Advocacy in the Face of COVID

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, National Sorghum Producers staff has worked day-in and day-out to adapt to new challenges and continuously improve efforts to represent producers.

Article By Tim Lust

As the novel coronavirus made its rampant run around the world and countries began to shut down in late March, American agriculture drove on as farmers con­tinued to wake up early every day going out into their fields to produce the crops that feed families across the globe.

From National Sorghum Producers’ standpoint, it has been a very different year. In some ways, it has been slow with no travel, and in other ways, it has been one of the bus­iest legislative and regulatory years of my 25-year career.

Farm Stimulus

As profitability in agriculture continues its decline, and unpredictable weather challenges raise their ugly head once again, we draw our focus to the next round of agricultural support. We believe this support will come with the fourth COVID stimulus package, which we expect to be completed around the time you get this magazine. This package follows CFAP, PPP and EIDL, and it does not even include WHIP+—approved as a part of a year-end package in 2019 but yet to be implemented in many parts of the Sorghum Belt.

WHIP+ pays growers who have had losses either from a quality loss standpoint, like what would happen with a hur­ricane or an early freeze, or drought—D3 or worse. There have been many policy issues in the implementation of this program, and the rules related to crop loss differ for 2018 and 2019, which has led to confusion for farmers and FSA staff alike. Learn more about WHIP+ on page 12.

Speaking of programs that change, the Payroll Protec­tion Program has been used by many of our members based upon our surveys. Even though the PPP rules have changed three times in the last three months, unfortunately, the pro­gram still will not work for all our members.

Likewise, agricultural producers were not eligible for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program when it was first released, but after yet another policy change, farmers and ranchers became eligible. NSP has truly had a busy and hectic spring working with multiple agencies in several areas our legislative team has not often worked in the past.

Trade Update

From a trade standpoint, we have had a positive year. China is coming back as a very strong buyer of U.S. sor­ghum. Vietnam has finally approved importation of U.S. sorghum after several years of hard work and a great team effort from multiple groups at the state and national levels.

We are also in the beginning stages of working on the approval process the for next large market opportunity for U.S. sorghum—India. Most years, India is the second largest producer of sorghum in the world, but it is all consumed in country. While this opens the door to a path for U.S. sor­ghum into the country, it does not diminish the challenges we have faced in the past 20 years trying to gain access to the Indian market. We must have a realistic view of how we overcome phytosanitary issues and gain import approvals to access this market. If we do, the possibilities bode well for long-term sorghum demand.

Policy and Implementation

Farm Bill implementation continues to plod along at what seems like a slow pace, but given all that USDA has on their plate, it is actually going well. We have been through a couple of rounds of Title 1 sign-up, one round of conserva­tion sign-up, and we expect more soon.

Biofuels policy continues to be a high-stakes battle between agriculture and oil. It started out rough four years ago, and it has not slowed down. While our industry has won some battles, we have also lost several, and the current battle over Small Refinery Exemptions shows the challenges that still exist for ethanol. Many ethanol plants face selling out or shutting down if this battle continues.

A number of sustainability and environmental pieces of legislation continue to be rolled out in 2020. While it is not likely many will become law this year, these marker bills are an important indication of the direction legis­lation could take in 2021. NSP has worked for over six months to make sure we are seated at the table as this legislation is being put together. It is critical the sorghum industry understands this new area of agricultural policy, and we are doing all we can to make sure sorghum fits into any future bills that could become law.

Historically, in a non-COVID year, a transportation and infrastructure bill would be one of the largest, most expensive pieces of legislation to ever go across the floor in Congress—that large bill this year was the CARES Act. As the transportation and infrastruc­ture bill approaches Congress, NSP is pushing for critical infrastructure for the sorghum industry, including upgraded infrastructure at our ports and additional container loading facil­ities in the Sorghum Belt.

Finally, the routine legislative items continue in agricultural policy with the federal Grain Standards Act currently being reauthorized.

Regulatory Update

From a regulatory standpoint, NSP continues to work with USDA’s Risk Management Agency on crop insurance fixes for sorghum. In the last farm bill, NSP pushed to get language for RMA to study the irrigated sorghum industry, and we are working with them now on several different options to fix that policy going forward. We know we now have an irrigated sorghum silage program that works and are moving forward on an irrigated grain policy, allowing more protection at significantly lower costs.

Additionally, herbicide and pesticide reregistrations continue. Atrazine is at a critical point in the process this fall, and a lot of work has happened over the last three years to make sure there are not significant changes made to reregistra­tion that could make the product unus­able for sorghum growers. NSP joined in the amicus brief for dicamba this sum­mer with soybeans, cotton, corn, wheat and farm bureau as we strive to ensure pesticide approvals stay at EPA and away from the courts.

As you can see, coronavirus has not slowed advo­cacy for NSP, and there is still a lot going on that impacts sorghum producers in 2020. The key to success in a year like this is on-going relationships with staff and members on Capitol Hill. This can be complex over the phone and on Zoom, but doing our homework year in and year out to allow ourselves to work through items has proved critical to our success during these challenging times. NSP direc­tors and staff are honored to serve the industry, and we will continue to do all we can to improve member profitability.


This story originally appeared in the Summer 2020 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine in the Capitol Hill department.