the awesome scope of things…but seeing it for myself was still amazing,” said Chuck DeGrote, a grower leader on the MCGA board of directors, and a farmer in Clara City who raises corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cattle. He said, “The networking at the exhibition hall, talking to people from other states, people who are active in other commodity organizations, I got to hear what people are thinking about for the future, some of the projects we could be looking into. The people are what make Commodity Classic a special experience.”

DeGrote felt discussions about the Farm Bill and the Renewable Fuels Standard were interesting and gave reason for farmers to work together and to be optimistic about what can be done, even with today’s need for a fiscally constrained approach to the federal government.

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