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Ag leaders discuss market, environmental concerns

U S Capital NAAJ Trip

Speakers at the annual meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists addressed the issues of WOTUS and Ukraine.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There are a lot of issues facing agriculture this spring, but two that generate plenty of discussion are WOTUS and Ukraine.

Several speakers at last week’s annual meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists here addressed the twin issues of WOTUS and Ukraine.

“Even prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine we had high (commodity and input) prices,” said Joe Glauber, former head economist at USDA who now works with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Prior to the war it appeared those prices would likely settle down and moderate by the end of 2022, Glauber said. The war changed that outlook.

It isn’t difficult to see why that is the case. About 30% of the world’s wheat exports come from the Black Sea region, he said. About 75% of the sunflower oil comes from either Russia or Ukraine. Now there are questions about movement of whatever is left of last year’s crop and about whether this year’s crop will get planted and whether the port facilities to ship that crop will be destroyed.

“Those are huge question marks,” Glauber said.

On the wheat front, there is little evidence the United States is moving to plant more wheat. And it could be 2023 or 2024 before prices really settle down.

There are also questions in regards to inputs such as potash, according to David Laborde, also from the International Food Policy Research Institute. While the United States gets most of its potash from Canada, about 40% of the world supply comes from Russia and Belarus, so prices are going up everywhere.

And the problems related to hunger could be increased dramatically in some parts of the world that depend on grain from the Black Sea. That would include some nations in the Middle East.

Then there is WOTUS, or the Waters of the United States, that refers to several different versions of a rule that would govern environmental issues around land usage regarding water.

For years the government tried to determine the best way to deal with the Clean Water Act as it pertained to agriculture. In 2015 the Obama administration issued a WOTUS rule that was roundly criticized by many agricultural organizations. The Trump administration withdrew that rule and issued its own. Last year the Biden administration threw out the Trump rule and offered its own compromise proposal.

Since then there has been a public comment period and the administration is working to come up with a final rule.

Certainty and clarity are what is needed in WOTUS, according to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Rod Snyder, the agricultural advisor at the Environmental Protection Agency, said 10 roundtable discussions are planned for May and June and many of those are being hosted by agricultural organizations. The EPA is reviewing about 120,000 public comments. And he said the goal is to finish with a rule that “stands the test of time” and isn’t changed or altered by each administration.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.

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