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January 31, 2012 | By Jackie Roembke

NGFA’s Country Elevator Conference 2012

Annual event's speaker address issues surrounding "Taming the Headwinds" theme

Known as the windy city, Chicago proved the perfect host for the National Grain and Feed Association’s (NGFA) 40th Annual Country Elevator Conference. The event’s theme, “Taming the Headwinds in 2012,” was thoroughly addressed by the program’s line up of accomplished, knowledgeable speakers, each exploring the issues critical to the grain and feed industries.

The conference, held Dec. 11-13, 2011, kicked off with the keynote address by the Honorable Sonny Perdue, former Governor of Georgia and founding partner of Perdue Partners, an Atlanta-based global trading company. Perdue opened with a quote from Ayn Rand: “You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” He related it to pending agriculture legislation, and calls on the industry to continue to work to improve its relationship with government and how it is being perceived in Washington D.C.

Hot topics

The financial state of the industry moved to center stage. The conference room was packed when the CME Group’s COO Bryan Durkin began his presentation, “Meeting the Challenge of the MF Global Bankruptcy.” Durkin laid out a time line of events, discussed how the firm reacted to the bankruptcy and outlined its efforts to restore the missing funds to the organizations affected by the scandal.”

Durkin says: “[CME Group] recognize the risks you take, it’s why we exist. So in the effort manage all this risk you lose funds — even temporarily — that’s troubling. You deserve answers as to what happened and it’s our responsibility to restore that confidence.”

Following Durkin’s speech, George Angelich, partner with Arent Fox, continued to discuss the “unprecedented circumstances” and fallout surrounding the failed brokerage firm and urged Congress to work to restore the public’s confidence in the system.

Wrapping up the finance-focused conference block, Lance Holden, senior vice president, Well Fargo Bank N.A.; Dan O’Neill, managing director and head, agricultural portfolio unit, Metlife Investments; Mike Hechtner, president, central region, CoBank, and Jeff Swanhorst, executive vice president and chief credit officer, AgriBank, collaborated for the panel discussion titled, “Trends in the Banking Industry Affecting Lending Capacity and Credit Availability.” The group touched on issues ranging from insurance and liability to the overall state of agriculture lending.

Regulatory updates

Recent changes in regulation and compliance were given proper attention at the event. In the presentation, “FDA’s Implementation of Food/Feed Safety Law — What’s Coming for Country Elevators,” Dr. Dan McChesney’s addressed the new rules impacting company’s holding and transporting grain under the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).McChesney, director of the FDA’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance Center for Veterinary Medicine, outlined four main themes for FSMA legislation implementation: prevention; enhanced partnerships; import safety; and inspections, compliance and response. Noting the 2012 time line for preventive control rules, he stressed ensuring facility is registration and following good manufacturing practices — such as thorough record keeping — to meet compliance requirements.

On a similar note, Eric Conn, head of OSHA practice with Epstein Becker Green, offered advice in his presentation, “Preparing for an OSHA inspection — Your Rights and Obligations.” He stressed facility preparedness before an inspection and outlined the proper course of action should you be cited with a violation.

“When you receive an OSHA inspection — not if you receive an inspection,” Conn recommends pre-planning the inspection tour’s route — rather than allow the inspector to aimlessly wander the property looking for violations — and briefing all employees about what they can expect during an interview.

In addition to finance and regulatory concerns, the conference also included presentations focused on the weather and climate change; commercialization of biotech crops; how the Midwestern states got their shape; and global and domestic economic outlooks for the year to come.During the program, NGFA staff provided members with “Policy Minutes” or updates of the association’s efforts relating to Dodd-Frank, the 2012 Farm Bill, arbitration and OSHA enforcement.

For more information, NGFA’s 2012 Policy Priorities are outlined on its website, where NGFA members may view the slide show presentations from the Country Elevator Conference.

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