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Commodity Classic, the largest farmer led, farmer-focused agricultural and educational experience, looked a little different as it was held in a virtual platform due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. The event celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and the digital format allowed the directors to offer over 50 educational sessions to attendees—more than any other year at Commodity Classic.

Long-time Commodity Classic emcee Mark Mayfield served as moderator for the opening general session and kicked off the four-day conference by getting updates from the leaders of the five associations that present Commodity Classic each year: the National Association of Wheat Growers, the American Soybean Association, the National Sorghum Producers, the National Corn Growers Association and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Wheat

David Milligan, president of NAWG, said the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it huge increases in flour sales at the grocery store for home baked products and other wheat-based foods.

“We have more families that are working from home, eating at home and they have an opportunity to bake these wheat products and we hope this baking trend continues,” Milligan said.

He also noted that the pandemic gave consumers the experience of going to the grocery store and finding empty shelves, which made them realize there is a lot of value in a reliable food supply.

“During the pandemic the National Association of Wheat Growers worked with the millers that buy our wheat and the bakers that bake our wheat products to maintain worker safety and supply the food chain with high-quality, safe, reliable food,” he added.

He went on to detail the challenges the wheat industry is facing right now, which are based around the changes in power in Washington.

“We have a new administration, so we have a lot of work ahead of us to inform these new people of the basic facts of growing wheat,” Milligan explained. “We continue to see a trend of fewer individuals that have an agricultural background and part of our mission will be to bring these people up to speed about the value of agriculture and how we fit in the food system. Additionally, there are many members of Congress that have never voted for a farm bill before. We’re already preparing for the 2023 farm bill so we can be well-positioned to maintain an effective safety net for our growers.”

Soybeans

Kevin Scott, president of ASA, said the COVID-19 pandemic prevented their tradition of inviting legislators out to agricultural operations to learn about the soybean industry and what farmers neednow out of government leaders, however, the alternative method of educating legislators may have allowed them to connect to more individuals.

“Not having that personal contact like we’re used to was difficult, but were able to take videos from the farms while harvesting soybeans, so instead of bringing the legislators out and riding in our combines like we like to do, we were able to get about 2,000 congressional staffers online with us to view those videos and they were able to take away a good understanding of what was going on at harvest and some of the issues we have to deal with,” Scott said. “We weren’t able to shake their hands or see them face-to-face, but we had a lot of contact that we may not have had as much of doing it our normal way.”

Scott also mentioned the high commodity prices soybean farmers are enjoying, with prices at $13 to $14 a bushel and looking like they could go higher.

“The reason it’s so high is that a lot of producers don’t have any beans left, but they are able to market next year’s crop at a decent price,” he said.

The U.S. exports 60% of the soybeans we grow, so going forward Scott said the greatest opportunities for soybeans centers around trade—specifically in China.

Sorghum

“A lot of times sorghum has been treated as a stepchild, so for once this is a really exciting time for my industry,” said Kody Carson, chairman of NSP. “Sorghum is experiencing levels of exports and consumption in China that are near pre-trade dispute levels and in fact, China is now booking into 2022.”

Furthermore, Carson said he sees promise in the other countries that are coming online for trading with U.S. sorghum growers.

“None of us like to put all our eggs in one basket and what we’re seeing right now is a lot of interest and use for U.S. sorghum in Vietnam, India and Africa and we’re developing consumer products in the U.S. too.”

According to Carson, the U.S. is consuming more sorghum products than it ever has before and there is a strong domestic and overseas demand for both feed-grade and high-value consumer markets.

“Because the sustainability and water-conserving nature of sorghum, it’s just going to become a larger part of my operation and I expect to see nothing but continued increases in acres in the near future, especially in the Plains states,” he added.

Corn

John Linder, president of NCGA, said the changes in the White House administration present some challenges for NCGA and agriculture, but he does see some bright spots with this administration.

“It is a game changer, but with both our optimistic nature and our long history of bipartisanship advocacy, we will use that to complement NCGA’s drive to capitalize on the opportunities we see within this Biden administration,” Linder said. “It’s well-known that the Biden-Harris administration has chosen to address climate change as a topic and that uses an appropriate amount of science and tells us science does matter. That’s music to my ears and NCGA is it making it a priority to be engaged in this space by using this acknowledgement as a platform to showcase that the American farmer can lead by example with impactful, common sense climate solutions.”

Linder said he is optimistic the U.S. will be able to forge new trade agreements with strategic partners and offer growth opportunities for U.S. corn and corn products in export markets.

“A day does not go by without NCGA being engaged in efforts to position corn front and center in trade conversations,” he said. “We’re looking for a great opportunity to re-engage in a trade agreement with southeast Asian nations as a top priority. This region is a rapidly growing protein center for protein and renewable energy.”

Additionally, Linder said he would like to see the U.S. finish negotiations with the United Kingdom and continue to deepen those relationships with Kenya and other nations in sub-Saharan Africa. NCGA also views ethanol exports as an opportunity to move the demand needle for the ethanol industry, driving global competitiveness and capitalizing on the demand for more climate-friendly energy solutions.

Equipment

Todd Stucke, ag chair for AEM, said agriculture and farm equipment are tied together on a string and when farmers succeed, equipment manufacturers succeed.

“That’s why AEM supports the policies that provide the tools to help farmers and ranchers manage the risks, open up more market opportunities, ensure the regulatory system is fair and transparent, have access to technology to help farmers grow more food and to improve the environment,” he said.

Another area agriculture and equipment are connected is through rural communities, because agriculture and all of the major U.S. equipment manufacturers call rural America home.

“The infrastructure and access to broadband is so important to manufacturers so we can be competitive and lead our industry around the world, so robust and reliable infrastructure including railways, inter-waterways, ports and rural broadband are imperative,” Stucke said. “That is why AEM advocates for long-term investment in rural America infrastructure.”

Stucke said precision ag is where this industry is going, whether it is using precision agriculture techniques to ensure the efficiency of harvest or deploying smart technology to ensure sustainability. Studies have quantified how widely available precision agriculture improves environmental stewardship and provides an economical return for farmers, all the while offering yield benefits, fertilizer reduction, pesticide reduction, fuel savings and water savings.

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 620-227-1871 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

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