Word on Wheat: Looks Like It Might Be a Long Five Years

July 10, 2009 Bookmark and Share

Erik Younggren, NAWG Secretary-Treasurer

This spring I was selected as NAWG’s new secretary-treasurer, meaning, barring some unforeseen circumstance, I will be a NAWG officer for the next five years. It’s a commitment I’m excited to undertake, and, as you can imagine, I’ve spent some time daydreaming about the issues that might be before us.

Coming into this year, I thought it might be a relatively quiet time to get involved. My logical assumption was that I would spend a lot of time planning for the next farm bill – after all, the last one took two years to get through Congress and even more time planning and plotting on the NAWG front.

Two years ago, we were focused on preserving the direct payment and looking at how wheat growers could capitalize on the coming cellulosic ethanol boom, including through the tangential subject of carbon sequestration. A little lower on my radar was climate change.

What a difference a few years makes. New Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told us in February that we would come to see a “green” economy and, while the new economy may not yet have arrived, the controversy over it has. NAWG has been working on carbon tracking and offsets for years, and now the whole world is talking about it.

Even a few months can change “knowns” in the area of farm policy. Last winter, no one thought the ACRE program would be of much benefit to wheat farmers. Fast forward a few months and a spring freeze has farmers in Texas and Oklahoma carefully analyzing how this program would work on their operations. The nature of future farm program discussions is likely to depend on experiences with new programs like ACRE and SURE.

Everyone knows how the evolution of technology has changed society. Through things like wikis, Facebook, blogs and Twitter, people can communicate faster and more efficiently than ever. Unfortunately, some will use these tools to spread urban myths that harm not only our image but, ultimately, our profitability. We must also be able to use these tools to our advantage. We will need to continue to work with coalitions like Farm Policy Facts and join new ones like The Hand That Feeds U.S. to communicate with people that not only don’t know where their food comes from, but may have never seen dirt. We are the only ones that can improve our own image.

So, what do I see in the next five years? I see a very challenging period. With corn and soybeans increasingly advancing on traditional wheat areas, our resources may grow even thinner than they already are. The complexities in the areas I’ve spelled out above will only increase.

When I raised my hand to volunteer for leadership, I didn’t realize I was doing so in a time of such change. It’s going to be a lot of work and a little pain – that’s clear. Priorities will have to be set, the budget may have to be reanalyzed, board members will have to be more vigilant. NAWG will have to more efficiently communicate with states, and states will have to be more efficient in their communication with growers and back to NAWG.

Where will we be in five years? I don’t know. But, despite all this, I am looking forward to the journey.

– Younggren is a wheat producer from Hallock, Minn.