Western Producer reporter Sean Pratt is in San Antonio, Texas attending the Bayer AgVocacy Forum and the 2017 Commodity Classic. He is filing a blog touching on some of the daily highlights from those two events. Look for full stories about some of those topics in upcoming issues of The Western Producer.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Day 2 of the Bayer AgVocacy Forum kicked off with a panel of farmers describing how the slumping U.S. farm economy is affecting their operations.
“Times are incredibly difficult, tougher than we’ve ever encountered,” said Deb Gangwish, co-owner of PG Farms Inc. and The Diamond G, two diversified farms in central Nebraska.
She said there have been a number of years with no return on investment for the farm. This year they will spend $3 million on crop inputs and another $1 million on irrigation in what looks to be another year of low commodity prices.
“This ag economy is killing us,” said Gangwish.
Jay Hill, a young vegetable grower from southern New Mexico, said that when he was getting into farming he pictured himself driving a 4455 John Deere tractor or baling hay at night.
“I didn’t see staying up until three o’clock in the morning with the accountant praying to God that your last contract comes in right before the bank forecloses,” he said.
“I didn’t think I would be 32 years old and almost $10 million in debt right off the bat.”
Both farmers feel they will weather the downturn by diversifying their operations and waiting for commodity prices to improve.
Later in the morning there was a panel discussing changes in regulations governing the agriculture sector.
John Goldberg, founder of Science Based Strategies and former science advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Agriculture, said it is refreshing to hear U.S. President Donald Trump talk about reducing red tape and regulations.
But he was highly skeptical that will happen because untangling bureaucracy is far more difficult than a click of a pen.
“Good luck,” he said.
“I’m trying to moderate expectations.”
Wayne Parrott, a professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in the development, use and safety of genetically modified crops, said it is time to revamp the outdated regulations governing biotech crops.
He would like to see a regulatory system based on assessing the safety of the end product rather than the process that created it.
Parrott said with regulations you either have to be at the table or on the menu. Groups opposed to GM crops are terrific at being at the table but farm groups and academia are far too timid and that has to change.
“I think there is some tremendous potential in these new regulations,” he said.
One of the last presentations of the day was on the new federal GM labeling law.
One of the ways food companies can comply with the law is by using smart labels. Consumers can use their phones to scan labels and get a plethora of information about food items on the store shelf.
The technology was introduced in December 2015 and there are already 5,100 products from 26 companies on store shelves across the U.S. using the technology.
Roger Lowe, vice-president of communications with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, estimates there will be 34,000 products with smart labels by the end of the year.
Some companies are providing loads of information on the smart label. For instance, Unilever’s mayonnaise label tells customers what states and provinces the soybeans were sourced from.
Kelly Johnston, vice-president of government affairs with Campbell Soup Co., said the company made the controversial decision to provide GM labeling on all of its products well before the federal legislation was in existence.
He said there is no way to tell for sure but he does not think the labels have negatively affected sales.
Johnston said consumers trust the U.S. Food and Drug Administration above all others and the industry hopes to work with the FDA to develop labels saying food containing GM ingredients is safe to eat.
The new federal labeling law is expected to be implemented in July, 2018.