Meetings will address Columbia free trade pact, other key issues
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The Colombia free trade agreement will be among the many issues on the table next week when representatives of the wheat industry meet with members of Congress and their staffs.
U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers hold their annual winter meetings Jan. 16-19 in Washington, D.C. The organizations have separate events but will also have a joint board meeting.
NAWG focuses on domestic policy, while U.S. Wheat focuses on export market development, but there are areas where those responsibilities overlap, U.S. Wheat Director of Communications Steve Mercer said. Those areas include international trade and commercializing biotechnology traits in wheat.
Mercer said the organizations will discuss developing grassroots support for pending free trade agreements, particularly the Colombia agreement.
"That situation puts at least $800 million in sales annually on the line," Mercer said.
"We have a new Congress, and that will involve a lot of education and relationship-building with the new people representing their constituents around the country," NAWG CEO Dana Peterson said.
Peterson recommended farmers preparing for 2011 consider how advocacy fits into their operation. It's important to have a relationship with their members of Congress, she said.
Brett Blankenship is past president and national legislation chairman of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and vice chairman of domestic policy for the national association.
Blankenship intends to continue to emphasize the importance of the collaboration between the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service on certain pesticides.
The association would like real-world data instead of computer models used in the evaluations, Blankenship said.
"We just had record salmon runs, and that should be reflected as we go to renew the labels of pesticides," he said.
Other priorities include the estate tax, with growers expressing their desire for a long-term policy. The current rates are a reasonable compromise, Blankenship said.
The organization is also looking for a fair solution for the 1099 requirements in the health care reform bill. Businesses must issue a 1099 form for purchases of more than $600 from any person or businesses. The requirement is burdensome, Blankenship said.
Oregon Wheat Commission vice chair Tom McCoy said he also hopes to meet with members of Congress and agency officials.
The commission wants to ensure funding is available to support market development efforts, primarily through U.S. Wheat, he said. It will also support the USDA Agricultural Research Service's wheat research, particularly at Oregon State University's Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton, Ore.