The trade show at this year’s Commodity Classic was once again packed.
Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
By just about every measure Commodity Classic grew by leaps and bounds in 2014. Held in San Antonio, Texas, the national annual farm gathering for corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers drew 7,322 attendees — more than a thousand above last year’s total.
Organizers attribute much of the growth to a changing demographic that included 1,151 first-time attendees (a record) — many of them young farmers. Other records include 160 media representatives covering the convention and 301 companies exhibiting at the trade show.
A straw poll of National Corn Growers Association delegates to set priorities for the coming year ranked the top five issues: the No. 1 issue was ethanol promotion, followed by environmental regulations, implementation of the farm bill, communication/education of consumers and improving and repairing infrastructure for transportation, including rail, roads, bridges and locks and dams used in river transit.
The Minnesota delegation submitted a resolution to support the development of rail, trucking, pipeline and storage infrastructure related to the transportation and storage of liquid petroleum and natural gas. The resolution was adopted by Corn Congress.
“This year, we’ve had a perfect storm of a good corn crop, followed by a very cold winter and a dramatic increase in exports. All of these things in combination created a crisis in the LP gas supply,” said Northfield farmer Bruce Peterson, who serves as Vice President for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Peterson attended Commodity Classic and took part as a delegate in the Corn Congress. “We hope that by improving the infrastructure we can avert a recurrence of the crisis.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave the opening keynote address at the event. He touched on many topics, among them looking at ways to support the ethanol market, including conducting a trade mission to China and India to boost sales of American-produced ethanol. He also spoke about the timeline for implementation of the farm bill.
“Vilsack mentioned one thing they want to emphasize to India and China are the environmental benefits, the improved air quality you get from using biofuels,” Peterson said.
New technology and equipment
Jerry Demmer, a farmer in Clarks Grove and chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, found the trade show packed with useful exhibits and the whole Commodity Classic experience provided great networking opportunities.
One issue of growing interest among farmers is the use and ownership of the data generated by precision-ag computer and GPS-geared farm equipment. Demmer visited with Texas-based Cooperative Services, which is developing means for farmers to have a better control over the flow of their data and who sees it.
Currently, many farmers may be transmitting their planting and yield data over “cloud” services, which make it easy for the farmer to access the data and sync machinery with that data, but it also gives corporate owners of the “cloud” servers access to that data.
“We want to be able to use data to improve our yields, but we also want to make sure that no one is misusing our data,” Demmer said.
Peterson reported that John Deere’s new high-speed planting technology has captured a lot of interest.
“They were showing a new planter unit that’s designed to plant at ten miles an hour (more than twice typical planter speeds),” Peterson said. “They just announced it last month in Kentucky and this is the second major farm show they’ve shown this at. It’s more heavily built, so when you run into rocks at that higher speed, the equipment can withstand that extra force. It has more of a bowl than a seed disk, that allows higher speeds, and the typical 18-inch seed tube found in most planters has been replaced by a rotating brush. They claim it is supposed to work with just about any seed coating.”
Corn Congress deliberated on a number of issues to set policy direction for National Corn Growers Association in the coming year.
A resolution passed relating to an issue of intense interest — food labeling. The resolution reads: “We support a national, voluntary food labeling program that is science-based and has preemption of state labeling laws.”
Another resolution supports the establishment of U.S. Grains Council’s direct involvement in the promotion of ethanol exports.
“The U.S. Grains Council has traditionally been involved almost exclusively in promoting the export of grains and feed products, and then they added distillers grains, but now we are taking a look at the export of ethanol, and that dovetails nicely with what the ag secretary mentioned,” Peterson said.
Demmer serves on the National Corn Growers Ethanol Committee, and reports that the discussions centered on how to facilitate the export of ethanol in case U.S. demand drops below what producers are making. Assuring adequate export infrastructure is a key issue.
Committee discussions also noted the likelihood that flex fuel vehicle production will continue to drop and may discontinue altogether by 2018 or 2019 unless CAFE standards are revised to include incentives for FFV production again.
“Where will we be able to sell E30 or E85? It’s a real concern. The answer is that government will have to address this,” Demmer said.