NEW ORLEANS (DTN) -- Nobody in Washington, D.C., understands agriculture.
That's a frequent bone of contention among farmers when they come into Washington, noted Jon Doggett, executive vice president for public policy at the National Corn Growers Association. His solution is to start building a list of qualified people from farm backgrounds to fill positions at USDA, EPA or other agencies and congressional offices right after the November elections.
In an opening NCGA meeting at Commodity Classic in New Orleans on Wednesday, Doggett told farmers they need to have a good list of potential political appointees to hand over to the next presidential transition team, regardless of which party wins in November. Such a proactive measure may be critical for helping better protect the Renewable Fuels Standard, dealing with trade, or managing environmental regulations in the coming years.
"We can't come back to a room like this in two years saying 'Nobody in this administration understands agriculture,'" Doggett told corn growers. "If that happens, it will be our fault, not theirs."
While farmers themselves might not be in a position or have the desire to take a job in Washington, they may have friends of family who may fit the bill. New administrations also will appoint people to work at the state level as well in agencies such the Farm Service Agency.
Doggett highlighted some key issues facing agriculture right now in Washington, particularly areas involving corn demand. NCGA's policy and strategic plan centers on increasing demand while improving both productivity and environmental sustainability. Top issues on the demand side continue to be protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard and boosting trade.
"We have to defend the RFS," Doggett said. "Our opponents aren't looking to negotiate on this."
The petroleum industry is spending millions right now to push Congress for legislation to repeal the RFS with no signs of letting up. The oil lobby is looking at every avenue to raise doubts about the RFS as petroleum companies seek to claw back market share lost to ethanol in the last decade.
"We have to hang on to the RFS," Doggett said.
That then comes around to the issue of knowing who friends of the RFS are in Washington. Doggett pointed out 16 members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote letters to EPA championing the need to raise the RFS even though most of those lawmakers may not have an ethanol plant in their districts. On the side of questioning friends, Doggett noted 17 members of the House Agriculture Committee signed on to a letter last year when 184 members of Congress wrote EPA calling on the administration to lower RFS volumes.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another critical issue for demand, though the trade deal isn't expected to be a significant boost for corn exports. Doggett said TPP is more an issue of what happens if the trade pact doesn't pass than what corn farmers may get if it passes. Without the 12-nation Pacific deal clearing Congress, the U.S. may never be able to complete a similar trade pact with the European Union -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
"If we don't get TPP done, we can't get to TTIP," Doggett said. He added, "We're seeing in this election a lot of push back on trade and we can't do that. We have a lot of opportunities in this space."
NCGA will have a booth at the Commodity Classic asking farmers to write letters to their congressmen to back the trade deal. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's speech on Friday also is expected to center on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Everyone in agriculture right now has their eyes on the biotech labeling bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this week. The bill would block states from setting up their own labels for foods with ingredients from genetically modified crops. Doggett said getting the bill passed on the Senate floor could swing with a few key Democratic senators, including Ag Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Doggett said he expects all three are being aggressively lobbied by groups that are demanding mandatory biotech labels.
"We're going to have to give them (the senators) a lot of support to do the right thing on the floor," Doggett said.
Doggett added that the political winds in Washington are all about the presidential election and increased partisanship in the coming months. Additionally, the fight over the open Supreme Court seat could "take all the oxygen out of Washington."
Classic officially kicked off Wednesday and runs through Saturday. The event, which is expected to draw more than 6,000 people, includes commodity organizations for corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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