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Changing political climate brings wheat leaders to Wichita

DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARDS--The Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers presented Distinguished Service Awards at its annual meeting July 30. Pictured from left are Martha and Norbert Gerstenkorn, Conway Springs, and Larry and Virginia Kepley, Ulysses. (Journal photo by Jennifer M Latzke.)

Climate change legislation and its ramifications for wheat production in Kansas were the lead topics of the 2009 Kansas Wheat Conference July 30 and 31 in Wichita, Kan. Members of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers and the Kansas Wheat Commission gathered for their joint annual meeting, July 30.

The climate change legislation, which is currently before the U.S. Senate, was the key topic for Kansas wheat growers. At its annual business meeting KAWG discussed policy resolutions to direct its staff in its legislative lobbying efforts. The following resolution was approved by a unanimous vote following much debate and discussion:

"KAWG is concerned about the economic impact that greenhouse gas legislation or regulation will have on production agriculture. KAWG will strive for a net economic benefit to farmers, agriculture and food production. If greenhouse gas regulation should occur, USDA should promulgate the rules and administer any programs impacting farmers. Furthermore, EPA should not regulate greenhouse gas until the major carbon emitting countries of the world have agreed to regulate their own greenhouse gases in a like manner to ours."

Jay Armstrong, KAWG member, moved to amend the resolution to cover the role of major carbon-emitting countries in any environmental standards. "If we regulate ourselves and we have increased costs while countries like India and China do not, where does that figure into the overall environmental benefit?" Armstrong asked.

KAWG President Paul Penner, Hillsboro, explained Kansas producers are not keen on the idea of greenhouse gas legislation, but that anything passed by Congress must have a net benefit to farmers. It's important to note that the KAWG resolution is not in total support of climate change legislation, but rather than opposing any discussions of such legislation producer interests will be represented at the table.

"We really don't like to deal with climate change legislation, but if we take the position to say that we don't support it, it prevents our access to the discussion," Penner said. "We must remain credible with both sides of the floor."

Ultimately, any legislation that benefits farmers will ultimately benefit the consumer, and both rural and urban, Republican and Democrat legislators should take notice, he added.

Some growers are concerned about the potential for the Environmental Protection Agency to dictate what farming practices are acceptable under the legislation. Others are worried about the unintended consequences any new climate change restrictions may have on the price and availability of crop inputs.

Penner advised all Kansas wheat producers concerned about this issue to call the Kansas Wheat offices and make their voices heard. He also encouraged producers to join KAWG with their membership fees, which are used for legislative lobbying efforts. For a $100 dues investment, producers have a larger voice in Congress, he said.

During the joint annual meeting of KAWG and the Wheat Commission board, Mike Zamrzla, district director for Rep. Jerry Moran, R-KS, spoke to growers about legislative issues before Moran and the rest of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Number one on Congressman Moran's agenda is the economy and the spending and bailouts that have occurred since last fall," Zamrzla said. "As a country we probably rushed fast and headlong into spending and we need a more focused path.

"Some look too much to the next quarter or to the next election," he added. "Congressman Moran looks to the next generation." Moran, he said, is concerned that the financial commitments currently undertaken by Congress will be passed on to future generations and are not sustainable efforts.

For Congressman Moran, the cap and trade legislation that was passed by the U.S. House was more a "Cap and Tax" bill, Zamrzla said. He added that the congressman is adamant that any bill that has net benefits to agriculture and rural Americans will be considered, but if he's not sure, then he will vote "no."

KAWG and the Wheat Commission also handed out their annual Distinguished Service Awards at the meeting. Honorees for 2009 included Larry Kepley, Ulysses, and Norbert Gerstenkorn, Conway Springs.

Gerstenkorn is the retired chief executive officer of the Farmers Cooperative Grain Association, Conway Springs. He has 50 years of grain handling experience and was director and chairman of the Kansas Farmers Service Association board from 2005 to 2008, as well as a trustee for the Kansas Grain Inspection Service.

Kepley has a long history of work with both the KAWG board of directors and the Kansas Wheat Commission. Kepley, a diversified farmer/rancher operates a certified seed facility near Ulysses and has been a champion of the advancement of white wheat in his activities with KAWG and KWC.

The annual meeting concluded with the inaugural Kansas Wheat Political Action Committee live auction. Items were auctioned by former KAWG President John Thaemert, and raised a total of $3,105 for the PAC.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.

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