Montana Grain Growers Prove a Formidable Force at National Convention

by Courtney Kibblewhite

by Courtney Kibblewhite, Northern Ag Network

NEW ORLEANS – The Montana Grain Growers leadership team introduced three, new resolutions at the National Association of Wheat Growers Convention.

Montana Grain Growers President Tryg Koch says, “It’s always great to get to attend these national conventions. We get to bring some greenhouse gas and cover crop policy in place. It’s just awesome to be able to work with fellow farmers from all across the country that grow wheat and we get to collaborate and make the best decisions for farmers.”

The three resolutions which the National Association of Wheat Growers adopted included:

  1. NAWG supports that in areas with average annual precipitation of 20 inches or less, no-till winter wheat and all fall seeded no-till crops that are harvested for grain, be considered as a conservation practice for cost share through NRCS. (MT)
  2. NAWG opposes expanding new National Heritage Areas. (MT)
  3. NAWG recognizes the release of Green House Gas, its negative impacts on agricultural production, and other environmental impacts from forest/wildfires and that forest management can reduce these impacts and risks. (MT)

While sustainable farming practices and national heritage areas have an impact in other parts of the country, Montana’s leaders hope to address their members needs directly by shaping national policy to support local efforts.

Montana Farmers are optimistic that 2022 will not resemble 2021’s historic drought. Looming large for producers however is also the current threat of a proposed National Heritage Area in Great Falls and environmental activists who demonize agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Immediate Past Grain Growers President Mitch Konen from Fairfield commented, “We keep hearing how much the farmer impacts green house gas emissions and we wanted to get something into national policy and the numbers related to the impact of forest and wildfires and make sure these are under consideration.”

Konen also recalled the resolution the team had previously put forth, that was brought into policy regarding soil testing and soil acidification.

Important to note, the National Association’s board of directors did pass a resolution to invite the North Dakota Wheat Growers back into the organization ahead of the next Farm Bill. North Dakota left the national association after 2019 saying the National Association was slow to respond to their concerns. Both organizations have communicated throughout the year, the North Dakota board will soon make a decision.

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Paul Penner, Past President, NAWG

My initial response;
1. The request for no-till wheat farmers to be paid for a conservation practice opens up the possibility for all crops engaged in no-till planting of crops to be entitled to the same remuneration. Are farmers willing to pay taxes supporting 150-200 million acres? Have wheat growers become addicted to increasing subsidy payments? What happened to relying on market signals and demand which has been the driver for a free market?

2. National Heritage programs are not the land grab schemes one hears on certain media outlets. FYI, one such heritage location encompasses a large section of Kansas east of Emporia, Kansas. I drive through the area each time while traveling I-35 to Kansas City.

3. Agriculture has long recognized the impact of greenhouse gases, not only on agriculture, but also on the global environment. Even so, on the positive side, CO2 also contributes to increased yields as it is an important nutrient for plants as they convert it into energy and release O2 into the atmosphere. A resolution attempting to point a finger to states which experience large wildfires in forested areas ignores the reality that midwestern farm states also experience large fires encompassing millions of acres of grasslands, several which occurred in Kansas recently. What should we say about that?

Finally, farmers are by nature conservative in business management and lobbying for conservation subsidies for a practice which is scientifically proven effective and a generally accepted practice nationwide suggests an abandonment of those conservative business practices. This is not a good message or image to project to our urban counterparts and urban legislators.

These resolutions bear the marks of a political position rather than something which reflects a desire for good, rational, bipartisan legislation which benefits not only agriculture, but also represents a common sense solution to ensure a prosperous, secure agriculture, plus works to protect food production from the threats to national security.

I not only suggest that the Montana Grain Growers and NAWG reconsider these resolutions and remove the political inferences which do not serve our strategic interests, but serves to divide rather than unite.

Mitch Konen, Past President, MGGA

Mr. Penner
Vague sentences of a topic lead to open ended interpretations. Let me shed a brighter light.
1.      Our intent with this resolution is to recognize that different cropping systems in different climate zones require fluid policy parameters in making interpretations of what a cover crop consideration is. The result of this resolution is to deal with the on-going discussions around regenerative agriculture or having a living root in the soil through cover crops. In low precipitation areas cover crops are hard to establish, and our cropping systems in the arid northwest allow us a living plant in the soil to mitigate wind and water erosion with a planted winter wheat crop over the winter season. We are looking for recognition of this planted winter wheat crop, or other fall seeded crop, as a cover crop under different circumstances of low moisture climates, which just so happens to be in our no-till systems approach. We as farmers are the ultimate conservationists and want a fair shake at all conservation programs within the ag industry.

2.       We recognize that National Heritage Areas may have some merit in what they are trying to accomplish in protecting our heritage. But what do we give up in private property rights to allow such areas? Building codes to cropping systems may be in jeopardy within these areas. But our main opposition revolves around the establishment of yet another non-governmental organization (NGO), as a non-profit, creating covenants in these areas without accountability to the restrictions that may be put on private property rights. All while having a direct link to the National Park Service for funding thru grant programs, while the NPS lacks the funding needed to maintain the existing National Parks system.

3.      Yet again, a simple sentence trying to describe the full intent of the resolution. No fingers are being pointed at any state, agency, or industry. We are asking that CO2 emissions be quantified and accounted for when it comes to forest fires, wildland fires, and other wildfires, resulting in policies to help mitigate the severity of such fires. Fires are a natural occurrence and have value, especially if controlled. We are trying to address the risks and severity of fires and what we can do to intelligently mitigate the loss of crops and other valuable resources.    

These resolutions were discussed and approved by the current NAWG board, first in committee, then by the board.

Paul Penner, Past President, NAWG

Mr. Konen,
Thank you for your response. I have great respect for the approval process as laid forth in the state and national bylaws of our wheat organizations. In that, we are in agreement.

My concerns center around today’s political climate which can easily distract current dialogue from its intended conversation. With regards to your point #3, I would encourage further refinement of the language with this in mind.

Item #2, I defer for further research. However, I am currently farming land which has a permanent conservation easement and it is less restrictive and less intrusive than one might think.

Your first point; I share concerns about recognition regarding positive contributions to the environment. In our region, cover crops easily become competitors to our main revenue producing crop, even competing as weeds in dry years, like 2022. We no-till wheat into first year wheat stubble, and derive benefits from it, but fall crops often leave soils too dry to sustain a cover crop, let alone preserve sufficient moisture for a spring crop. However, I am not in favor of requesting such recognition via a subsidy payment, however well reasoned. We should explore other options which achieve the same results.

Thank you for hearing me out on this.

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