LA QUINTA, CALIFORNIA, US — Transportation, labor and policy implementation during a climate of economic uncertainty were key topics Michael Seyfert, president and chief executive officer for the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), touched on in a March 22 conversation with Milling & Baking News, a sister publication of World Grain, during NGFA’s 127th annual convention in La Quinta, California, US.
Seyfert said transportation hurdles had improved from last year, but challenges continued to exist especially with infrastructure maintenance across inland waterways, ongoing logistic snarls with railroad and trucking systems, and a persistent lack of labor across all transportation sectors as well as industry-wide.
“I don’t get a sense from members, no matter if their businesses are large or small, that their labor challenges are ending any time soon,” Seyfert said, adding that fixing the labor issue would require a much broader approach than just offering training opportunities since a large number of agricultural operations are located in rural areas where labor pools are limited. “In some cases, it’s a situation of training and skillset, but in other areas there are just not enough workers to fill the jobs that are available.”
From a federal policy perspective, there were several issues NGFA members were monitoring, Seyfert said, and top of mind were congressional activities surrounding the forthcoming passage of the farm bill, which is scheduled to be updated later this year. Seyfert said members were especially interested in the conservation programs featured in the bill.
“We’re certainly going to be focused on the working lands programs for conservation since our members are strongly supportive of conservation benefits,” Seyfert said, adding “healthy lands for producers are going to lead to better crops and more production, which will mean commodities for our members to market and sell and process as well.”
Upholding these kinds of programs was a matter of food security, he said.
“I think a key thing we’ve learned over the last two to three years between the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that we can have domestic and global food security issues, and we need to keep our farmland in production,” he said.
Other federal actions of particular interest to NGFA members included transportation policies, especially actions being conducted by the Surface Transportation Board, as well as new regulations regarding heat-induced illnesses from the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But a major issue being closely watched was the proposed ban from Mexico on biotech corn imports, which may lead to a $3.56 billion loss for the US corn industry in the first year with increasing losses in subsequent years, if the ban is realized, according to a recently released study by World Perspectives, Inc.
“The Mexican government has made some modifications to the proposed ban, but when we talk to our membership, particularly those doing processing down there, they feel like it has not taken the risk away from them, so that’s why we’re continuing to engage on it,” Seyfert said. “Our members are highly supportive of a free markets system that is grounded in science-based principles, and the decree from Mexico, from our members’ perspectives, feels like something that is not supportive of free markets and is not based on sound science principles.”
Sustainability is another area of interest for many NGFA members. During the convention, Seyfert moderated a panel discussion with industry leaders on various environmental and social initiatives being implemented across their organizational networks, but he said the association’s goal behind such discussions was to provide information rather than official solutions, saying NGFA’s membership was too vast and diverse to offer a one-size-fits-all policy.
“We don’t view our role as telling our members what they need to be doing, but we do want to hold panels and discussions to give them as much information as we can so they can understand what the issues are and how to handle them so they can decide how to engage or not engage based on what they think is best for their businesses,” Seyfert said.
Despite the troubling economic climate and the recent turmoil playing out in the banking sector, Seyfert said business for NGFA members showed signs of optimism, but there remained an element of caution.“As a whole, last year was a pretty good year for the majority of our members,” he said. “But our members are definitely aware that the current challenges around labor as well as increasing interest rates and investment costs could potentially create some concerns down the road, so we’re monitoring those issues really closely.”