The National Association of Wheat Growers will work with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team and administration to make sure farmers’ priorities are front and center, the organization’s top executive says.
Those priorities include farm programs, conservation programs and free trade, CEO Chandler Goule told the Capital Press.
“The biggest positive we’re going to see is a different approach to trade,” Goule said.
NAWG is “strongly” encouraging the administration to pick up the free trade agreement agenda, particularly along the Pacific Rim. When the U.S. dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership it hindered farmers' ability to access new markets, Goule said.
“After re-examining the trade numbers in Asia, all the TPP and non-TPP countries have increased their purchases of U.S. wheat over the last four years," Goule said. "We haven’t lost markets.”
NAWG also supports maintaining “a strong eye” on the European Union.
“They’re passing some wacky agriculture policy over there, and we know they are going to start putting pressure on other countries to adopt similar, very anti-farming agriculture practices that are going to drive food costs up,” Goule said.
Among them are price interventions for some commodities.
He expects the incoming administration to still be strong with China in implementing phase one of the U.S.-China trade deal, hopefully moving into a phase two.
“I don’t see the Biden administration continuing to use tariffs as their hammer to get things done, but to work at it in a more diplomatic approach,” Goule said.
Biden’s appointments to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA remain question marks, Goule said.
Farmers have a “pretty good chance” of being included in future decisions, Goule said. He said he knows some of the people likely in line for positions at USDA.
“I know we’re going to have a strong inroad there,” he said. “What I don’t quite have a good thumb on is who is going to be over at EPA.”
The biggest concern is EPA’s certification of crop protection tools and “Waters of the United States,” the controversial rule under the Clean Water Act, he said.
“We continue to message the transition team that, if they plan to make changes in those areas, please make sure agriculture is at the table,” Goule said. “We definitely want to be part of their solutions in moving forward and not just have this be completely left-leaning towards the environmentalists. Farmers are the best environmentalists that we have.”
Both the Obama and Trump administrations provided liaisons between USDA and EPA or the White House and USDA. Those positions proved “crucial and helpful,” to ensure agriculture was represented as high-level decisions were made, Goule said.
During Congress’ upcoming lame duck session, the organization’s priorities include funding for research for diseases and the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.
NAWG is also pushing for more COVID-19 relief. Congress is working on a $900 billion package, and NAWG hopes USDA funding will be available to all classes of wheat growers.
The industry rallied earlier this year after only durum and hard red spring wheat were included in initial relief programs “so we don’t have to go through the hoop-jumping that we did last time,” Goule said.
Goule originally expected hearings on the next farm bill to begin next fall, but now hears they could begin as early as the summer.
NAWG will emphasize crop insurance, maintaining farm programs and the option to pick between the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs.
Wheat farmers want a higher reference price and more equity in the PLC program with corn and soybean farmers, Goule said.
”With the makeup of the new House of Representatives, I think we’ve got an uphill battle, but I do think it will be possible,” he said. “Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi has always been a supporter of the Farm Bill. Her guidance is definitely going to be needed now that we have such tight margins in the House and the upcoming Senate, depending on what happens in January.”
Two Senate races in Georgia are slated for run-offs that will determine whether the Senate remains under Republican control.
NAWG and other commodity organizations will work on their priorities and campaigns to educate new legislators.
”Come Jan. 21, we have got a lot of Hill offices we’ve got to set up Zoom calls with, introduce ourselves and make the wheat growers’ priorities known,” he said.