BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Transportation, trade and ethanol were big topics at the Illinois Corn Growers Association’s annual meeting in Bloomington Nov. 22.
“There was good engagement and interaction with the speakers,” said Colin Watters, Illinois Corn’s director of exports and logistics at the event attended by about 75 corn producers.
Among key transportation and export issues affecting corn growers are the current U.S. railway union dispute which could end in a strike, low water level in the Mississippi and Mexico’s actions affecting GMO corn exports, he said.
“We are paying attention,” Watters said of developments in the rail dispute. “I am hopeful that the unions and rail companies will come to an agreement.”
If they can’t, he wouldn’t be surprised if Congress would intervene as a last resort to lessen the damage to the economy and avoid an extended strike. The earliest the strike would begin is Dec. 9.
He finds optimism that at least one of the rail unions that voted “no” did so by a very slim margin — less than 1%.
“In my mind that’s not a resounding defeat,” he said, but “there is work to be done.”
He also has hope for another big transportation issue.
“There is room for cautious optimism,” Watters said of the longer-term water level on the Mississippi River after listening to the presentation of Eric Snodgrass, the principal atmospheric scientist for Nutrien Ag Solutions.
While the short-term outlook for dryness in the Midwest continues, in the extended forecast more precipitation may shape up down the road, making transporting easier on the waterways, the climate scientist told corn growers.
Another issue which concerns Watters is Mexico’s plan to ban transgenic imports.
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“It is not based on science. This could be a violation of the new NAFTA, the United States-Mexico -Canada Agreement,” Watters said of Mexico’s banning genetically modified corn. “To me this is the No. 1 issue.”
Since Mexico is usually the No. 1 or No. 2 importer of U.S. corn, it is a big deal. What will happen is unclear, he said. While some Mexican officials reassure Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, others say the decision is firm.
If an outright ban follows it will be a big negative to U.S. agriculture, but also “catastrophic” to the Mexican economy, Watters said. If the goal is to reduce inflation, this would do the opposite, increasing the price of food for the poorest of the poor, he said.
It is also troubling that key ag trade positions remain open in the U.S. government, so there is a lack of negotiating from the U.S. side.
“Two top ag posts remain unfilled,” he said.
Doug McKalip has been nominated as the Chief Agricultural Negotiator and Alexis Taylor as the Undersecretary for Trade and U.S. Agricultural Affairs at the USDA. Both confirmations have been delayed by political maneuvering. Watters encourages producers to talk to their legislators to get action on approving these important national agricultural positions.
Farmers are looking for others to fill in the gaps of getting work done for them. For example, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos who didn’t run for re-election in November had been their champion of ethanol use and the Next Generation Fuels Acts, said Dave Loos, Illinois Corn director of research and business development.
With her retirement from Congress, the bill will need to be reintroduced by a leader and co-sponsors. While the bill has been introduced in the senate, it will need bipartisan support to go forward as well, Loos said.
The National Corn Growers Association is leading the way in supporting this legislation, which will help corn markets on several fronts, he said.
The need to boost markets is clear as fuel demand is likely to decline on several fronts with more fuel-efficient vehicles, the move towards electric vehicles and likely downturn in the economy, Loos said.
He is encouraged by the cooperation of different groups including American Farm Bureau and national commodity groups representing corn, sorghum, petroleum and oil interests working together to raise the fuel blend. The organizations and groups have different needs and priorities, but are working together to get the waiver to increase blends above E10.
Loos said he also has optimism for opportunities in the future including in aviation fuel and other uses.