More than 650 National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) members gathered in New Orleans this week for the NGFA's 121st Annual Convention, where they discussed and debated industry priorities on trade, infrastructure and farm policy.
NGFA Chairman John Heck, senior vice president of Scoular in Omaha, Neb., told grain, feed and processing company executives that the NGFA will "fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the many positive features of the North American Free Trade Agreement" for U.S. agriculture, while also offering ideas to the Trump administration on how to modernize the 23-year-old trade accord in its effort to modernize and update the deal. The NGFA noted that the Trump administration has been receptive to the offer of the NGFA and selective other agricultural organizations to be constructive, proactive partners. "We have a seat at the table," Heck said.
John Murphy, senior vice president of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said during a panel discussion at the convention's Transportation and Trade Open Forum on Sunday that 14 million American jobs depend on trade with NAFTA members Canada and Mexico, "and if we mess that up there could be a cost. He added that "happily, I think that message is getting through" to the Trump administration.
Murphy noted that the U.S. Chamber is recommending a pragmatic approach to NAFTA renegotiation that improves on the agreement and doesn't undermine or put at risk any benefits. "We can start doing a better job just by enforcing the agreement as it exists today...just enforcing what we've got would be a big step forward," he said.
The chairman, president and CEO of Union Pacific, Lance Fritz, echoed that sentiment during a general session speech on Tuesday, noting that NAFTA is critical to the health of the U.S. economy. "NAFTA can be modified and should be modified," he said. "But vacating the agreement is not the right answer."
During his chairman's address, Heck summarized NGFA members' concerns about investing in infrastructure, particularly waterways and ports. "Given the commitment of the Trump administration to work with Congress to invest significantly in U.S. infrastructure, we have a golden opportunity to front-load investments to jumpstart and expedite construction and rehabilitation of our dilapidated locks and dams, as well as updating of our harbors and ports," he said.
When it comes to them next farm bill, Heck noted the association's specific concerns surrounding the Conservation Reserve Program, while reiterating its support for federal crop insurance.
"As consideration of the new farm bill begins, those in Congress who would repeat the (supply control) mistakes of the past are proposing massive increases in land-idling through the CRP that would cripple U.S. agriculture's future competitiveness and deny young farmers the chance they deserve to get into production agriculture," he said.
"The need for more active membership engagement has never been greater nor more immediate, Heck concluded.