Sometimes it is easy to become the victim of your own success. I think our industry has more than a bit of that going on right now, and this has me terribly concerned.
Times are pretty good right now on the farm. Prices are relatively high and we have seen significant increases in yields and reductions in chemical and fertilizer use. Farmers are making money, and that is great. But it wasn't that many years ago that we were suffering from stagnant demand and excess production.
To get beyond those tough times, our organizations - NCGA and our state affiliates - led the way to some outstanding victories for the corn industry. Probably most important among those was passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard - RFS I and then RFS II. We secured for the ethanol industry a foundation upon which it can build a solid future. It came because of the hard and committed effort by our grassroots. When Congress was considering the 2005 and 2007 energy bills, our membership turned out a massive showing of how important good energy policy is to the corn industry. Our Washington office even received calls from Congressional offices asking that they ask our membership to stop calling. "We are with you," they said. And they were -- and we won.
Again, today times are good on the farm. But many of us see some dark clouds on the horizon, especially for the RFS and the farm bill. Last year, the House of Representatives passed an amendment that would have effectively terminated the Renewable Fuel Standard. That amendment passed by a vote margin of 2 to 1. More alarmingly, members of the House Ag Committee overwhelmingly supported the amendment. Fortunately, the underlying legislation was significantly altered before going to the president's desk, and the provision was taken out. I don't think we will be as lucky next time.
In recent trips to Washington, I talked extensively with a number of sources - our staff, members of Congress and their staff, other lobbyists and political observers whose opinion I respect. Over and over I heard this message - our grassroots are complacent. While once Hill offices called our Washington staff to ask them to stop the calls from farmers across the country, some of the same offices are now telling our staff and our officers that they aren't hearing anything from our grassroots.
We must pass a farm bill this year. NCGA has made a huge effort to bring forth a farm bill proposal that was developed by our Public Policy Action Team and passed by Corn Congress. We understand - as do most other ag organizations - that our federal budget is a mess. We are committed to doing our share to reduce spending. To my knowledge, we are the only constituency that has agreed to that and offered specifics to do so.
Unfortunately, many in Congress see passage of the farm bill as unnecessary. They are talking about doing it later. This Congress wants to kick the farm bill can down the road just as they have on so many other issues. But the federal budget is only getting worse and as time goes on there will be less and less funding available for everything, including a farm bill. We need a farm bill now! There is plenty of time if the Congress has the will. And we need to provide a little encouragement in that department.
On these two key issues - the RFS and the farm bill - I have asked the NCGA Ethanol Committee and the NCGA Public Policy Action Team to develop a course of action to defend the RFS and to pass a farm bill as soon as possible this year. They know that to be successful we must mobilize our greatest strength - our grassroots membership. We have made great strides in telling our story to the general public and the media. That effort will continue.
Now, we need to tap into the corn farmers of this nation to tell members of Congress how important the RFS and the farm bill are to them and their communities. In this case, we are not envisioning a glittery program with fancy talking points and slick handouts. Our fellow growers can do just fine communicating to members of Congress and their staffs when they tell it like it is - in their own words. Farmers can have the most impact by sharing what ethanol and the RFS has meant to their own farms and communities, and how critical the farm bill is for risk management in tough times.
NCGA, the Ethanol Committee and PPAT will help facilitate these efforts by our grassroots. Be on the lookout for the rollout of some tools and help that we can offer our grassroots.
Lastly, I need each of you, as leaders of this organization, to fully support this effort. We all need to be enthusiastic and vocal about how committed we are to seeing this work. Our members deserve nothing less.
To take action immediately:
- Contact your senators and encourage them to pass the farm bill approved by the Senate Ag Committee.
- Contact your representatives and encourage them to formulate a market-oriented farm bill similar to the Senate version.
- Contact your senators and representatives and ask them to defend the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Thank you again for your support.
NCGA President Garry Niemeyer and his wife, Cheryl, farm corn and soybeans in Auburn, Ill. He has been a farmer for 41 years, and his service to growers includes serving as president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association in 2002. He has a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois.