A record number of people were on hand at last week’s Commodity Classic, and the speed of the policy sessions by the groups hosting the event may have set records as well.

Farmers from across the country gathered in Houston last week to make sure the priorities they have been setting for the last two years still work for their operations and to debate modifications to long-held positions.

“We’ve been talking (about) our farm bill priorities for two years now,” Christy Seyfert, the head lobbyist for the American Soybean Association, told Agri-Pulse after the group wrapped up its policy revisions in a little more than an hour Saturday morning. “The biggest change we made with respect to the farm bill here was updating ‘2023’ to ‘2024.’ We just really hope a farm bill can be enacted in 2024.”

ASA's farm bill priorities did not change much in Houston, but the group did tinker with stances in other areas of its policy.

For instance, delegates approved new language on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that supports “developing a risk-proportionate regulatory framework that reflects the unique risks of chemicals based in evidence and sound-science” and opposes “farmers being held liable or incurring the costs for substance PFAS contamination.”

Josh-Gackle-ASA.jpgJosh Gackle, American Soybean AssociationASA lobbyist Kyle Kunkler said the group’s prior PFAS policy was tucked into stances on subjects such as drinking water, and the need for concrete language was emerging.

“What would an ideal regulatory system look like? What are those research needs that are out there that we could support? And then how do we need to make sure that farmers aren't going to be harmed by this emerging policy conversation? We identified that those were three major buckets of areas that needed to be addressed, so that's what you see reflected in our policy,” he said.

ASA also added language opposing a change to the Permanent Normal Trade Relations status “with major trading partners important to U.S. soy and soy product exports.” While not specifically naming China, the resolution comes after the idea was considered by the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, but not ultimately included in the panel’s final report.

“China is our No. 1 customer and will continue to be so, and we need to do what we can to not increase the tension in that relationship,” ASA President Josh Gackle said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

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The National Corn Growers Association did debate a significant change in its farm bill policy but ultimately affirmed its position, adopted last summer, in favor of a mandatory base update for commodity programs. The idea has run into stiff opposition in Congress because of the impact on producers who would lose base. 

Delegates to NCGA’s Corn Congress on Thursday defeated, 51-73, a proposal from Texas members to call for a voluntary base update instead. The Texas delegates wanted to offer a modified proposal on Saturday but couldn’t get the necessary support for reconsidering the issue. 

According to an analysis by the Senate Agriculture Committee’s minority staff, farmers in 34 states would miss out on a combined $3 billion in farm program payments over 10 years under a mandatory base update. Texas corn grower Dee Vaughan said a mandatory base update wasn't “politically achievable.”

But Scott Stahl, a South Dakota delegate to Corn Congress who supports the mandatory base update, said farmers who lack acreage shouldn’t be stuck with “decisions made 20, 30 years ago,” referring to when the base acreage was set. 

“I know it's a heavy lift, but I feel like there's a lot of great minds from all across the Corn Belt here that if we put our efforts to it, we can accomplish it, because let's face it, farming is about carrying it forward to the next generation,” he said. 

The delegates did reconsider and approve by voice vote a policy position in support of using the Energy Department’s GREET model to determine the carbon intensity of sustainable aviation fuel. Some delegates were concerned the Biden administration hasn’t finished updating the model, but delegates defeated a proposed amendment that would have put NCGA in favor of a “non-modified” GREET model. 

In other action, NCGA delegates voted 74-50 to oppose electric vehicle mandates proposed by EPA or by a state. EPA is expected to soon finalize new tailpipe emissions standards that critics say are a backdoor EV mandate. California also is acting to phase out gas-powered motor vehicles. 

The delegates voted 73-46 to eliminate NCGA’s previous support for an increase of up to 11 cents a gallon in barge fees. The taxes are used to fund waterway improvements. 

Other policy provisions approved by voice votes included a call for USDA to ensure that winter wheat is “given appropriate treatment” as a cover crop; a position that agriculture should be treated as “a passive recipient” of contamination by PFAS chemicals; and policy that farmer data collected by USDA should only be released in aggregate. 

National Sorghum Producers Chairman Craig Meeker said the group didn’t observe “any big, monumental shifts in policy,” and instead had discussions “affirming the policy that we have.” For NSP, that means improvements to the farm bill’s safety net to make sure it’s “not just six inches off the concrete,” he said.

The same could be said for Brent Cheyne and the National Association of Wheat Growers; an increase in reference prices has long been a priority for NAWG.

“We’re pretty focused on what we have been working on since the beginning of our farm bill negotiation, and it would take something really major on Capitol Hill to cause us to deviate from our goal,” he said.

Aside from reference price changes, another group hosting Commodity Classic — the Association of Equipment Manufacturers — is bringing a handful of other priorities to the table. Among them, according to AEM ag sector board chairman Bill Hurley, is the inclusion of legislation that would help producers purchase precision agriculture technology.

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