What’s Next? NAWG Exec Looks to Effects of the Farm Bill, TPP and GMOsWed, 26 Feb 2014 18:02:38 CST
As the flurry of activity that culminated in the passage and signing of the 2014 farm bill dies down, various agricultural industry leaders have been going over the new law with a fine-toothed comb. They have also had time to begin looking at other international and domestic challenges.
Jim Palmer, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers recently spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays at the Commodity Classic about his group’s assessment of the bill and what he sees on the horizon for wheat farmers.
“As far as crop insurance, we’re very satisfied that we were able to hold it together. And, also, just because of Oklahoma, Texas and that area, we’re looking at stronger price-support levels than what we thought we might have.”
Farmers will have to make choices under the provisions of the new law and Palmer says they are looking toward their extension economists to give them a good analysis of which of the two choices will make the most sense for their operations.
“It ‘s going to be a case-by-case basis for the majority of farmers and what their outlook is on what they think prices are going to be in the next few years through the farm bill.”
Opponents of the farm bill were successful in eliminating direct payments to farmers and it appears their next target will be crop insurance, Palmer says.
“All the farmers in all the commodities and general farm organizations we need to stand together. If anything, that’s a food security issue as well as it is a food economics issue. It’s not just an ag issue and it’s not just a farmer issue.”
As negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement go forward, NAWG has been of the outspoken voices challenging the Japanese. Palmer says what his members want out of the negotiations is very simple.
“We want them to open up their trade as well as they are for the United States. It seems to us that they are holding back on some of their tariffs when the United States has loosened up theirs. Also, when you take a look at how important Japan is to that whole Pacific basin, they follow Japan’s lead, we’re looking at Japan itself imports 90 percent of their wheat. Sixty percent of that wheat that they are importing is coming out of the Pacific Northwest and out through the Gulf with good Oklahoma wheat.”
Palmer says he believes the whole TPP agreement could be jeopardized if Japan remains reluctant to open up its markets.
Closer to home, Palmer says the gluten-free issue has many people in the wheat industry concerned, including NAWG.
“We take it very seriously. Anything that is going to influence your markets the way it has-it’s too early to tell whether it is a fad or a trend. That being said, you can’t ignore it. It’s just how do you respond to it. It’s a consumer issue. Also, there’s only .6 percent of the population that really has any health issues with gluten.”
He says they are not only addressing it with communications, but also through research. He says they have formed partnerships with millers’ and bakers’ organizations to address the issue.
Another issue that is getting a lot of attention lately is the push toward using GMO varieties of wheat. Palmer says those varieties will have an obvious benefit to the farmer in terms of increased yields and pest resistance, but for it to truly be marketable above the din of the naysayers, it will have to have direct benefits for the consumer.
“Just dropping the price of a loaf of bread may not affect the influential customers we are talking about. But there are a number of people out there in the United States and around the world who want access to affordable bread. That’s one option there.
“As far as others are concerned on the GMO, I think we’re going to need to be looking at some consumer traits such as gluten, gluten reduction. If we were to introduce something like that, several of the major baking companies say there will definitely be a market for it.
“You can look at obstacles as opportunities or opportunities as obstacles, but that’s what determines the issue.”
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