After a busy two years dominated by farm bill and trade action, commodity groups are now turning their attention to tweaking policies that will enable them to take part in looming sustainability conversations.

The detailed, intricate discussions of farm policy stances that typically dominate the resolutions process of the farm groups attending the annual Commodity Classic — including the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, and National Sorghum Producers — were largely absent this year, replaced instead with by technical corrections to existing policy and a few new limited initiatives.

The American Soybean Association, for instance, combed through its entire policy book in a little over an hour, adding only three amendments from the floor: one to change “discourages” to “opposes,” another to change “concerned” to “opposes,” and an amendment from Illinois producers voicing their support for a free-trade agreement with India.

But ASA delegates also approved changes to its sustainability policies, including voicing support for the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium “to test protocols and processes that lead to a voluntary, national-scale ecosystem services market that incentivizes farmers and ranchers to adopt and enhance soil health management systems that benefit society.”

The move comes on the heels of separate sustainability initiatives led by farm groups and Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue to try and involve agriculture interests in future dialogue including any potential legislation. But ASA President Bill Gordon told reporters last week some producers may be at a bit of a stopping point on their sustainability efforts.

“Right now, on our farm, I don’t know if I can be,” more sustainable, he said. “I’m doing everything I can physically and financially do, but I’m waiting for technology. It’s coming fast, and any time it comes and we can implement it, we do it. … I have no problem looking consumers in the eye and saying I’m doing everything I can.”

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Bill Gordon

Bill Gordon, ASA

The National Corn Growers Association laid groundwork for a handful of legislative priorities in the coming years, and perhaps none received more discussion than the push for a low-carbon high-octane fuel standard, something one delegate went as far as to call “the (Renewable Fuel Standard) of our generation of leaders.”

The delegates also considered a number of resolutions that would underscore their support for biofuels as well as broader liquid fuels as the proliferation of electric vehicles weighs on the minds of policymakers across the country. NCGA CEO Jon Doggett specifically mentioned dialogue with the California Air Resources Board as a case study for how they hope biofuels like ethanol can be recognized in climate change efforts.

“Tomorrow morning at 8:45, we’re not going to have all electric vehicles in California,” he said. “They have come to the realization that they need to decarbonize — sooner rather than later — their transportation system, and the quickest way to do that is to utilize more ethanol in their liquid fuels.”

Jon Doggett

NCGA CEO Jon Doggett

NCGA members also voted to support “equitable compensation” for producers when “situations beyond their control” inhibits “exports of corn or value-added products.”

The National Association of Wheat Growers board members debated a motion from the state of Washington to give the Secretary of Agriculture authority to waive the 25% cap on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in a county that has designated Conservation Priority Areas. The 25% cap on acres enrolled in CRP in each county has existed for many years with the ability for the Ag Secretary to waive the cap. However, in the most recent farm bill, some of the practices that used to be available under the continuous CRP sign-up are now available under only the general sign-up, where the waiver process for the 25% cap applies.

Some state leaders from Kansas worried about the message a waiver policy would send to an industry that is trying to boost wheat acres, not reduce them. Wheat plantings in the U.S. are expected to be virtually unchanged in 2020 at 45 million, compared to 45.2 million in 2019, according to USDA’s most recent forecast. That’s down significantly from 63.5 million wheat acres planted in 2008. Ultimately, the motion was tabled.

The National Sorghum Producers and Association of Equipment Manufacturers also take part in the annual convention, which will reconvene next year in San Antonio.

Sara Wyant contributed to this story. 

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