Successful Conference

 Michael Scuse, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services,
 a farmer himself, spoke to the crowd and promoted the TPP. Scuse is sincere
 in the nation’s efforts to promote American products throughout the world.

 Photo by John LaRose, Jr.

MidAmerica Farmer Grower

   “The rules of the road are up for grabs in Asia, the world’s fastest growing region. If we don’t pass this TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) agreement and write those rules, other countries like China will step in and set weaker rules, threatening American jobs and workers and undermining U.S. leadership in Asia.”
   Michael Scuse, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, USDA, did not mince words when he promoted the TPP to a rousing crowd of over 740 farmers, researchers and agri-business providers at the 19th Annual National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference (NCSCRC) recently. As a farmer himself (he and his brother produce corn, soybeans and wheat on a 1,500 acre family farm in Delaware), Scuse is sincere in the nation’s efforts to promote American products throughout the world. In his position with the USDA,  he oversees the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency as well as foreign trade, export promotion and food security programs administered by the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS).
   “Every day, USDA is out there working on our behalf to expand markets for American goods abroad, to break down barriers to trade, and to assist U.S. farmers and agribusinesses with the resources they need to reach consumers around the world,” he said.
   The nation just concluded a very successful year for agricultural exports, ending the 2015 fiscal year with ag product exports totaling $139.7 billion, the third largest value recorded.
   “Exports accounted for more than 20 percent of income for U.S. agriculture in 2014,” Scuse related. “These exports generate rural economic activity as each dollar of agricultural exports stimulates another $1.22 in business activity.”
   Those exports support almost $1 million worth of high-quality American jobs, not just at the farm level, but in related efforts that include food processing and transportation.
   “We are here at the heart of cotton and rice country, so it’s worth noting that nearly 80 percent of U.S. cotton is exported, as is roughly half of all U.S. rice and soybeans, and more than 20 percent of U.S. pork and poultry,” he said. “Increased exports mean better prices and more outlets for the commodities you produce.”
   USDA boosts exports through its Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, which join forces with industry groups like Cotton Council International, the U.S. Rice Producers Association, and American Soybean Association to open markets for U.S. products worldwide.
   “This is a true team effort between USDA and the private sector,” he explained. “We focus on negotiating trade agreements, establishing transparent and science-based international trading standards and eliminating trade barriers, working multilaterally through the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as individual countries.
   Scuse said that 80 percent of U.S. cotton is exported, resulting in an average of $5 billion a year. With that level of exports, cotton farmers are even more dependent on a stable trade environment than producers of many other crops.
   “An effective trade system is needed to maintain low import duties, protect contract rights, limit distorting government policies, and assure transparent import requirements which help keep markets open for U.S. cotton,” he said.
   Because of trade agreements, one-fifth of U.S. exports go to countries where free trade agreements ensure that cotton remains duty free. Through these agreements, another five percent of U.S. cotton exports receive preferential access to these markets compared to U.S. competitors like India and Brazil.
   “More than half of the U.S. rice crop is shipped to foreign markets,” he added. “Over the last four years, the volume of U.S. rice exports has increased 15 percent (from 3.6 to 4.1 million metric tons), leading to significant gains for U.S. farmers.”
   Free trade agreements provide an opportunity for U.S. rice exports to grow. Colombia is a great example of this.
   “In 2012, we shipped only $3.5 million worth of U.S. rice to Colombia,” Scuse explained. “Then the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement took effect and the results have been remarkable. Colombia has risen to become our fifth-largest rice market, and this past year our exports surged to more than $140 million. Think about that: Rice exports to Colombia grew form $3.5 million to $140 million in just three years!”
   There are other specific examples of the way free trade agreements have benefitted U.S. agriculture, however Scuse wanted to focus specifically on one that is pending, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which now awaits congressional action.
   “Passage of the TPP remains a top priority for this Administration and for the Department of Agriculture,” he said. “The TPP will promote economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region, expanding demand for U.S. food and agricultural products among nearly 500 million consumers in TPP partner countries.”
    The TPP strengthens trade rules and provides specific new market access commitments for U.S. agricultural exports to countries like Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Brunei. This will generate economic efficiencies, boost disposable income and expand demand for U.S. agriculture products, which will result in higher prices for U.S. agricultural products.
   “As in other cases, increased U.S. agricultural exports will boost farm income and increase farm and related employment,” Scuse added. “Higher farm incomes lead to more economic activity in rural areas, and that translates into more business on Main Street as well as on the farm. The TPP is commercially positive, across the board. We will see lower tariffs for all our exports. All U.S. agriculture sectors are better off with TPP than without it.”
   Along with lower tariffs, TPP also breaks new ground by strengthening rules on sanitary and phytosanitary issues, setting a precedent for ways to address issues like geographical indicators and biotechnology.
   If we don’t implement this agreement, U.S. ag producers will be penalized,” he said. “Our exports are already discriminated against in the region as other countries already have preferential trade agreements. One example is Australia, which has access to Japan, while we don’t.”
   Other countries want to join TPP, including Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, and South Korea.
   “However, first we have to implement the agreement or we will just fall further behind as these countries move forward with others,” Scuse said. “Getting TPP into place is critical for us to leverage our other trade negotiations. A successful TPP, with U.S. agriculture as a key beneficiary, will send a strong signal to the European Union (EU), where we are negotiating another comprehensive trade agreement called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP. A successful TPP will let the EU know that the T-TIP must deliver a good deal on agriculture.
   “TPP has much to offer for our economy as a whole, not to mention the security and international relations aspects it provides,” Scuse summed.
   One registration for the NCSCRC, provided attendees access as well to the Southern Corn and Soybean Conference, the Southern Precision Ag Conference, and the Delta States Irrigation Conference. There were 127 speakers, including 69 researchers, 42 farmers and 10 crop consultants from 10 states who made presentations on various topics concerning the agricultural industry at the two-day conference.
   Four speakers at the opening general session each had a special message for attendees.
   John Lindamood, communications manager for the Tennessee Cotton Board in Memphis, and a National Cotton Council member, noted that while NCSCRC just completed its 19th annual conference, Cotton Incorporated just celebrated its 50th year.
“In the past 50 years, Cotton Incorporated has had a significant impact on our industry,” he said. “Today we have better than 60 percent of the marketplace.”
   He recounted the accomplishments of Cotton Incorporated over the past 50 years, More recently the group has promoted cotton by its ads focusing on “The Fabric Of Our Lives,” which can be found online at
   Cotton Inc, also continues to find innovative ways to help producers through online educational tools for the cotton producer available at
   Lindamood also touted the benefits of following best management practices in producing cotton.
“We know we are the very definition of sustainable agriculture,” he said. “This (conference) is one of the best opportunities you have this year to add new tools to your toolbox.”
   Speaking next was Dwight Roberts, president and CEO of US Rice Producers Association (USRPA),
“Every year my office conducts the largest rice conference in the world at different locations each year,” he said. “This has become such a major event and at the next conference in Houston a representative from Thailand will be there to speak.
   “Whether we want to or not, we have to know what’s going on in Asia as this affects our rice industry here. What they are doing in the marketplace is so important. So we’re very excited about this conference in Houston.
   “Presently we’re working on a protocol to ship rice to China. The Chinese like U.S. rice. When asked in a survey, 90 percent of the people there said  ‘Absolutely,’ they would buy U.S. rice if rice is on the shelf because they are concerned about the safety issues inside their companies.”
   Roberts also reported on the port facility in the Port of St. Charles that made its first shipment of rice last October, with 41 farmers participating.
   “The price of commodities at the farm may be simple, but the logistics of getting the commodity to market can be difficult. The port and the rail facility give farmers other shipping options,” he said.
   David Nichols, director of United Soybean Board and a Tennessee farmer himself, along with his wife and two sons, spoke on the benefits provided by the checkoff, half of which goes to the state board for research and the other half goes to the national board.
   “I realize the importance and benefit of increasing demand for our soybeans,” he said. “The United Soybean Board is involved in research and promotion of our U.S. soybeans. We work very closely with USDA.
   “Since the beginning in 1991, the checkoff has been committed to improving the way soybeans are raised and promoted. Our mission is to maximize our efforts through the U.S. Soybean Boards’ program “Beyond the Bushel,” focused on creating more value to meet our customers’ demands.”
   He also mentioned the high oleic soybean varieties that the industry also promotes to retake some of the market that is slowly being lost.
   The U.S. soybean industry continues to grow. U.S. farmers harvested 3.93 billion bushel in 2015.
   One campaign that has proven successful is “Take Action.” The effort is to get farmers to take action to curb herbicide resistance and prevent the spread of weeds from field to field.
   Another effort is the U.S. Soybean Assurance Protocol, which outlines the industry’s expectation in several areas.
   “We know that 95 percent of U.S. soybeans are produced sustainably,” he said. “We are already using BMPs to preserve our commitment to our land and resources.”
   Final speaker was Dr. Chris Henry, assistant professor and water management engineer for the University of Arkansas, representing the Irrigation Water Management Consortium.
   He pointed to research showing large declines in aquifers in coming years that will affect everyone.
   “The reason is, we are increasing our irrigation acres. In fact, of the top four irrigation states, Arkansas has the largest irrigation acres.”
   Research shows that only 20 percent of water usage can come from the ground by 2050. He posed the question: “If farmers don’t irrigate any soybeans in Arkansas, what would the land look like? Our only option is to restrict about half of our pumping.”
   Henry also discussed some efforts that are maximizing irrigation efficiency to address the problem, some of which were presented by speakers at the conference. Among them were the use of Pipe Planer, soil moisture sensors, computerized hole selection and center pivots.
   “Even how you operate your pump can result in irrigation savings,” he said.
   He said an irrigation survey will be conducted over the next three months to further study the situation.
   “We want to see where we started and where we are going,” he said, then concluded with these words of wisdom:
   “It’s not the quantity of water applied to a crop, it’s the quality of intelligence applying it that gives us the result.” ∆
   BETTY VALLE GEGG-NAEGER: Senior Staff Writer, MidAmerica Farmer Grower

 Over 740 farmers, researchers and agri-business providers attended
 the 19th Annual National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference
 (NCSCRC) recently.  

 Photo by John LaRose, Jr.

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