By Trista Crossley
Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and Josh Tonsager, vice president of policy and communications for NAWG, joined growers on a webinar last month to discuss the issues NAWG is working on for the wheat industry in the other Washington. The session was part of the 2021 Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization’s winter schedule.
NAWG is the national lobbying arm of the U.S. wheat industry. It works with 20 state grower organizations and represents approximately 77 percent of all U.S. wheat production across all classes of wheat. Benton County grower Nicole Berg is currently vice president of NAWG.
As the Biden Administration takes over, Goule said NAWG has been actively engaged with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) transition team and incoming secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack. In their meetings with the secretary and the transition team, NAWG has discussed implementation issues with the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+); Conservation Reserve Program sign-ups and the importance of educating growers; staffing issues at USDA agencies; the impact of EU tariffs on nondurum wheat; the need for continued engagement on China World Trade Organization cases; and the importance of in-kind food aid in international food assistance efforts.
Along with the new administration comes new House and Senate ag committee leaders with different priorities and different focuses. Tonsager said that won’t change NAWG’s priorities.
“It hasn’t changed our need for talking with new members of Congress, especially those new members on the committees, and especially especially new members that have never voted on a farm bill before, ensuring they understand economic conditions, the state of the farm economy, and that they understand what the different needs and constraints are for wheat producers,” he said.
At the time of the presentation, Congress was considering additional COVID-19 relief, and NAWG was focusing on the resources available to USDA and ensuring that the department moves forward with implementation of the third round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. NAWG has also been soliciting feedback from producers on COVID-19 impacts on production and markets.
Although the current farm bill doesn’t expire until 2023, work on the next farm bill is already gearing up. Tonsager said both House and Senate ag committees will likely start holding hearings to review current legislation, examine what producers’ needs are and to look for any holes in the farm safety net. There will also be some negative attention paid to the state of the current farm bill.
“I think a lot of that (negative attention) will come from new members of Congress who have not been through a farm bill process before and might examine the farm bill program as an opportunity for cutting spending. That’s going to require grassroots engagement in talking to members of Congress on why we need to maintain access to the current support programs we have in place,” he said, adding this could be an opportunity to argue for more baseline funding that provides sufficient support for producers, thereby avoiding the need for ad hoc-type support programs.
NAWG is anticipating the need to be engaged with both USDA and members of Congress on potential climate policy this year as there is increasing public and private interest in seeing incentives for producers to undertake activities that sequester carbon and are good for soil health. NAWG’s basic directives, when it comes to climate or carbon policy, include: any policy should be voluntary; it should be incentive based; and it needs to recognize that wheat is grown in a wide variety of conditions, meaning not all practices are feasible in all locations.
“We’ve been communicating that to the Hill to make sure it is acknowledged and accounted for in programs,” Tonsager said. NAWG is developing more specific direction from the board of directors on what a carbon trading system could and should look like.
The USDA transition team has said that a possible source of funding for climate and carbon programs could come from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Farm programs, such as the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, are also funded through the CCC. Tonsager said Vilsack has indicated that if the USDA uses the CCC to fund climate and carbon programs, farm bill programs won’t be put at risk. Vilsack has also committed to gathering stakeholder feedback and making sure farm groups are at the table as these issues are discussed.
“We are looking to make sure we are engaged, and we are having discussions internally to know exactly how we should be engaged,” he said.
Other policy issues that NAWG is expecting to engage on in 2021 include:
- FY 2022 budget and appropriation cycles;
- Regulation of pesticides;
- Navigable Waters Protection Rule (this is the updated Waters of the U.S. legislation);
- EU Farm to Fork policy;
- Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development funding;
- Reauthorization of Trade Promotion Authority; and
- Infrastructure legislation, including broadband.
A recording of this webinar can be found on WAWG’s YouTube channel.