Producers share views in Classic general session
By Larry Dreiling
During a round table discussion at the Commodity Classic, the presidents of the four commodity groups hosting the conference talked of issues important to their groups.
Mark Mayfield, a Kansas State University graduate and former National FFA Organization president who now bills himself as the "corporate comedian," led the session.
Toby Bostwick of the National Sorghum Producers, David Cleavinger of the National Association of Wheat Growers, Bob Dickey of the National Corn Growers Association and Johnny Dodson of the American Soybean Association gathered to discuss food versus fuel, farm prices, biotechnology, and public perception of agriculture.
Dickey, when asked about food versus fuel issues, said the price of corn has decreased dramatically since last summer's highs and that his organization was concerned about livestock production costs, too.
"Many corn growers are livestock producers," Dickey said. "We need to be working with the livestock industry in areas where we have mutual concerns and issues. We in agriculture are such a small number, anymore, that we need to be working together wherever we can."
Cleavinger added, "A rising tide lifts all ships. We're going to have to find new ways to feed and fuel this world. That's why we in wheat are going to have to have biotechnology."
Dodson called for a meeting of leaders of all groups in production agriculture to discuss common concerns.
"We need to work together to figure out a clear direction for the future," Dodson said.
In a discussion about China's emerging economy, Cleavinger said that country presents opportunities.
"As people leave the countryside for the city, they will be improving their diets, and that includes wheat products," Cleavinger said.
Dodson said it is important that trade between the U.S. and China remain open.
"We need to have free trade agreements in place so we have access to their markets for all of our crops and all of our livestock," Dodson said.
Dodson also said the economic stimulus package recently signed by President Obama would bring some good out of a damaged economy.
"Investment in our infrastructure, our locks and dams, highways, and bridges are things we've needed for years and are things that will last for a long time to come. If there's one positive thing to come of this, it's the investment of infrastructure.
Dickey, for his part, gave some financial advice of his own.
"I might be able to suggest that producers use all the risk management tools that are available to them," Dickey said.
Cleavinger said it was important to remind people how little of the total American food bill is returned to the farmer.
"Just 8 cents of a loaf of bread goes to the producer," Cleavinger said. "It's also important that we show America how little of their tax dollar goes toward farm programs and how they work to provide the food they have. That's the reason we're all here. To push to show that these programs are good. It should make it easier to push for farm programs."
At the same time, the leaders issued a joint statement to the media on farm policy, calling for no reopening of the 2008 farm bill.
"As the leaders of participant organizations at the 2009 Commodity Classic, which represents almost 90 percent of our nation's crop area planted, we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of the farm safety net as written in the 2008 farm bill," the statement said.
"The small investment in agricultural programs by the federal government provides an excellent return for the American people. The 2008 farm bill also includes many other reforms that will assist farmers in becoming more financially sound.
The statement continued: "Production agriculture is a volatile business, and a workable farm safety net is vital to the security of our industry. The continued production of an abundant, affordable and safe food and feed supply for Americans and all those we export to around the world will be affected if this safety net is changed. The purpose of a five-year farm bill is to provide stability to producers, agricultural operations and the food system. The 2008 bill should not be reopened before it expires in 2012.
"Our organizations look forward to continued work with the Obama administration and Congress to ensure farm program monies are spent wisely."
In separate interviews Mayfield held with the leaders, Dodson, a Halls, Tenn., producer, called for extension of the biodiesel tax incentive; Dickey, a Laurel, Neb., producer, called for ethanol tax incentives to be maintained; Cleavinger, a Wildorado, Texas, producer, said that in a recent survey, 76 percent of the members of his group support the commercialization of biotechnology in wheat. Bostwick, meanwhile, discussed the new national sorghum checkoff.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.