SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA, U.S. — The past few months have made tremendous demands on members, officers and staff of the National Grain and Feed Association, who have taken leading roles in establishing partnerships, some unconventional, to address pressing tax, trade and other issues facing the grain trade, growers and the food industry as a whole, said John Heck, outgoing NGFA chairman and senior vice-president, The Scoular Co., Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. The NGFA proved up to the task by demonstrating “strength and success through collaboration,” Heck asserted in his address to members of the NGFA at their annual meeting in Scottsdale on March 20.

The most pressing immediate challenge was forwarding “a stakeholder-led” solution to resolve the Section 199A tax issue. The tax bill passed by Congress in December provided an unintended tax incentive for agricultural producers to sell their crops to agricultural cooperatives in preference to private grain companies. The NGFA, which counts as members both producer cooperatives and private grain companies, spearheaded, alongside the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, the effort to restore the balance upended by Section 199A.   

The NGFA drew on the talents of eight tax experts — four from cooperatives and four from private companies — in the effort to craft a solution.

John Heck
John Heck, outgoing NGFA chairman and senior vice-president

“These tax experts spent countless hours to work with NGFA staff to analyze in excruciating detail the real-world market impact of various concepts and proposals,” Heck said. “That hard work was instrumental in arriving at a solution.”

The tax experts and NGFA staff became the “go to” resource for the tax-writing committees of Congress because of their integrity and balance, Heck said. The NGFA played the role of “honest broker” in “representing the business interests of both our cooperative and private/independent company members in tackling what at times appeared to be an insurmountable challenge. It was a telling comment regarding the leadership role that the NGFA on this when the American Farm Bureau wrote to our staff: ‘Well played.’”

Heck said the NGFA was hopeful the legislative fix to the Section 199A issue would be included in the omnibus spending bill that was being considered by Congress and that must be passed in order to prevent another government shutdown.

Heck pointed to the NGFA’s working with both traditional and new allies in continuing efforts to bring about reforms to the Conservation Reserve Program, and specifically to adopt legislation as part of the farm bill that would keep landowners and producers from enrolling productive farmland that can be cropped in an environmentally sensitive way.

“To achieve introduction of a bipartisan CRP reform bill in the Senate, NGFA partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in working with steadfast allies, Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, but also two new partners, Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, both of whom have significant interest in focusing the CRP on environmental benefits, like preserving water quality,” Heck said.

“And in the House, we’re actually working with the CRP’s foremost champion, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson of Minnesota, to enact market-driven incentives to keep productive, non-environmentally sensitive farmland from being enrolled,” Heck added. “These ideas include a cap on C.R.P. rental rates that would provide a strong disincentive for enrolling productive acreage.”

Heck asserted, “CRP reforms remain essential if U.S. agriculture is to remain competitive and if the next generation of American farmers and ranchers find a welcome mat, not an insurmountable barrier, when trying to access land to get into the production agriculture business.”

Heck pointed to the strong collaborative efforts of the NGFA and the North American Export Grain Association in urging the Trump administration to stay at the negotiating table to complete a modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement and initiate new trade talks with countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“NAEGA and NGFA, along with the North American Meat Institute, have led a consortium of more than 300 national food and agricultural trade associations and companies called the U.S. Food and Agriculture Dialogue to interact continually with the White House, Congress and foreign embassies to tout the benefits of agricultural trade and to keep it front and center in the national dialogue,” Heck said. “NAEGA and NGFA and like-minded food and agriculture organizations are well positioned to be proactive in urging adoption of policies that facilitate trade, and in reacting quickly and effectively to meet trade challenges that no doubt will continue to arise.”

Turning to issues regarding biotechnology and plant breeding innovation techniques, Heck said, “We continue to struggle with our partners in the seed and technology business on achieving what is our mutual objective of achieving a more science- and risk-based regulatory environment for plant biotechnology — including the new forms of gene-editing that are on the near-term horizon. Our challenge is to work together to bring about international alignment on appropriate policies for ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of commodities produced through these new plant breeding innovation techniques.

“But at the same time, our industry needs to achieve an appropriate level of transparency regarding the use of these new technologies in food crops and appropriate commercialization practices by technology providers to avoid disrupting domestic or international markets, or an undermining of consumer confidence.”

While discussions often have been difficult, the NGFA and NAEGA will continue to collaborate through the International Grain Trade Coalition with partners around the globe to engage the International Seed Federation to address these twin challenges, Heck said.

Heck also commented on the establishment last September of a two-year alliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“The initial fruits of that collaboration have been extremely positive, with the development of additional safety education and training materials and the building of a better understanding within OSHA of our industry’s commitment to protect the health and safety of those who work in our facilities,” he said.

Heck said planning was underway for a NGFA/OSHA “Stand-Up Engulfment Prevention Week,” which will be April 9-13, “during which we will partner to raise the awareness of our industry and our farmer-customers about avoiding hazards associated with entering grain bins.”