NAWG Weekly Update: 4/7/2016

Senate Committees Review Farm Bill Programs, Funding Needs

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss the opportunities available to military veterans who return to civilian life with a desire to explore farming and agriculture as a way to transition into their post-military careers. USDA has in the past funded similar efforts in the form of farm loans to help and encourage veterans to purchase the land necessary to begin small-scale farming, and to further educate them regarding conservation programs, financial and business planning, and risk management. The hearing featured testimony from USDA’s Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison Lannon Baccam as well as by witnesses involved in programs which work to incorporate veterans into agriculture, including the Soldier Agricultural Vocation Education program in Kansas, and the Central Oregon Veterans Ranch.

The Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy also held a hearing to review USDA Rural Development programs authorized in the Farm Bill and to get input from industry stakeholders about how the programs have been working. USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Lisa Mensah testified during the hearing and indicated that the Department administers a loan portfolio of $212 billion across its portfolio of business, energy, housing, and other programs. She highlighted the impact that programs like the Value-Added Producer Grant Program have had in assisting young and beginning farmers in starting a business and discussed the regional approach the Department has taken to spur economic growth through initiatives like StrikeForce and Promise Zones. Members of the Subcommittee also raised the issue of counties containing both very rural and high population density areas not being eligible for beneficial programs. A second panel featured testimony from the President of the Iowa Farm Bureau, the head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, and the President of Dakota Turbines in North Dakota. They discussed the importance of renewable energy programs authorized in the Farm Bill, and areas where improvements could be made. Video of the hearing, as well as testimony, can be found at this link.

USDA Releases Prospective Plantings Report
On March 31, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its most recent version of its Prospective Plantings report, estimating the anticipated planted acres for the upcoming crop year. The report indicates that winter wheat is down about 8 percent from last year at 36.2 million acres; spring wheat is estimated to be down 14 percent at 11.3 million acres and Durum is estimated to be up 3 percent at 2 million acres. In aggregate, the NASS report estimated that all wheat would be down 9 percent from last year at 49.6 million acres. In addition to wheat, the Prospective Plantings report estimates that corn acreage will be up 6 percent at 93.6 million acres, soybean acreage to be down less than 1 percent at 82.2 million acres, and cotton acres to be up 11 percent at 9.56 million acres. The most recent NASS Crop Progress report, which was posted online on Tuesday, estimates the winter wheat crop conditions for 18 selected states for the week ending April 3. That report estimates 10 percent of the crop to be “Excellent” and 49 percent to be “Good.” A breakdown of the estimated conditions by state can be found at this link.

The trend of declining wheat acres over the past three decades is alarming. Beyond the normal planting fluctuations that will occur with low commodity prices, wheat productivity hasn’t kept pace with other crops or with production in other countries. Rather than allow this trend to continue, NAWG has initiated several initiatives designed to increase productivity and the competitiveness of wheat in production agriculture. This year, the National Wheat Foundation (NWF), which is the charitable arm of NAWG, launched the nation’s first National Wheat Yield Contest in over 20 years. This competition is intended to drive innovation in the wheat industry, facilitate knowledge transfer between growers, urge experimentation with new technologies, and identify top wheat producers in each state. The farmer leaders of NAWG and NWF have also launched the development of a National Wheat Action Plan (NWAP). Through an extensive stakeholder input-gathering process, the NWAP is intended to serve as a catalyst to increase public and private wheat research and improve productivity and farmer profitability, and reverse the decline in wheat acres of the last 30-plus years. And finally, through NAWG’s farmer-led board of directors, its policy committees are continually analyzing policies affecting agriculture, including the effectiveness of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Senators Roberts and Inhofe Request Investigation into EPA Billboard
Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works have filed a request to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) for an investigation into the potential misuse of funds for advocacy billboards in Washington state. The billboards seem to have been funded by an EPA grant to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission which was used to pay a PR and lobbying firm to execute an advocacy campaign which claims that “unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.” Given regulations covered by the Antilobbying Act, the EPA’s role in funding a lobbying campaign against farmers, particularly the lack of transparency in the source of that funding, would be in conflict of regulations prohibiting the spending of federal money on political and lobbying activities. The EPA states that the campaign has not broken prohibition on lobbying with federal funds because it doesn’t advocate for or against specific legislation. Instead, the billboard encourages people to write to their lawmakers to tighten restrictions on farmland proximity to waterways. A copy of the Senators’ letter to EPA can be found here.

NAWG Participates in Field to Market Meetings
This week, NAWG Environmental Policy Advisor Keira Franz participated in Field to Market’s Information, Communication and Engagement Committee. The committee discussed the ongoing work of the fieldprint projects and tools needed to encourage participation and undertake new projects as well as recognizing existing participation. The group also discussed other sustainability efforts underway and their potential compatibility with Field to Market (FTM). NAWG is a long-time member of FTM and NAWG Vice President David Schemm currently serves as one of three grower representatives on the FTM Board of Directors. Last week Schemm participated in the FTM Technology Committee meeting. For more information on Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture and to use the Fieldprint Calculator to gather feedback on your agricultural operation, go to https://www.fieldtomarket.org/.

Educational Session Videos from 2016 Commodity Classic Now Available
With record-high attendance, the 2016 Commodity Classic in New Orleans was one of the most successful in recent years. Complete with more than two dozen educational sessions included in admittance, the tradeshow is the largest farmer-led, farmer-focused convention and trade show in the country, hosted by various commodities and featuring exhibits from some of the country’s largest commodities, equipment manufacturers, and ag organizations. Videos from the educational sessions are now available in a general library, which also includes the video from the General Session, featuring an appearance by the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and a roundtable discussion of important issues facing the agriculture industry. NAWG Immediate Past President Brett Blankenship also spoke at the General Session. For attendees who couldn’t attend all the sessions they wanted, or those who want to refresh their memory, these videos are an excellent resource for education, professional development, and sharing of industry information. The videos are available here and require attendee’s badge ID for access.

NAWG Still Accepting Applications for Internships
The deadline for application to NAWG internships is May 1st, 2016, which ensures eligibility for the summer 2016 internship. NAWG internships are an excellent opportunity for university sophomores, juniors, and seniors to experience high-paced policy work on behalf of the wheat industry, and to assist the governmental affairs and communications departments with social media, press releases, and other advocacy related work. Interested applicants should be interested in pursuing an agriculture-related degree and be excellent writers. More information and instructions for how to apply can be found here.