Iowa corn grower leaders took an active role in policy discussions during National Corn Growers Association Corn Congress as a part of the 2008 Commodity Classic in Nashville, Tenn. the last few days of February. The Corn Congress was held on March 1.
"As the top corn producing state and a leader in ethanol production, Iowa plays a very important part in the NCGA's overall federal policy efforts," says Tim Recker, Iowa Corn Growers Association president and a grower from Arlington. "This large national meeting each year is an opportunity to visit with other states and bring forward a unified front on what policies best meet the needs of corn growers in the United States."
The Commodity Classic brings together the major commodity groups in the nation: corn, soybeans, wheat and, for the first time in 2008, sorghum.
Key topics debated by delegates
One hot topic at this year's corn session was how the industry could work effectively to promote positive corn and ethanol messages, not only in the policy arena but generally to the public as well.
Growers also reviewed and reaffirmed a commitment to continue the Conservation Reserve Program's (CRP) system of voluntary contracts and to support the continued use of CRP on fragile lands.
A third key discussion covered urban sprawl and its effect on land use and farm prices, including issues like 1031 tax exchange rules and their implications for farm ownership.
Immigration issue also discussed
One issue that hasn't been discussed in previous years by NCGA is immigration policy for immigrant farm workers—but it was brought up and discussed in the corn growers' resolution session at the 2008 meeting. "Last year at our 2007 convention some people brought up the fact that we need to be concerned where our nation is going to go with immigration policy, and how immigration policy affects agriculture - not only in Iowa but nationally," says Recker.
A lot of immigrants now work in agriculture - and NCGA delegates saw a need to have a resolution on this topic, to talk about holding the employer responsible for the illegal immigrants. "This is a new issue for corn growers and it is important to seed companies, and the livestock sector, so we needed to come up with policy on it since immigration affects corn growers as well as all of agriculture," he adds.
Delegates talked about the need to have a policy that doesn't hold employers liable for immigrants. It's difficult for employers to be responsible and prove that an immigrant is legal or illegal. "We talked about taking that burden off of the employer," says Recker. "The process would be to bring an immigrant to an office of the U.S. government, documenting him or her, and filling out forms so the immigrant can be a tax-paying, contributing citizen and in turn the immigrant promises to stay employed with a company or person who hires the worker."
Concerned about carbon credits
Carbon credits are another possible new revenue generator for agriculture, and corn growers have a stake in this developing area.
Corn grower delegates in the 2008 resolution session pointed out that the natural resource - the ground that is farmed—is one of the largest storage places for carbon storage. "We think about the crop we raise and the amount of carbon that is there, and the importance of being paid fairly for carbon credits," says Recker. "We're in a lot of new phases with agriculture today - corn and ethanol and now carbon is another potential asset for farmers."
He adds, "We have to be at the policy table to make sure the rules that will be written in Congress this coming year are fair. We must make sure we as corn growers provide input on how the carbon trading rules are written. For example, are we going to use carbon that is in the soil now, the value that the ground has today, or are we going to use the value it had 20 years ago? There are a lot of different areas to consider regarding carbon credits that we haven't talked about as policy for corn growers before. So this is another new issue for us."
The Commodity Classic is an annual opportunity for farmers to meet with other state leaders on issues that cross state lines and to maintain contact with leading agribusiness representatives. "We know about growing corn in Iowa and the policies that would be best for us," says Recker. "By going to meet with other groups we are able to voice our concerns and positions and build strength in numbers by working with groups from other states."
NCGA, which represents 33,000 members including 6,000 Iowa growers, lobbies in Washington D.C. on issues such as the 2008 farm bill and other matters.