By Matt Reese
A record number of farmers converged in San Antonio in late February for the 2020 Commodity Classic.
The total number of farmers registered was 4,678 — the highest number in the show’s 24-year history, eclipsing the previous record of 4,595 set in 2016 in New Orleans. Total registration of 9,350 was also second only to the New Orleans event.
The event was held Feb. 27, 28 and 29 and featured dozens of educational sessions, a huge trade show with nearly 400 exhibitors, a keynote address by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a concert performance by Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry, policy meetings of the commodity associations, a wide variety of presentations from well-known industry leaders and top farmers, and tours of area attractions.
Ohio’s farmer leaders were on hand to set policy and the stage for what they are hoping will be a great 2020 for U.S. agriculture.
“Cautious optimism — it is a new decade and a new year we have to start over and do it again. Hopefully the weather will be a little more friendly this year,” said Patty Mann, president of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association. “We have come a long way with the trade agreements we have carried over the finish line since we were here a year ago. The general feeling is good moving forward but we have to see the markets respond and that hasn’t happened yet. With the coronavirus scare that is kind of moving in the wrong direction. Hopefully we start seeing these trade agreements work.”
Trade was also top of mind for Sonny Perdue, USDA secretary, who spoke at the event.
“We produce more than we could ever consume in this nation. That means exports are always an important part of every economic business model. When I got here there were three problems: trade, trade and trade. We have seen a president willing to reset the trade paradigm around the world. He recognizes American businesses have not been treated fairly and he took steps to right that. He’s used that leverage in a way that made us a little anxious and provided some anxiety in our businesses because we are so dependent on that trade. He created the Market Facilitation Program to help mitigate some of that,” Perdue said. “We have some good deals out there for fair trade. What we’re working to do is to spread out the largess you produce around the world so we don’t become overly dependent on one customer in the future. We want to clear the paths so you can focus on what you do best: produce safe, reliable abundant food, feed and fuel for America and across the world population.”
Of course, late 2019 saw major progress with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the signing of the Phase One trade deal with China.
“USMCA is a modern agreement with sanitary and phytosanitary issues. The hardline commitments China made with agricultural purchases is going to be a huge bonanza,” Perdue said. “Typically markets move on movement. They want to see ships loaded and unloaded and we will see that. The coronavirus has all of us concerned right now about the impact globally.”
Perdue said the USDA is building a matrix of verification to ensure China actually proceeds with agricultural purchases as promised in Phase One. He also pointed out the importance of progress in trade with other countries, including Japan.
In addition to trade, much of the discussion from the National Corn Growers Association involved progress and the future of ethanol.
“The talk is back to ethanol again and how we are going to survive when we get to the end of the Renewable Fuel Standard to maintain our share of the liquid fuels market. Ethanol has made us who we are and we are toast without it,” Mann said. “The RVP (Reid Vapor Pressure) waiver finally approving E15 to be sold year round was a huge victory last year. President Trump did that with an executive order. Now we just need to get the infrastructure in there at the stations so they can dispense the higher blends and we can have that available for the consumer. The RIN waivers were also very detrimental to ethanol demand, including in Ohio. Now we are finally starting to see some of those exemptions overturned and I think going forward we won’t see the number of exemptions in the next couple of years.”
NCGA is also looking forward with fuel and engines with improved performance, said Luke Crumley, director of public policy and nutrient management for the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association.
“At the federal level we are pushing for a high octane, low carbon fuel standard. That improves fuel efficiency and helps auto manufacturers meet the standards at the federal level,” Crumley said. “A low carbon standard does two things. It brings in our environmentalist friends because we are helping reduce carbon footprints across the country and that is good. It also helps guarantee that we have more ethanol blended into gasoline because the easiest, cheapest way for oil companies to reach those standards is to use higher blends of ethanol.”
In terms of biodiesel, the American Soybean Association was very pleased with the multi-year extension of the Biodiesel Tax Credit through to 2022 that was signed into law by President Trump on December 21, 2019. Ohio Soybean Association president Ryan Rhoades is also hoping to see improving biodiesel standards around the country and in Ohio.
“One exciting thing we are seeing with biodiesel is actually having some fuel quality standards in the state. We are hoping that even at the county level to have fuel standards and that will be great for biodiesel,” Rhoades said. “We are also definitely looking at roads and bridges and the locks and dams. If we can get those transportation issues solved in the Mississippi it will really help Ohio. If we can get five feet deeper in the river it would be huge for us to take trucks off the road and ship products with barges. At the Statehouse and in D.C., these issues need to be solved.”
As a farmer using current technology, and looking to the future, Rhoades also talked about the rural priority for securing more reliable, faster Internet.
“Rural broadband is important for people my age and younger who are really into technology on the farm. Everything we are doing is going to the Cloud now,” he said. “As we move to 5G for equipment from 4G, how is that going to look and what kind of capacity do we need to have? Sometimes it has this feeling of two steps forward one step back, but I can tell you we are working very hard on these things.”
The environment is a perennial topic at the Commodity Classic as well. Ohioans were often asked about the state’s water quality efforts and challenges from farmers around the country. In addition, the National Corn Growers Association and Environmental Defense Fund launched the Success in Stewardship Network at Commodity Classic to celebrate and accelerate the use of agricultural conservation practices on U.S. corn farms.
The network will showcase success stories from the many farmers and state-level programs putting stewardship into practice, with the goal of building an ever-growing network of corn farmers who are also conservation leaders.
“Farming practices are rapidly evolving with sustainability in mind. We have reached a tipping point where we have an opportunity to begin recognizing corn farmers more broadly for their efforts to stay productive and profitable, manage the challenges of climate change, all while accelerating sustainable farming practices,” said Kevin Ross, NCGA president. “A regular drumbeat about the value and importance of stewardship and local examples can drive this movement.”
The network will celebrate and connect the farmers and programs that are already driving change with proven conservation practices. This is an ongoing recognition initiative for all farmers who meet the initiative’s criteria.
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