NAWG Weekly Update: November 12, 2015

NAWG Advocates for Swift Congressional Consideration of TPP
Last week, the Obama Administration released the text of the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Following initial review, the NAWG Board of Directors and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors together called on Congress to quickly consider the agreement once it is presented to them. The agreement will provide for immediate duty-free access for U.S. wheat in Vietnam and it will create country-specific quotas for additional U.S. wheat exports to Japan. Congressional approval of TPP could also open the door to adding in other countries to the TPP framework. NAWG President Brett Blankenship participated in a press conference Wednesday with USDA Foreign Agricultural Services Administrator Phil Karsting and other agricultural commodity organizations to urge quick Congressional support and action on this important trade deal.

Bill to Drastically Cut Crop Insurance Introduced in Congress
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced legislation last week in both chambers of Congress that would slash more than $24 billion from crop insurance over 10 years. This legislation reflects similar bills and amendments these specific members of Congress have offered in previous years which have failed to advance. Specifically, the legislation would prohibit premium support for producers with more $250,000 adjusted gross income and it would cap the support at $40,000 per producer. It would also eliminate any support for the Harvest Price Option. Additionally, the bill would cap the rate of return to crop insurance companies at 8.9 percent. NAWG has consistently opposed any cuts to the crop insurance program, as well as any legislation that would reopen the 2014 Farm Bill.

Wheat Growers Act to Revitalize U.S. Wheat Industry
This week the National Wheat Foundation (NWF) and NAWG announced a joint effort to develop a comprehensive business plan to revitalize the U.S. wheat industry. The National Wheat Action Plan will be a collaborative effort developed with strategic input from key stakeholders across the industry. This effort will serve as a catalyst to increase public and private research, and improve wheat productivity and farmer profitability.

The wheat industry has been experiencing decreased profitability in comparison to other crops, a lack of significant productivity gains, increased global competition and negative consumer sentiment regarding the healthfulness of wheat-based products. The effort has already attracted significant support from industry partners including: CropLife America, Monsanto, Syngenta and WinField. For more information on the National Wheat Action Plan, visit the NWF website here.

Wheat Leaders Attend Fall Wheat Conference
Last week the grower-leaders of NAWG and USW held their Fall Wheat Conference in western Nevada. Following is a recap of committee meetings. The next NAWG Board and committee meetings will be at the Wheat Industry Winter Conference in Washington, D.C. February 2-6, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.

Domestic and Trade Policy Committee
NAWG’s Domestic and Trade Policy Committee heard updates from staff about several pending policy issues including Farm Bill implementation, the impact of the budget agreement on crop insurance, Grain Standards Act reauthorization, immigration reform, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle regulations, among other issues. Additionally, the committee heard from Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, about a number of highway and rail transportation issues affecting the agriculture industry. USDA Deputy Undersecretary Alexis Taylor briefed the Committee on many of the details of the TPP agreement, the text of which was publicly released the morning following the committee meeting.

The committee also approved a resolution that had been previously considered by the Joint International Trade Policy Committee and the USW Board to urge the U.S. Trade Representative to pursue a case before the World Trade Organization (WTO) against any country currently in violation of its international trade commitments. The resolution comes on the heals of a study recently released by USW and NAWG showing that the distorting agricultural support programs in China, India, Turkey, and Brazil are costing U.S. farmers nearly a billion dollars a year in lost revenue.

Joint International Trade Policy Committee
The Joint International Trade Policy Committee heard from NAWG and USW staff about the econometric study commissioned by USW as well as the details of the recently concluded TPP. After reviewing the details of the agreement, the Committee urged Congress to take swift action in considering the agreement, once the President officially presents it for consideration.

In addition to reviewing the TPP agreement, the Committee heard from Domestic and Trade Policy Committee Vice Chairman Ben Scholz, a Texas wheat grower, about his trip earlier this year to Cuba. Scholz was part of an agricultural trade delegation from Texas to explore potential trade opportunities for U.S. wheat farmers.

Joint Biotechnology Committee
The Joint Biotechnology Committee, consisting of NAWG and USW Board members, heard updates from staff on GMO labeling of food products, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy efforts to update the Coordinated Framework for Biotechnology, and EU member country “opt out” of GM crop cultivation, as well as company updates regarding their current wheat research. Dave Jenkins with EGT presented information on the complex issue of segregation in GM and non-GM grain handling. Mike Firko, Deputy Administrator of APHIS Biotechnology Regulatory Services at USDA, also presented on the proposed changes to GMO wheat field trials. Dr. Firko went in depth regarding his agency’s thought process behind the proposed changes, current crops that are under permitting field trials and answered questions regarding the proposed change.

Environment and Renewable Resources Committee
NAWG’s Environment and Renewable Energy Committee met to discuss environmental regulation and conservation efforts impacting wheat growers. During the meeting, the committee heard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the proposed pesticide certification regulation. The committee will be preparing written comments for NAWG to submit prior to the December 23 deadline. The Committee also discussed legislation and legal actions surrounding the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation developed by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The committee will be reaching out to USDA regarding the inconsistent administration of the Conservation Stewardship Program between counties and states. Finally, the committee is exploring issues related to drought in the Western wheat growing areas, and creative ideas to help mitigate the effects of the drought that could benefit wheat growers.

Research and Technology Committee
NAWG’s Research and Technology Committee had a packed agenda. The committee reviewed the concern of the National Wheat Improvement Committee regarding USDA Agricultural Research Service funding cutbacks affecting Quality Labs across the wheat belt. The committee also discussed the practice of shifting funds away from field stations and other agronomic research by the USDA ARS, without any input from NAWG, to other areas of need that are deemed a higher priority. The committee approved a proposed policy resolution designed to encourage USDA ARS to avoid this practice in the future.

In addition, Kellye Eversole, CEO of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, updated the committee on the progress of sequencing the wheat genome and Dr. Mike Firko, APHIS Deputy Administrator, discussed current biotech regulations and plans for future changes to regulations that will impact GMO wheat research.

NAWG Industry Partners Council
The semi-annual meeting of the NAWG Industry Partners Council, comprised of companies and organizations providing products and services to U.S. wheat growers and the wheat value chain, met adjacent to the 2015 Fall Wheat Conference on November 3. Tim O’Connor, the recently appointed president of the Wheat Foods Council, provided the featured presentation. O’Connor provided information about the Council, how it operates, the current issues related to the various wheat foods, and how the Council is working to favorably resolve those issues.