WASHINGTON, Mar. 8, 2017 - For agricultural groups, membership meetings in the months leading up to a new farm bill can be peppered with fiery dialogue about the best path forward to fix the current legislation. At last week’s Commodity Classic, that didn’t happen.

The groups in attendance worked their way through their respective policy documents, but talk of farm policy specifics was rather limited in an effort to avoid the circular firing squad dynamic that has sometimes developed in the past and devote more time to singing the equivalent of “Kumbaya.” Part of that was because desired revisions and budget options for the upcoming farm bill are relatively limited, but officials close to the way growers are thinking told Agri-Pulse more specific discussions would be coming this summer.

“I think the voice out of NCGA will be put together and be seen more in July because right now, it is being talked about by all of our grassroots,” Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association, told reporters last week at the event in San Antonio. “Every state organization is either doing surveys, putting surveys together or doing town hall meetings, and we’re all developing this.”

The government affairs staffers employed by the various groups hope to curb expectations for changes based on the lack of new money expected to be available.

While policy discussion at the Classic was limited, there were signals about where commodity groups stand on some issues.

  • Much of the discussion at the NCGA Corn Congress revolved around the purpose of the policy document itself. A number of statements were pulled from the group’s list of policy priorities that NCGA obviously supports – building long-term trade demand, for example – but were more aligned with the group’s mission statement than its policy positions. There was some consternation at the removal of some of the language, and the matter was ultimately referred back to the group’s resolutions committee.
  • NCGA delegates voted against a Minnesota proposal that would have raised the acreage cap in the Conservation Reserve Program to 35 million acres, from the current 24 million. Delegates seemed to agree an increase was needed, but balked at the specificity of the number.
  • The American Soybean Association delegates, however, approved language calling for an increase in the acreage cap after removing a specific 35 million-acre cap. There was a discussion about leaving the acreage cap to the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture, but that proposal went nowhere.
  • ASA and the National Association of Wheat Growers both voted to show preference for data from USDA’s Risk Management Agency rather than the National Agricultural Statistics Service for use in the Agriculture Risk Coverage program.
  • NAWG also passed a resolution supporting research to come up with a new “falling number” test for wheat. “‘Falling numbers’ refers to a test for increased alpha amylase activity, an enzyme, which, when present, can significantly reduce grain quality,” according to Washington State. “The lower the number, the higher the enzyme activity, and thus the lower the quality.” NAWG voters were concerned the current test is inaccurate.
  • Groups also took actions on trade. ASA voted to delete language concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while NCGA voted to leave it in their policy book. Both groups also pulled language relating to the North American Free Trade Agreement, with ASA instead opting for language in favor of “trade agreements that improve market access opportunities.” 
  • ASA also included language pushing for doubling annual funding for the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program.

Outside of their policy session, National Sorghum Producers CEO Tim Lust held a roundtable discussion with Pheasants Forever CEO Howard Vincent at the sorghum group’s general session to talk about shared interests in the next farm bill – conservation funding and working lands programs, for example. The two leaders pledged to work together toward shared goals. Lust told Agri-Pulse NSP obviously has some differences with Pheasants Forever, but they wanted to stress the areas where there might be agreement.

“We’re all in this together,” he said.