NAWG Weekly Update: November 6, 2014

Republican Party Gains Majority in Senate, Expands Majority in House
In a series of hard-fought Senate races, Republicans trounced their Democrat opposition to seize control of the Senate Tuesday night by securing major re-election victories for Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, while winning at least seven U.S. Senate seats that had previously been held by Democrats.  Republicans won seats in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, and kept a GOP grip on Georgia where businessman David Perdue handily defeated Democrat Michelle Nunn, by 56 to 42 percent, respectively.

Republicans needed to gain six seats to win a Senate majority for 2015, and therefore couldn’t afford to lose any of their incumbents. And as such, Senator Pat Roberts – who was seeking his fourth term in the U.S. Senate and is likely to be the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee – couldn’t afford to lose to businessman Greg Orman, who ran as an Independent and refused to say whether he would caucus with either party.

Roberts, who previously chaired the House Committee on Agriculture from 1995-1997, told supporters Tuesday night that he would be the next chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and “we will put farmers and ranchers first.” Republican candidates also did well at the House level, gaining at least 14 more seats to add to Speaker John Boehner’s existing majority, which brings the Republican majority in the 114th Congress to the party’s largest since WWII.  Republican gubernatorial candidates did not disappoint either, with even the traditionally-Democrat bastions of Massachusetts and Maryland falling to Republican control by the end of the night.  Read the full story here, courtesy of Agri-Pulse.

Wheat Growers Meet in New Mexico
The 2014 Joint Fall Wheat Conference of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) concluded Saturday in Santa Ana, N.M. The four-day meeting brought together wheat growers from around the country to discuss upcoming issues and to plan for the year ahead. The following committees met at the Fall Wheat Conference:

Joint International Trade Policy Committee
The Joint International Trade Policy Committee, made up of representatives from both NAWG and USW, met last week in New Mexico during the wheat industry’s annual fall conference. The committee tackled a busy agenda that included a discussion on the ongoing trade agreements with the Asian-Pacific region (TPP) and the European Union (T-TIP), in addition to reiterating the need for Congress and the administration to pass Trade Promotion Authority, to ease the passage of the agreements.

The Committee also dove into the upcoming Federal Grain Inspection Services (FGIS) reauthorization, and discussed how the wheat industry could use the legislation as tool to avoid another situation similar to the one at the Port of Vancouver, WA last summer, when state and federal inspectors would not inspect grain, causing a stoppage in shipments.

Joint Biotech Committee 
The NAWG and USW Joint Biotech Committee met last week to discuss a wide range of biotechnology facing the wheat industry today. Included on agenda was a brief discussion of the APHIS report on the investigation into GMO wheat in Oregon two summers ago, as well as updates from several tech providers, and staff updates on GMO labeling initiatives and the Wheat Innovation Alliance (WIA). Much of the discussion focused around currently ongoing efforts from the agriculture industry to gain a Low Level Presence (LLP) for GMO traits in shipments of grain, both domestically and internationally, and how the wheat industry can be involved going forward.

The discussion lead to a motion by the committee to “authorize the Chairman and staff to collaborate with other grain groups to recommend a threshold level at the January meeting.” The guest speaker for the meeting was Vic Knauf, Chief Scientific Officer from Arcadia Biosciences.

Environmental and Renewable Resources Committee 
The Environment and Renewable Resources Committee met to discuss regulatory issues affecting wheat growers and farm bill implementation. The committee heard from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NAWG general counsel regarding the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. proposed regulation.  The committee discussed action on written comments, which will be submitted prior to the November 14 deadline, requesting that EPA withdraw the proposed regulation.

The committee also agreed to send a letter to Secretary Vilsack regarding National Resource Conservation Service contribution agreements, an issue raised by the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.  A copy of the letter can be found here.  With the Administration’s lack of action on the 2014 Renewable Fuels Renewable Volumetric Obligations, the committee recommended joining with several other agriculture commodity organizations in sending a letter to President Obama. A copy of the RFS RVO letter can be found here. The committee also discussed the expected timeline for farm bill conservation program regulation and a strategy for preparing NAWG comments.

Research & Technology Committee 
Following the opening introductions and approval of the agenda and previous meeting minutes, Matt Erickson of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) gave an overview of current agricultural group discussions led by AFBF about farmer data. He stressed that the guiding principles of technology providers are consistency and transparency in their policies concerning agricultural data generated on farms.

Committee member and former chair Robert Blair then gave an update on current FAA rules regarding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and discussed the challenges those rules pose to famers who wish to use the technology and manage data collected using them. He emphasized the need for farmer representation on the FAA advisory committee. The Committee also heard that the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) has invited NAWG to participate in their congressional briefing session on March 9, 2015. The focus of the briefings will be on the capabilities and applications of unmanned aerial systems in agriculture.
The Committee passed a resolution in support of grower representation on the Federal Aviation Administration small commercial Unmanned Air Systems rulemaking committee.

Additionally, they passed a motion to provide a letter from NAWG supporting the Triticeae Cooperative Action Program (T-CAP) and urging the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to issue a Request for Proposals that would allow TCAP to apply for future funding.

Domestic Trade and Policy Committee 
The Domestic Trade and Policy Committee started with general discussion and staff updates and then moved right into presentations given by their invited speakers. The first presentation was given by Kevin Koffman and Loch Edwards from TTMS Group. The discussion focused on issues that the northern plains are facing, specifically the challenge of railroads not being able to move grain due to capacity issues.

Next, Tara Smith, from Michael Torrey and Associates, spoke on behalf of the Crop Insurance Reinsurance Bureau about the future of crop insurance. Smith pointed out that crop insurance was one of the farm bill items that all of agriculture stood together on and one of the only items that received increased funding. However, crop insurance is a target of many organizations from both the far left and the far right and agriculture needs to ban together in the coming years to defend crop insurance and keep it working for our growers.

The last part of the meeting focused on the decision tools made available on the USDA website. Dr. Joe Outlaw from Texas A&M University and Dr. Gary Schnitkey from the University of Illinois, the two leading universities that developed the decision tools, were both on hand to walk through their decision aides. Both professors went step-by-step through their tools and allowed for questions from all present. At this point in the farm bill implementation process, farmer education is of the upmost importance growers will have to make a five-year long decision on which programs to sign up for early next year.

Industry Partner Council
The NAWG Industry Partners Council (IPC) met on Wednesday, Oct. 29, in conjunction with the Fall Wheat Conference. The IPC is comprised of wheat value chain members who partner with NAWG to provide various levels of support to achieve wide-ranging organizational objectives. The featured presenter at this IPC meeting was political consultant Ladonna Lee of Foley & Lardner, LLC. She provided her Election Day predictions on both Senate and House races in ten of the top U.S. wheat-producing states, as well as predictions on committee leadership changes if the Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate and retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. IPC participants in attendance included representatives of BASF, Bayer CropScience, BNSF, CoBANK, John Deere, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta. The NAWG Executive Committee, CEO and NAWG legal counsel also participated in this meeting.

GMO Ballot Measures Falter at Polls
Ballot measures in Oregon and Colorado to label products containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) have failed during the midterm elections earlier this week. This is a win for many agriculture groups, such as NAWG, who do not support mandatory labeling. Meanwhile, Hawaiian island of Maui voted to pass a moratorium against the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. It widely expected that industry will challenge the results in Hawaii in court. For more on NAWGs policy on biotechnology visit our website.