EP. 32 - Agriculture Industry Authorities: the Commodity Classic Executive Round Table

April 13, 2022

EP. 32 - Agriculture Industry Authorities: the Commodity Classic Executive Round Table

Apr 13, 2022

Author: Dusty Weis

Leaders from NCGA, ASA, NAWG, NSP and AEM discuss the changing state of ag in 2022.

 

150 years of experience, at the very highest levels of the agriculture industry, was on display at the Commodity Classic Executives Round Table a few weeks ago.

 

As leaders from the five Commodity Classic presenting organizations, these five executives have their fingers on the pulse of the agriculture world and those issues affecting farmers.

 

Panel members included:

  • Jon Doggett, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association.
  • Steve Censky, CEO of the American Soybean Association
  • Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers
  • Tim Lust, CEO of the National Sorghum Producers
  • Curt Blades, Senior Vice President of Ag at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers

Together, we discussed policy, supply chain, sustainability, infrastructure, biofuels, precision ag, the next Farm Bill, and just about every other issue facing the ag industry today.

 

And in this episode, we bring you that discussion in its entirety.

 

 

 
Transcript

 

Jon Doggett:

We know that there are issues with supply chain, but let's not make it worse. And right now, when the world is going to need more corn, this unsettledness and this uncertainty around the major inputs like fertilizer and glyphosate, that's a huge, huge issue.

 

Dusty Weis:

Hello, and welcome to Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. This is where leaders, growers, and stakeholders in the corn industry can turn for big-picture conversations about the state of the industry and its future. From the fields of corn belt to the DC beltway, we're making sure the growers who feed America have a say in the issues that are important to them with key leaders who are shaping the future of agriculture.

 

Dusty Weis:

I'm Dusty Weis, and you want to talk about key leaders? At Commodity Classic a few weeks back, NCGA CEO, Jon Doggett, and I were on a panel with executives from the four other presenting organizations who organized that trade show: the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Sorghum Producers, and the Association of Equipment manufacturers. Together, we discussed policy, supply chain, sustainability biofuels, and just about every other issue facing the ag industry today. There was so much expertise and so much info in that discussion, in this episode, we're going to play it for you in its entirety.

 

Dusty Weis:

But if you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app. Also make sure you follow the NCGA on Twitter @nationalcorn and sign up for the National Corn Growers Association newsletter at ncga.com.

 

Dusty Weis:

150 years of experience at the very highest levels of the agriculture industry was on display at the Commodity Classic Executives Round Table. Panel members included Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, Steve Censky, CEO of the American Soybean Association, Chandler Goule, the CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, Tim Lust, the CEO of the National Sorghum Producers, and Curt Blades, Senior President of Ag at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

 

Dusty Weis:

I was called on to moderate the panel, and in a year that's seen no shortage of ag news, we had lots to discuss.

 

Dusty Weis:

Of course, not too long ago, the US-China trade war was the most stressful thing that we had to deal with in geopolitics. It was headline news a whole lot and now, shipments to China have recently been strong. Tariffs are still a looming concern, and tariffs were only symptomatic of other concerns with China.

 

Dusty Weis:

So starting with Mr. Steven Censky from the Soybean Association, what do farmers want to see from the current administration on China relations?

 

Steve Censky:

I think farmers want to see, and this is what we want to see from the American Soybean Association, is that we need to, even as the administration manages the very tough issues that we have with China, whether that's Hong Kong or Taiwan or the Uighurs, we need to also make sure that we keep our exports flowing. We want to keep a commercial trading relationship going, even as we engage to try to address those other very large, massive geopolitical issues because China needs our soybeans. We want to supply soybeans. They're the biggest soybean market in the world. They import more soybeans than the rest of the world combined. So if you take out China, you can't just go someplace else and export those soybeans. Even though we are diversifying our markets, just that China is so huge, we want to keep that trading relationship going.

 

Dusty Weis:

Chandler Goule, you've got something that you want to add from the wheat growers?

 

Chandler Goule:

I do. So I want to echo a lot of the comments that Steve said on maintaining that important market in one of the largest economies in the world, but there's several other things that are going specific to wheat as it relates to trade with China.

 

Chandler Goule:

First, I want to go all the way back to the WTO case that US wheat growers and rice growers won against China for their domestic support and also, for not fulfilling the World Trade Organization fulfillment for how much wheat and rice they were to be buying from the United States. China is still out of compliance with that WTO ruling that they did not appeal and then here, just recently, with the Russian-Ukraine conflict and invasion, which I'm sure we'll discuss a little later, they have lifted all of their restrictions on Russian wheat coming into China when they're still not even in compliance with the WTO case that we've won.

 

Chandler Goule:

We are very happy to see the progress that the last administration, the current administration made on phase one, but we're still lacking about 20% of fulfilling that full agreement. So though it's a very important market to us, we still have a lot of outstanding issues that need to be solved with China.

 

Dusty Weis:

Outside of China, I want to talk about some of the challenges and some of the opportunities that your members and your markets are facing. And so starting with Mr. Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association, Jon, what are some of the challenges that are facing your industry, and are there some particular market challenges or areas for growth in the future, would you say?

 

Jon Doggett:

Boy, you want to talk about markets, look at what has happened in the markets. I mean, I don't care what the commodity is, whether it's gold or corn or wheat or oil, I mean, everything's exploded in the last few months. That's a lot to figure out, where we're going to be with these markets and is this just a series of flips or is this going to be the way we're going to be moving forward?

 

Jon Doggett:

The biggest issue I hear from farmers when they start talking and I hear that, "Do you know how much I paid for..." it's a good idea to hold the phone as far away from my ear as I can because I'm going to hear about fertilizer prices. And we are very concerned about the fertilizer market, about how fertilizers imported into this country and about the companies that produce and sell it, and we are working hard to address that, and I think that one of the things we're going to find out is our farmers are going to be real innovative about how to use less nitrogen.

 

Dusty Weis:

Yeah, certainly, certainly, and that'll factor as well into some of the sustainability topics that we're going to talk about a little bit further down here as well.

 

Dusty Weis:

But I did want to serve that same question up to Tim Lust, the CEO of the National Sorghum Producers, Mr. Lust, when you look at the challenges facing your industry, what are the challenges? What are the opportunities that you see there for sorghum growers?

 

Tim Lust:

So, I think, obviously, I would just echo from a China standpoint what Steve Censky said from sorghum, just down the line, one comment after another that he made, including that they buy more than all of our other consumers put together.

 

Tim Lust:

I think the opportunity side of that when we talk about trade is is as we look to India, tremendous opportunities. Now, if you look around up here, this group's been around a while. And so I say that, but I realized that first started working on getting access to India, I believe in 1999 from our sorghum industry standpoint and so understand that that is a marathon process and there's been a lot of challenges there.

 

Tim Lust:

But when we really look at opportunities in the next very large market that we think sorghum would be a great fit for, that's certainly one that's very high on our priority list.

 

Dusty Weis:

Another challenge that we hear echoed from a lot of producers, of course, is supply chain, and this is one that's very big in the headlines. It's hard to miss. And in fact, I'm sure you hear it from your growers as well, just because it's hard to get stuff. My wife and I just waited seven months to get a new truck. From the day we walked down to the lot and said, "This is the one that we want" until the day that that truck was in our possession, seven months.

 

Dusty Weis:

So coming to you, Curt Blades, from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers because this is a big thing for OEMs, especially, supply chain, top of mind, how have problems from port bottlenecks to pandemic restrictions stifled your members, and are you seeing any progress yet to returning to business as usual?

 

Curt Blades:

Well, thanks for the question and, of course, there are supply chain challenges, and every one of us has experienced it, and obviously, all of your members have experienced it as individuals. But I want to rephrase your question just a little bit because certainly, we have supply chain challenges that were brought about because of the pandemic, but you actually have to go back a little bit further to the beginning of these supply chain challenges, which started kind of back to China with the retaliatory tariffs around steel, and closely related to that would be the transportation issues that were closely tied to that as well.

 

Curt Blades:

So the supply chain challenges are very real. You hear about microchips, you hear about steel, you hear about containers being in the wrong position. Those are very real, and there's not a good solution for them. It's just when we're in a global market and something was shut down, it just takes a while to work our way through this.

 

Curt Blades:

The one thing that I've been very, very proud in representing the Association of Equipment Manufacturers is that we recognize the importance of the seasonality of the markets that we serve. And so our members very early on in this disruption, first of all, were recognized as an essential industry, so that helped to minimize some of the disruption by keeping the factories open here in the United States, but we're still in a global market. So some of those... been some transportation issues along the way, but our manufacturers and their dealers have been prioritizing [inaudible 00:09:01] parts to make sure that we can meet those important planting and harvesting deadlines. So that's, for the most part, that has been able to have the crops go in or come out in appropriate manner and then asking everyone to be a little bit more patient when asking for delivery.

 

Curt Blades:

Now, a positive outcome of this supply chain disruption is we're finding farmers planning ahead a whole lot more on their capital purchases than they ever had. And we always know that professional farmers don't buy a combine on a whim, but planning to head for that purchase one year, two years, three years in advance and working closely with their dealer and manufacturer to align up their capital equipment, that's a really good thing because that's just good, sound business, and I think that's going to be with us for a while.

 

Curt Blades:

But to the quickest answer of the point of your question, when are we going to see the resolution? I've been saying that it's just right around owner for about two years now, and I'm not sure that I'm comfortable saying that anymore because there's no real end in sight because it's one thing after another that's leading to the supply chain disruptions.

 

Dusty Weis:

Did anybody else at the table have anything they wanted to add to Curt's thoughts?

 

Dusty Weis:

Mr. Goule, please go ahead.

 

Chandler Goule:

Well, this extends even beyond equipment issues, as I know a lot of my growers continue to talk to me about, but it's also crop protection tools and glyphosate and even the delivery of fertilizer, if you can afford it. And so, I mean, this is a compounded problem that goes through our entire production practice on the farm from equipment to crop protection tools and so on. I know I don't represent specialty crops, but then you got labor and immigration and other issues out there that continue to add to our increased cost to production.

 

Curt Blades:

And I was just going to add to what Chandler said on the crop protection products, that's one of the things that we've been very much concerned about as the administration makes decisions, as the EPA makes decisions on crop protection tools that farmers rely on, our message to them is, "Don't be making decisions to take the tools away when we already have herbicide cost and availability quite high, availability, quite low," and we can't be taking those tools away from farmers because that will just add to the supply chain issues.

 

Curt Blades:

Same thing on the fertilizer side. You all know that we've seen phosphate and potash prices double. We've seen nitrogen prices triple. And that's why we, along with the other organizations here too, have opposed the tariffs that have been placed on phosphates from Morocco. We're opposed to placing tariffs on UAN nitrogen imports from Trinidad and Tobago. It just does not make any sense, and the economic circumstances just don't warrant that.

 

Dusty Weis:

Mr. Jon Doggett, this is something that actually came up on your podcast recently. I'm a regular listener, by the way, and that fertilizer and input prices have been through the roof, and certainly, we've seen corn prices rising too, but we talked to the president of your association a couple weeks back and he said, "Now, we're not getting to keep any of that extra money that we're bringing in through high corn prices because our inputs are up so much."

 

Dusty Weis:

What would you say is your member's general state of concern, and what do they want to see happen to address these?

 

Jon Doggett:

A couple of us were talking the other night. You can imagine what the nightmare would be if corn had a three in front of it instead of a seven and you had these input costs where they're at. Boy, it'd be a whole different world today, but it's not comfortable. The solution to high corn prices is high corn prices. The solution to low corn prices is low corn prices.

 

Jon Doggett:

But this fertilizer thing, some of this really bears some investigation of what's really going on with some of this? We know that there are issues with supply chain, but let's not make it worse. And right now, when the world is going to need more corn, because we don't know what's going to happen in Ukraine, but when we need more wheat, when we don't know what's going to happen in Ukraine. This unsettledness and this uncertainty around the major inputs like fertilizer and glyphosate, that's a huge, huge issue. And most of them are saying, "We're good for this year, but boy, next year it could be a whole different game" and just probably at the moment that the world's going to need us to maximize our production.

 

Dusty Weis:

Tim Lust from the National Sorghum Producers, what are you hearing from your growers?

 

Tim Lust:

Well, on one hand, I think the good news is is for most of us, a lot of our seed production is domestic, and we're in good shape. You got to get the seed in the ground and obviously, that's a discussion around the world, but I think that's a great first step.

 

Tim Lust:

Commend the other leaders up here and what all of our organizations are doing to address the issues related to fertilizer and chemicals because I think you have a perfect storm here that is showing a lot of weaknesses in our supply chain, but frankly, some strategic weaknesses for the United States in how we develop and deliver crop improvement tools to our growers, and so I don't think this topic is going to go away after what we're seeing right now, and I think what Jon said about more light getting shined there is something that we will see.

 

Tim Lust:

I think from our crop standpoint, certainly, maybe not as many inputs as others, but still, even transportation that was talked about, I mean, we certainly have supply challenges, but just the transportation. We have a real trucking shortage, even if we get it to the United States to get it to delivered where it needs to be in the country on time. So this is a multifaceted problem, as has been mentioned earlier, one we will have to work through. I'm confident we will. US growers have proven, as Jon said earlier, they'll find a way. We will find a way, but there's going be some firsts over the next couple of years, I'm afraid.

 

Dusty Weis:

Well, and Mr Lust, you mentioned transportation and lest we be accused of being all doom and gloom up on this panel here, we do have some good news to talk about in the transportation and infrastructure area.The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 will benefit American agriculture and rural communities in a number of ways because at the end of the day, the transportation of goods, either for domestic consumption or for export markets, is critical to all of agriculture.

 

Dusty Weis:

So I'd like to start with Curt Blades from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers on this one because I know that your group has been particularly active in pursuing this piece of legislation, but you all have as well. But Curt, how are we feeling about that right now? What benefits are we going to see as a result of this legislation?

 

Curt Blades:

Thanks for the question, and as many of you all may know, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers was right in front, if not the lead, on the infrastructure package and a lot of the original language, or certainly some of the things were included in that comprehensive infrastructure package, came from a project that actually AEM initiated 10 years ago called Infrastructure Vision 2050. And it was all designed to say, "How do we build the right infrastructure for the future," and it was a panel of association members, a lot of them on the ag side, specifically addressing where our concerns are going to be, talking about the infrastructure for the commodities and for the supplies, but also, for being able to have the infrastructure in place in rural America to support the factories.

 

Curt Blades:

So that's been a really good thing. I mean, we can debate all day long whether there some things in there you don't like. I think we can all find things in the infrastructure package that we don't like, but we can all find a whole lot of things in there that we like, and what we're particularly happy about in there are the goodies for rural America because knowing that rural America was specifically called out for support of roads and bridges, obviously, very important stuff. But boy, the attention on rural broadband is fantastic.

 

Curt Blades:

There's some really cool equipment on the trade show floor downstairs, and it has the opportunity to do some really great things to help farmers' bottom lines and also, to improve the sustainability message. But you can't exercise the full potential of that equipment if you don't have always on reliable wireless internet connectivity in the field. And so the amount of attention that was given to rural America and specifically, around rural broadband is something we should all feel really good about, and we should all celebrate as a victory. That's a good thing for us. And I think when we have this conversation 5, 10 years from now, who knows what the machines are going to look like, and who knows what the good stories are going to come out of it, but it's going to be very exciting, largely because of the infrastructure package that was passed recently.

 

Dusty Weis:

Yeah, I wanted to get a grower perspective as well, so Chandler Goule from the National Association of Wheat Growers, what are your members looking forward to about this piece of legislation?

 

Chandler Goule:

Curt covered almost all of them, really, and the broadband was really what I was going to lean into, especially as we're doing more online ARC and PLC sign-up and your Conservation Title Program signing up and having that accessibility further away from your county FSA office.

 

Chandler Goule:

But I wanted to go back to a comment that Curt made on sustainability and transportation. Where my hotel is here in New Orleans, I've got a great view of the Mississippi River, and the amount of barging and commodities and goods and the size of these ships that are going by my hotel are crazy how important that river transportation system is, and we've got a major concern out on the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest, where there is a proposal to remove the four lower dams of the Snake River, which would make it completely unpassable for barging, which we know is the cheapest and the cleanest way to move goods.

 

Chandler Goule:

60% of the wheat in the Pacific Northwest, including Montana, go through that river system. 10% of all wheat goes out that system. And if this proposal moves forward, then what about the locks and dams on the Mississippi? What about the locks and dams on other major transportation systems? So we support the infrastructure bill, but we've got to keep this clean energy transportation system in place.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association, I'd say this sounds like a great topic for a podcast episode.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, if I can find a producer, maybe we could do that. It's interesting, we've worked on locks and dams and particularly with the soybean folks, but all of us have worked on locks and dams for a long time and that is so important, and we're glad to see that we're finally getting some dollars going in that direction. It's absolutely vital.

 

Jon Doggett:

But in addition, I hear from farmers is, "It's great we're going to have locks and dams. That's wonderful, but you know what? It's five miles from my farm to the elevator. That bridge between here and there won't handle a full load. It won't even handle a half load, so I need to go around 10, 12, 15 miles, a detour." That's bottom line, and we have diesel fuel prices are as high as they are. That gets to be a concern.

 

Jon Doggett:

The rural infrastructure with bridges and roads is something that really needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed right away, and I think we're going to have an opportunity to do just that.

 

Dusty Weis:

Yeah, certainly.

 

Dusty Weis:

We're going to pick on another topic that I know is near and dear to your heart. To at least two of you on this panel here, I know the Renewable Fuel Standard is a very big deal. Corn and soy have rallied behind blending requirements and other policy that bolsters the RFS, and biofuels seem to be increasingly promising and increasingly expanding with renewable fuels and sustainable aviation fuel both buzz topics right now.

 

Dusty Weis:

So starting with Mr. Steven Censky from the American Soybean Association, how do you see these new biofuel markets helping your growers?

 

Steve Censky:

Well, if there's ever a time that we should be underscoring the need for investing and expanding our renewable fuel supply, now's the time. We need to expand our renewable fuels that we have here in the United States. We can grow it. We don't have to depend on foreign sources. We don't need to depend on Russia or other countries there, and it really is a time that we can try to do that.

 

Steve Censky:

I think the second part of our message that we give not only about that increasing the pool of supply for energy is the environmental one. And we know that the fuels of renewable diesel, biodiesel, it cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared to petroleum diesel, and so it can help the administration achieve the climate goals as well that it has. And so renewable fuels, I think, are a win-win. We can grow them here, and they're good not only for our economy, but they're good for America, for the rural economy as well as all of America.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association, I know you've spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, probably more than is your preference, but that's the nature of the job.

 

Dusty Weis:

Why is it so important for the RFS to get support in DC, and what needs to happened to build that support?

 

Jon Doggett:

I think one of our growers this morning in our corn Congress session put it really, really well, and I think it encapsulates a really good point. President Biden doesn't need to call Venezuela or Saudi Arabia to get more oil. The folks that flew those planes into the World Trade Center were not from Minnesota. They were from Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia's funded a lot of really bad things. Why do we want to go to them to get our energy needs when we have energy that's available here that's renewable and is good for the environment? I think that, as he said, and very eloquently this morning is, "President Biden, call us. We're ready to deliver. It's time."

 

Dusty Weis:

We want to drill down a little bit more on the RFS here, because I understand that Mr Censky, bakers and others in food service have been pretty vocal that they feel that the RFS is leading to soy oil shortages for their needs in the bakery. You would know better than most, Mr. Censky, how accurate is that assertion, and is there really a soy oil crisis?

 

Steve Censky:

There's not a soy oil crisis and really, some of the claims that have made are far exaggerated and just not true. If you take a look at the supply and demand situation, we just harvested, this last fall, a record soybean crop, and from that record soybean crop, we have a record amount of oil that's being processed here in the United States and is available and the yield of that oil is available. And you see that in the supply demand in use numbers that USDA has released as well, that our actually food use of soybean oil is going up.

 

Steve Censky:

Our biofuel use of soybean oil has actually gone down compared to the previous year, and that's because as we've been ramping up on renewable diesel, which is... there's been a lot of excitement about renewable diesel and what that potential is, and there's been a lot of plans announced, but we haven't seen the big ramp up there.

 

Steve Censky:

Some of the biodiesel production has gone down. So you take a look at that, an actual use of soybean oil for biofuels has gone down. USDA, in the [inaudible 00:23:06] that was just came out on Wednesday, they decreased biofuel use by 300 million pounds, increased domestic food use and increased exports for soybean oil.

 

Steve Censky:

So the truth of the matter is that we don't have a crisis, and we need to send the right signals as well. It would be the absolute wrong thing to do to do anything to mess with the RFS because we've seen a lot. We want our soybean farmers to plant a record crop. There's been a 20% expansion in crush plants. There's been a lot of crush plants across the United States that have been announced, and that means we're going to be processing more of those soybeans here in the United States, making the meal available for livestock and the oil for both food and biofuel use. That's a good thing.

 

Dusty Weis:

Well, as long as we're myth-busting here, I've got one more for you. Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association, corn ethanol has taken a little bit of heat recently. What are the recent study that claims that RFS is a larger contributor to global warming than traditional gasoline?

 

Jon Doggett:

Yeah, well, there's been a lot of studies about ethanol over the years. We started off many years ago and some of you, I think, are around long enough to remember the [inaudible 00:24:17] study, which was around 30 years, and we had a push back on that for about 15 years. We've had dozens and dozens and dozens of studies talking about the efficiency and the efficacy of ethanol. And it's just odd that that study would come out a couple days before the Senate Energy Committee's going to have a hearing on biofuels. I don't believe in coincidences anymore. I think that's part of it. I would not be surprised to see that, maybe, there was funding from some nefarious source on some of this, but also, look at the deal with the bakers. So they're going to have put another penny or two worth of oil in their muffin? I mean, I think they protest too much.

 

Jon Doggett:

Again, the cure for high corn prices or high soybean prices is high corn or soybean prices. Our folks will produce to it, but they're not going to produce when they're getting whipsawed back and forth over these ridiculous claims.

 

Dusty Weis:

Chandler Goule from National Association of Wheat Growers. Corn and soy can't have all the fun here with [crosstalk 00:25:14].

 

Chandler Goule:

Well, I mean, as the food grain that's sitting up here, I could tell you, I immediately started getting emails and phone calls from our wheat growers when the bakers came out against the RFS and renewable fuels, and I think there's just a major disconnect, not only through the research and studies that both corn and soy have done in this area, but how do the bakers think that they're going to meet the greenhouse gas and sustainability goals of the major food companies if they're going to come out against the greenest and most efficient type of renewable energy, so I think there's a misstep there in their calculation of coming out against the RFS.

 

Chandler Goule:

I mean, I called the bakers directly and said, "Not only are you upsetting my growers, but I think you're really heading down the wrong direction here," and I'm more surprised at the General Mills' and the Kelloggs didn't turn around to the bakers and say the same thing. So I think there's a major education component there that we need to do that part of the supply chain.

 

Dusty Weis:

We've got a really easy topic coming up next and that's crop protection, so buckle your seat belts, and we're going to start with Mr. Tim Lust from Sorghum Producers. The organizations represented on this stage cover a wide national swath with very diverse needs from their farmer members. That certainly includes crop protection tools. So Mr. Lust, what is your organization doing to assure that the pesticides needed remain available?

 

Tim Lust:

We're involved on the regulatory side daily in terms of working with EPA. When you look at product near and dear to our growers, atrazine, a major market share for our industry, certainly significant for corn, a product with over 8,000 studies, 50 years' worth of use, data record unlike any other and yet, we're going through... I remember testifying at a scientific advisory panel a few years back, and what I started with was two pictures. One was with my oldest son as a baby on the first time I had testified on an SAP on this product and the second one with him getting married, right before I was testifying on my second scientific advisory panel on the issue.

 

Tim Lust:

In this time of severe supply chain issues and dependence upon crop protection products and challenges around the world, we're right back having serious discussions with EPA about a tool that has proven over and over to be effective and safe. And it's challenging, it's frustrating, but it is so important for our growers because when we look at cost of production, if we look at competitive against the rest of the world, this is something that is really valuable and important to our growers and, I would argue, equally is valuable and important to the American consumer.

 

Dusty Weis:

Mr. Censky, what about you guys at the American Soybean Association? What has been your involvement in trying to protect these crop protection tools?

 

Steve Censky:

It has really become an active area. We've always believed in crop protection products, but we really feel like we've had to go and become much more active not only on the legislative or the regulatory side, but also, really a new area where, I think, grower groups are becoming much more active is on the judicial side of things, and that's either going to court and defending the products when they're challenged by various groups or going to court to make sure that the EPA is following the law and following their own science.

 

Steve Censky:

We had an example of that just recently where ASA and a number of other groups have challenged the EPA on the decision that they made on chlorpyrifos, which their own career scientists found to be safe for use on soybeans, wheat, and a number of other crops. Unfortunately, they've revoked all tolerances. We think that was wrong. They're not only not following the law, but they're also not following their own science, which they pledged to do. And so it's an area where increasingly, we're having to become much more active, not only the American Soybean Association, but my fellow grower organizations here as well.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association. You guys certainly have crop protection tools that are important to your growers as well, but if these critical tools are scaled back or even limited, there are environmental and climate drawbacks that aren't being discussed here. What are those?

 

Jon Doggett:

We've had... all of us have worked more and more over the years with responsible environmental groups. And we entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Environmental Defense Fund a few years ago. And I remember when we had the discussion with our board, there were three questions that one of our board members had: where are they going to be on GMOs, where are they going to be on the RFS, and how do I take this back to the coffee shop? And there's a reluctance to go back to the coffee shop and say, "You know what? We're working [inaudible 00:29:53] community," but it has proven to be a good partnership. It's had its up, it's had its downs, but it's an important to have that conversation.

 

Jon Doggett:

Increasingly, the environmental community, the responsible environmental community is understanding that if we don't have glyphosate, [inaudible 00:30:09] come back, and all of that carbon that has been stored and all of those soils with all of that conservation tillage or no tillage, that's all gone, and that will far outstrip any issue with a chemical that's been tested for 50 years and found to be safe.

 

Jon Doggett:

We really need to continue to bring the environmental community into this discussion, but they have a coffee shop too, and they have big, big donors who have an aversion to a lot of things that our growers do, and so, they've got to work through that process as well.

 

Dusty Weis:

Curt Blades, Association of Equipment Manufacturers?

 

Curt Blades:

Yeah, so I'm going to come at it from a completely different angle. I don't consume a lot of crop protection products. Equipment manufacturers don't. But we are actively involved in the market, and I think some of the things that we've been doing, because of our unique position with providing the equipment that does the application... I'll give a little story that is how we've been involved in working closely with a lot of the folks here on the stage or organizations here on the stage. We've found that education is so important with EPA and others to talk about, I think, well-intended legislation or well-intended regulation, maybe, but probably ill-advised.

 

Curt Blades:

And I can use an example of fugitive dust being a concern of a number of years ago, and the planter manufacturers were being targeted for the fugitive dust issues that was coming from seed-applied pesticides. And basically, we got wind of some regulations that were coming down. It's like, "Hey, we're going to put a stop on either the seed-applied work or make a very tight prescription on what a planter should look like." And again, well-intended. But what we found is having that just simple conversation with the EPA, showing them what the planter looks like and what that means and what we're actively doing to prevent the fugitive dust, changed the conversation from being one of potentially removing some tools from a farmer's arsenal to figuring out ways to deal with that.

 

Curt Blades:

So we're partners in the same conversation. We approach it slightly differently because we think that there are some mechanization approaches that can help deal with some of this as well, and we love partnering with all of our friends up here to continue to have those educational conversations with regulators whenever they will listen because there's a story here. And I think Jon, you said it correctly. They've got a coffee shop to go back to as well. If you can help an environmentalist or help a regulator understand that what they're trying to solve might be this thing, but really, they're approaching it incorrectly, that goes a very long way to have those good conversations, so it's a nice thing to be a part of.

 

Dusty Weis:

While we're on the topic here of these environmental concerns, I wanted to bring up USDA's $1 billion Climate Smart Ag and Forestry Program. They announced this. It provides the opportunity for serious financial support for farmers across the country.

 

Dusty Weis:

And so Chandler Goule from the National Association of Wheat Growers, what type of impact do you see this as having on your industry, and what's your organization looking at as this develops?

 

Chandler Goule:

Well, I mean, definitely this has been a main agenda item for the Biden administration, and that is a lot of money to go down to the USDA.

 

Chandler Goule:

What we are the most concerned about, though, from the wheat side is we've got winter wheat and we've got spring wheat. So our winter wheat is planted in September, October, depending on what part of the country you're in. It's a living root system. It's a living plant. It's dormant through the winter and then, of course, you harvest it when it comes around spring and summertime.

 

Chandler Goule:

Well, a lot of the cover crop programs that they're working on and implementing is going to not be available to over 70% of wheat growers because that's 70% is winter wheat, and so unless you are able to have a cover crop in front of your winter wheat or a cover crop in between spring and maybe your spring wheat and if you're double-cropping something, we're worried that they're going to write this program that doesn't fit the unique production practices that go across our six different classes of wheat and our six major different geographies, where in Washington and Oregon and in the high desert plains, you get six inches of rain a year, so cover crops aren't really an option at all due to moisture to over in the Eastern side of the Mississippi, where we've got growers getting 26 and 27 inches of rain a year.

 

Chandler Goule:

So our production systems vary so much within our own commodity, I'm worried that we're going to be left out if there's not enough flexibility.

 

Dusty Weis:

Tim Lust from the National Sorghum Producers, when you guys look at the $1 billion Climate Smart Ag and Forestry Program, what are your growers excited about, and what are your concerns?

 

Tim Lust:

Well, I think when we look at the opportunity to look at technology advancements, the opportunities that look at how we do things different or better, we're always excited about that. I think it is a crop that certainly fits in this discussion very, very strongly, again, in a geographic manner that may be very different than others up here. It is something that certainly is exciting for us, and we're certainly moving forward to be a part of this and learn from it.

 

Tim Lust:

By the same token, we're having a lot of those discussions about the details and the fine details because it is not the same across different geographic areas. It may not even be the same within certain geographic areas from farm to farm.

 

Tim Lust:

So we continue to work with our leadership. We've been working on this for several years, been working within NRCS on grants that lead up to this, and it's something that we believe there's future there. But I think we have to understand that this is a learning process and not... I hope it's not seen as we have all the answers because I think certainly, from our crop standpoint, there's still a lot of questions that have to be answered as a part of this process.

 

Dusty Weis:

Yeah, certainly.

 

Dusty Weis:

Mr. Censky from the American Soybean Association.

 

Steve Censky:

Dusty, I was just going to observe it's good that Chandler and I are sitting next to each other because for a lot of our growers in different parts of the country, winter wheat is the cover crop that's growing during the winter and, of course, soybeans are the summer crop that's growing during the summer and so very complementary in keeping that ground protected and keeping it covered.

 

Dusty Weis:

Another part of the sustainability picture that I actually got a chance to learn a whole lot about when I worked at AEM with Curt was precision agriculture. Precision agriculture has very measurable, positive benefits for the environment and yet, there's still a lot of room to grow with further implementation as well.

 

Dusty Weis:

So Curt, how are farmers adopting these practices, and what do those benefits look like from where you're sitting?

 

Curt Blades:

Well, Dusty, you brought up my favorite topic to talk about, so thanks for that.

 

Curt Blades:

Precision agriculture is part of the solution. I mean, we talk about all the tools that are available to farmers today, and we've saw dramatic production gains with genetic improvements over the last 20 years. But that center of gravity is quickly moving to the next wave of production gains are quickly coming from precision agriculture, and AEM started a study in partnership with everyone on the stage to try to attempt to quantify the specific environmental gains that come as a direct result of the adoption precision agriculture over the last 20 years.

 

Curt Blades:

And what we found is that over the last 20 years, there's been a lot of gains in yield, but we've isolated 4% of the gains have come directly from precision agriculture. And when you put those into real terms we're talking about a significant savings of acres. We're talking about a significant savings of fuel. We're talking about significant savings of water, about significant savings of correctly applied fertilizer and reduction of active ingredient of crop protection.

 

Curt Blades:

So you kind of add all those things up together and that environmental message is huge and being able to tell that story to, again, the environmental community and the general public as a whole has proven to be very powerful over the last two years. In fact, the bill you referenced earlier has got in its heart some of that study that we all jointly funded together that speaks to innovation is part of the solution to address some of the yields that face our planet.

 

Curt Blades:

And here's the cool part: farmers aren't buying precision agriculture because they're trying to save the planet. They're buying precision agriculture because it makes really good sense for their businesses and the environmental benefits are a ride along.

 

Curt Blades:

And I think we look at some of the cool technology that's downstairs. It just gets even better. Those gains that we're seeing today and we see adoption because of rural broadband and other things, oh, [inaudible 00:38:14], it's going to be fun to look at the next 10 years of what the environmental footprint looks like of agriculture just by doing the right things and hopefully, farmers making some good money in the process along the way.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association, you have a phrase of which you're quite fond and I'll try to do it justice here. But you like to say, "If you haven't been on a corn farm in the last 10 years, you haven't been on a corn farm." So how are corn growers adopting some of these new technologies as it regards precision agriculture?

 

Jon Doggett:

Sure. It's not 10 years. It's 5.

 

Dusty Weis:

Five years is...

 

Jon Doggett:

True.

 

Dusty Weis:

... it'll be three years before too long, the rate things are going.

 

Jon Doggett:

It's just, the innovation continues to go and continues to go and continues to go, and so when I talk to non-ag audiences, I say, "We've made all these wonderful gains in how we do business, but what did your cellphone look like 25 years ago?" "Well, I didn't have a cellphone 25 years ago." "What did your cellphone look like 10 years ago? It probably didn't look like this." Why do you think that this technology has moved faster than the technology that's on the farm?

 

Jon Doggett:

I think we got remember that as all of society has embraced more and more new technologies, we need to make sure that they're understanding we're doing that as well, and precision ag is just such a neat thing. And when you talk to folks that are not involved in agriculture about how you can regulate seeds, you can regulate chemicals, you can regulate fertilizer, I mean, it is just absolutely amazing the things that we can do. And when you talk to non-ag audiences about that, it's kind of a gee-whiz moment, and I think it's really important for us to continue to talk about the gee-whiz moment because there's a lot of folks in our society that really like this technology and they want to know about somebody else's technology. I think it gives us an opportunity.

 

Dusty Weis:

We've got executives from five of the most influential agriculture organizations on the planet sitting on this stage right now, and so I'm curious. I'll serve this up to whoever wants it, but what role do you have as an organization in encouraging growers to adopt more of these precision agriculture practices, and how do you go about doing that?

 

Tim Lust:

Well, I think most of us work closely with our sister organizations on checkoff side, and I think one of the things that I would just say is getting it in front of growers. Obviously, we all work closely with private industry as well in testing these technologies. I'll just relate a story on some of the new weed technology that's coming out on spot- and spray-type technology. First time our growers ever saw that technology that I believe was developed in the center part of the US, first time I ever saw it was on a sorghum farm in Eastern Australia. It's the first time I ever saw it operational.

 

Tim Lust:

And so I think part of it is seeing what is working for other farmers around the world and what are those opportunities, and so we continue to be involved on all sides, whether it is equipment or chemistry side of what technology is. And again, Jon, I'm agreeing with you a lot, man, today.

 

Tim Lust:

In terms of one of the things that said is, "Don't bet against technology," and I think we're not. We're excited about what technology is doing in agriculture today, and our members continue to just enhance and take up that technology day after day.

 

Dusty Weis:

I did want to make sure that we covered the Farm Bill. Of course, that's something that's on everybody's radar right now.

 

Dusty Weis:

Chandler Goule, National Association of Wheat Growers, can you tell us what your organization is doing now to assure that the farm community's needs are going to be considered for the 2023 reauthorization?

 

Chandler Goule:

Well, that's exactly what we were just discussing about an hour ago and all day yesterday here at Commodity Classic. Though, normally, we do come out of Commodity Classic with our priorities set, that's going to be more of a June timeframe, I think, for NOG, and I've heard my other colleagues up here say the same for their commodities, really, because I want to see the House and sitting AG Committee principals come out with where their concerns are and what they're interested in, so I can see where we're going to work together and where I need to educate them more on. And so we're going to continue to work on them, but maintaining that flexibility between ARC and PLC is going to be crucial.

 

Chandler Goule:

Any additional authorities that may be add to Title II programs to help the Biden administration reach their climate initiative goals, we want to make sure has that flexibility in there, for wheat's always got a unique concern, so that's going to be key for us as well.

 

Chandler Goule:

But then also, just continue to reach out to all those new members who have never voted on a farm bill. So we had a PAC update, which is another reason we come to Commodity classic, this morning. And depending on what happens in the election, we are easily looking at 50% or more of the House Agriculture Committee never have voted on a farm bill. So just the amount of education when you've got to go and talk Title I, Title II, Title III crop insurance, that's going to be, I think, the biggest component is making sure those members are educated and make informed decisions that will support US wheat growers and all farmers.

 

Dusty Weis:

Mr. Steven Censky from the American Soybean Association, are there any specific programs that are near and dear to your heart that you want to make sure are considered in the 2023 reauthorization?

 

Steve Censky:

Certainly, and we have begun that process as well. We've held 12 Farm Bill listening sessions already, title by title, so we've had five by title and then seven by regions where we wanted to get input from growers. We also have conducted a Farm Bill survey to get that input as well.

 

Steve Censky:

I think a lot of the feedback that we're hearing is strongly in support of voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. We are wanting to maintain those and make sure that there's adequate funding and technical assistance to help growers implement that conservation on the ground.

 

Steve Censky:

We're hearing strong, strong support for crop insurance. Over 90% of soybean acres are covered by crop insurance, and that remains the most fundamental element for soybean farmers of their risk management portfolio.

 

Steve Censky:

And then on Title I for the Farm Safety Net, what we have heard, really, are two things. One is that the soybean reference price, they believe, is too low. And you take a look at the trade war that we had with China. It still didn't trigger any kind of payments under the Title I Safety Net, and so that's something we would like to have taken a look at to see if that can be addressed and then a base update, a voluntary base update. We're close to 90 million acres of soybeans that are planted, but only a little over 60 million acres of those have base. And we've heard from growers in some regions of the country where you have young beginning farmers that are farming ground that maybe only has 10 or 15% base on it because it used to be pasture or alfalfa or ponds or tobacco farms, whatever it is.

 

Steve Censky:

And so those are some of the priorities that we've heard thus far.

 

Dusty Weis:

You mentioned crop insurance there, and it's a hot topic. Yeah, I mean, we're coming off of a year here where we've seen droughts, derechos, unseasonable freeze events, high winds, other extreme weather, and that's just in the last two months, what I've seen in my newsfeed from that.

 

Dusty Weis:

So Tim Lust from the National Sorghum Producers, as we're looking back at the past couple years and the weather that we've seen and this seeming trend toward more extreme weather events, could you speak to the importance of crop insurance and how your organization is working with Congress and the administration on getting that additional assistance to growers?

 

Tim Lust:

Certainly and we just echo the important of crop insurance overall. We've worked through multiple farm bills in the past for some formulas to change, the price selection component for sorghum and allow that to track markets and change over time and happy to say that that's working and is something that's been very good for our industry.

 

Tim Lust:

I think we also, in this discussion, that you have to separate crop insurance out and then you have to separate, as you mentioned, some of this disaster challenges. And so certainly, for our membership, the WHIP+ for '20 and '21 is something that we're looking to get delivered to the country. Our growers need that and so continue to have those discussions with USDA and continue to also evaluate that from a policy standpoint, as far as future legislation. Don't have any positions from a sorghum industry standpoint. We're just doing the analysis, really, to say, "What does this look like? What might be the right fit, or how might that work together in the future?"

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Doggett from the National Corn Growers Association, I'll say there's nothing so dramatic as a cornfield that's been flattened by a derecho. It's just makes your hair stand on end, but crop insurance, anything to add?

 

Jon Doggett:

If we want to bring the next generation of farmers to the farm and those folks will better be able to use the technology that Curt's folks are producing, they can do that, but they have to have risk management tools because they're going to be in a different position than that farmer who's 60 years old who has the capital resources to go ahead and handle a weather event.

 

Jon Doggett:

So crop insurance is really, really vital to younger growers, and we need more fresh blood back at the farm, and so those risk management tools are really, really important, not just to keep the economic viability going on the farm, but really, to continue to hold onto our rural communities and our rural values, but you got to have young people to do that.

 

Dusty Weis:

That is going to wrap up this edition of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. New episodes arrive monthly, so make sure you subscribe in your favorite app and join us again soon. Visit ncga.com to learn more or sign up for the Association's email newsletter.

 

Dusty Weis:

Wherever Jon May Roam is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association with editing and production oversight by Larry Kilgore III, and it's produced by Podcamp Media. Brand and podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com.

 

Dusty Weis:

For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

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