Corn Congress: Paving a Policy Path

Each summer, South Dakota Corn board and staff members gather with leaders from other state associations in Washington, D.C. for Corn Congress, a series of action team and committee meetings, policy-setting sessions and visits with their respective state’s congressional delegation.

South Dakota Corn Growers Association President Doug Noem says this is an important event for the sharing of ideas, the development of policies and the election of leaders with a deep commitment to the nation’s corn farmers. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to put an end to this year’s Corn Congress, scheduled Wednesday, July 15, but it is going to force the event to be conducted online rather than in person, which is going to add some challenges.

“A lot of good ideas come in the hallways, in between sessions, or over dinners,” Noem says. “It will be a lot harder to do that this year.”

Despite the format change, Noem is confident this Corn Congress will be as successful as previous sessions, which have covered a wide variety of issues such as supply-side management, crop insurance support, government payments, ethanol policies and much more. He noted that participants pass resolutions and develop strategies for lobbyists to take with them to The Hill when they testify or fight on issues that affect agriculture. It’s also important to elect dedicated, strong leaders to the National Corn Growers Association board of directors.

Corn Congress participants also break into smaller action teams to focus on certain topics. Noem is chairman of the Risk Management and Transportation Action Team, which will discuss dams, waterways, roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs.

“We want to move legislation in a direction to help agriculture and rural areas, to get more funding for infrastructure,” he says.

Kevin Ross, the National Corn Growers Association president, said Corn Congress is one of the two biggest annual events involving the association.

“This gives us an opportunity to work on issues for corn farmers,” said Ross, who farms in Iowa. “There are some tip of the iceberg things; there are some big deals.”

In normal years, having a large group of farmers in the nation’s capital makes a big impression. Ross estimated that Corn Congress participants typically visit about 100 congressional offices, in all, and catch the ear of many elected officials. There are also meetings with officials from various agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although it’s not practical to have an in-person meeting in D.C. this year, organizers and participants plan to make the most out their “virtual” gathering and follow up afterward.

There are many key issues to be covered during this year’s Corn Congress. Here are a few of them.

Market expansion – The nation has a large surplus of corn. Our primary uses of corn are for ethanol production, livestock feed and exports. State and national corn associations are working hard to grow existing markets – increasing blender pumps, expanding E15 sales and growing the livestock industry – and find new uses for corn. There are success stories as well as future opportunities.

By partnering with Wayne Fueling Systems, the NCGA and SDCGA are supporting the installation of more than 50,000 new fuel pumps at stations across the U.S., building out the infrastructure needed to support future mid-level blends of ethanol.

NCGA, along with partners Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association, has begun engine testing at the University of California at Riverside to show the environmental benefits and compatibility of E15, an important step that could pave the way for E15 and higher blends of ethanol in California.

Grazing on prevented plant acres – The South Dakota Corn Growers Association has worked tirelessly on this issue, with the support of our congressional delegation and National Corn. The goal is for farmers who planted cover crops on prevented plant acres to be able to hay or graze that ground starting Sept. 1, instead of Nov. 1. We hope to learn by July 15 if that change is approved.

COVID assistance program – Congress is working on another relief package. We’re staying involved and pushing for assistance for the ethanol industry, which has been hammered during the coronavirus pandemic. We’re working closely with our congressional delegation and the NCGA.

Biotechnology – Research, development and acceptance of new biotechnology are vital to our industry. We’re working to educate domestic consumers and foreign customers about biotechnology and the safety of genetically engineered products.

Corn Congress may not sound like an exciting time, but it’s a vital step in the future of our industry.

 

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