By Matt Reese
David Miller from Fairfield County and his son, Jon, got their seats early for the general session at Commodity Classic held in Nashville this year. The then half-empty auditorium sprawled out in every direction from their seats near the center of the room.
“I can remember when this was just the corn growers and we’d only need a quarter of this room for everyone to sit in,” David said. “This event has really grown since those days.”
Now, the Commodity Classic is shattering attendance records with more than 6,000 participants gathering for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the American Soybean Association (ASA), the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and the National Sorghum Producers (NSP) meeting to set policy and learn at a wide array of sessions and events. And, soon enough, the wisdom of the Millers finding seats early was revealed as the steady crowd filtered in to fill the chairs. Once the event started, stragglers were standing around the side and the back walls of the massive room for the general session, which did not disappoint.
MC Mark Mayfield opened the presidents’ roundtable during the general session by
conducting brief interviews with the leaders of the four crop commodity organizations.
“Looking out at this audience, you can see that it is all about families for farmers,” said Garry Niemeyer, NCGA President Niemeyer, a farmer from Auburn, Ill. “At NCGA, we are working constantly to ensure that our children have the freedom to continue our farming tradition. Right now, we are actively pushing forward through four major educational campaigns including the Corn Farmers Coalition, CommonGround, the American Ethanol-NASCAR partnership and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. While each program seeks to reach a specific office, from bringing the facts about farmers to Capitol Hill to starting conversations about food between urban and farm moms, NCGA actively cultivates an understanding that ensures the broader cultural understanding of and appreciation for agriculture.”
ASA president Steve Wellman pointed out the importance of biotechnology in moving crop production to where it is today and where it needs to be in the future.
“We’ve already had a lot of population growth and the answer is increasing production efficiency to meet the growing demand,” Wellman said. “The key to moving forward is biotechnology and we need to work on the global approval process.”
NAWG president Wayne Hurst talked about the need for an improved regulatory environment.
“As we travel around the country, one of the huge concerns is regulation. We have been working closely with our partners on the Hill to make sure we can continue to farm with the regulatory environment,” Hurst said. “This is more than a career for farmers. This is what we’re about. There is a great legacy that we have as farmers. We have a bright future ahead of us, but we do have some challenges.”
For the third consecutive year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the event.
“The first and most important thing that we can do this year is to pass a farm bill and
pass it now,” Vilsack said. “This job of writing and passing an equitable farm bill is not an easy task, but waiting for 2013 is not going to be any easier. It is incumbent both upon myself and upon you that we send a clear message to our representatives that we must do this now.”
And, the attendees at the Commodity Classic did just that. The four groups issued a strong statement on the importance of crafting the farm bill in a timely manner. Here is an excerpt from the joint statement from NCGA, ASA, NAWG and NSP at the Commodity Classic.
“As Congress continues work on the next farm bill, our organizations agree that an affordable crop insurance program is our No. 1 priority. We also stand ready to work with House and Senate Ag Committee leaders to create farm programs that provide risk-management tools to growers when they are facing a loss beyond their control.
“We urge Congress to pass a new farm bill this year to provide the level of certainty in America that a short-term extension cannot. The nation is currently facing record high federal deficits and this requires difficult decisions. We stand ready to do our part to develop more efficient farm policy that will be responsive to taxpayers and effective in helping farms remain viable and productive.”
The general session was a highlight, but as always, the event was packed full of farmer-to-farmer conversations, trade show displays, forged friendships and learning from others. And, this year’s event even included a tornado scare, with the roughly 6,000 people in the huge Gaylord Opryland Hotel ushered to the basement of the facility for about an hour, but all ended well for at the beautiful facility in Nashville. There was certainly no shortage of people to see and things to do at the massive gathering of crop farmers, though there may not have been quite enough seats.