Farm Bill, corn supplies top concerns at farm show
Days after the latest Gallup poll showed Congress' approval rating had sunk to its lowest level in half a century, leaders of the Colorado corn industry assembled a panel during the Irrigation Research Foundation Farm Show to talk about how farmers can most effectively engage in the political process and why they should.
By Candace Krebs
Ag Journal Online - La Junta, CO
By Candace Krebs
Posted Aug. 28, 2012 @ 12:01 am
By Candace Krebs
Posted Aug. 28, 2012 @ 12:01 am
» Social News
YUMA, Colo. — Days after the latest Gallup poll showed Congress' approval rating had sunk to its lowest level in half a century, leaders of the Colorado corn industry assembled a panel during the Irrigation Research Foundation Farm Show to talk about how farmers can most effectively engage in the political process and why they should.
For hundreds of farmers who gathered to look at machinery, visit with input dealers and observe a strip-till demonstration, the new five-year Farm Bill now mired in the House of Representatives was Exhibit A for how partisan polarization has paralyzed the federal government. With current farm policy set to expire at the end of September, concern was widespread that a new bill won't come until sometime after the November election, adding to an overall climate of uncertainty.
Only a few days are left during which the House can pass its version of a Farm Bill to send to a conference committee for reconciling with the Senate.
"Throughout the process I've said we might get one, but my personal thoughts have been more skeptical," said Ron Carleton, the new Colorado deputy commissioner of agriculture and a longtime legislative staff director who appeared on the panel. "When I saw the gap (of $10 billion) in cuts to nutrition programs between the House and Senate, I thought to myself, 'We're not going to have a Farm Bill this year.'"
Alan Foutz, a field representative for Congressman Cory Gardner, said the differences could be resolved if the House manages to pass a bill. His view was that the big discrepancies aren't between the political parties but rather between legislators with rural and urban constituencies.
While publicly corn leaders have continued to press Congress to complete its work, privately they were more pessimistic.
"There's not enough time," said Doug Melcher, a founding member of the Colorado corn growers who farms south of Holly, Colo. "It's frustrating. If a farmer needs to have something sprayed, then he gets out the sprayer. But they can't do that in Washington."
Some policy analysts have questioned whether Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's choice of Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan for his running mate slows the Farm Bill's progress even more. Ryan, the current chairman of the powerful House budget committee, has been part of a small contingent of fiscal conservatives who have advocated for steeper cuts in farm programs.
Even so, Romney's vice presidential choice didn't seem much of a liability among the crowd at the Yuma event, where sentiments of "anything's better than what we have now" were common.
"I think he's great," one young farmer in attendance, Aaron Frank, said of Ryan.
Ryan's laser-like focus on budget reform is what appealed to the Kirk farmer.
"When I came home to farm, the first thing I had to figure out was how to budget my money," he said. "These are supposed to be the smartest minds we have in the U.S. and they can't formulate a budget? They have ways of knowing how much they are going to bring in, so they should have a leg up on me."
Byron Weathers, a corn grower leader from Yuma, agreed that the drastic reforms needed at the federal level would "take time" and went far beyond farm policy.
"It's tough to get anything done with corn prices what they are now," he added. "I think that's why they (House leaders) are pushing (the Farm Bill) off."
Even within agriculture, deep divisions exist regarding how to address the current corn supply and demand situation.
Farm groups have continued to send legislators a mixed message about how to respond to one of the worst droughts of the last century. In Yuma, a large corn growing and cattle feeding center, the first question raised when the panel was opened to the audience concerned the corn growers' position on the renewable fuels standard, which drives up demand for corn by mandating a certain amount be used for making fuel.
Deep in cattle feeding country, Colorado corn leaders toned down their support while acknowledging that a formal process exists for petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to waive the mandate.
"We are telling our representatives not to pursue legislation to address this; the waiver process is there," said Rick Palkowitsh, a corn industry leader and farmer from Burlington. But he pointed out that if more ethanol plants shut down, it will decrease the availability of distillers grains for feed during a time when soybeans — the prime alternative source of protein — are also in short supply.
While corn leaders generally back the RFS, they will continue to discuss their position at future board meetings, Palkowitsh said. "It has become such an emotional issue," he added.
On Monday, Aug. 20, the EPA published a notice in the Federal Register opening a 30-day comment period on whether to grant a waiver. The agency has 90 days to reach a decision.
Weathers said he hoped regulators would stay the course on the RFS.
"Everything is cyclical," he said. "We'll have high livestock prices again, and then grains will be low."
He pointed to how much things had changed in just one year's time, with barge traffic now down to one lane on the shrinking Mississippi River.
"The Mississippi is lower than it's been in a hundred years, but last year it was flooding," he said.
Because so much of Colorado's corn crop is irrigated, the state is in a better position than many areas when it comes to corn supplies, Holly farmer Melcher said. While the Arkansas Valley is suffering from a shortage of surface water, he said some farmers in his area would still have "a decent crop."
As for the historically high corn prices, he said the benefits to corn farmers weren't as dramatic as they might at first appear.
"A lot of people have already contracted their corn for $4 or $5 a bushel, which means they either have to buy that contract back or buy the corn to fill that contract," he said. "Farmers never sell at the high, since the market is so volatile. It's hard to catch the top of the market, but that's what everybody sees."