Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 22 February 2011 17:04
My term as president of Kansas Association of Wheat Growers has come to an end. Gone are the daily responsibilities of the office, of answering correspondence, making phone calls, chairing board meetings and scheduling conference calls when the need arises.
My association with KAWG began in the ’80s. As a young man struggling to get a foothold in production agriculture, little did I know where this budding relationship would go.
Little did I know that an organization begun by a small group of farmers more than 50 years ago, would impact my life to the extent that one day I would be selected to lead it into the next century.
It’s been quite a ride. Though our mission of serving the producer through innovation, increasing profitability and advocacy has never changed, we’ve made tremendous progress.
Thanks to the support and vision of member producers, wheat growers have increased their investment in research for new and improved varieties through an increased assessment in the check-off program.
My term on the KAWG board could not have been more exciting and fortuitous. A strategic planning session at Salina began the dialogue between producers, researchers and private industry stakeholders that ultimately created a unique collaboration of public and private plant science entities, resulting in the formation of Heartland Plant Innovations Inc., a for-profit biotechnology company based in Manhattan.
HPI’s purpose is to bring a strategic, market-driven approach to research and commercialization activities. Among other expected outcomes, it's primary in focus is the commercialization of sustainable, drought-tolerant, high-yielding varieties.
Ranking third on a list of highlights while in office was participating in a successful lobbying campaign for disaster aid for wheat producers in western Kansas and adjoining states.
Prior to making the trip to Washington D.C., I remember listening to the stories of producers describing in stark detail the impact the multi-year drought was having on their farms and families. One cannot walk away from a meeting like that and not feel the need to do something that would ease the burden, even if the effort were minute in comparison to the calamity they were going through.
We succeeded, thanks in part to the combined efforts of KAWG leadership and the National Association of Wheat Growers that helped spearhead the campaign, not to mention the aggressive leadership of then Congressmen Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt and Sen. Pat Roberts.
Considering what we’ve accomplished in the past, agriculture has much to be concerned about regarding governmental funding and the current lack of strategic direction for vital research projects that need to continue.
As of now, the future role of governmental involvement in agricultural research is in doubt as federal spending and the current deficit remains at an all-time high.
Republicans, emboldened by Tea Party rhetoric, are determined to rein in federal spending at all levels of government, regardless of the impact on important programs. However, senators Moran and Roberts appear to be the only dedicated defenders of agriculture at this time, carrying the message to other members of the Senate.
As for the other representatives in the House, it’s too early to tell how supportive they will be in the long run. Our meetings with them in Washington were positive and hopeful, yet we were unable to garner unqualified support from three of the four representatives.
However, given the tendency of most Republican legislators in the House to reflect special interests that want to protect certain line items within the budget, not to mention their desire to remain in office, the greatest portion of the federal budget remains off limits and they will not be cut.
In fact, according to the numbers we were given two weeks ago, the defense budget will actually receive a 1 percent increase in real dollars while minor items like the agricultural portion of the USDA budget is slated for a 14 percent decrease in real spending for the rest of fiscal year 2011.
Few people will argue for a drastic cut in defense spending, citing the ongoing wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, few will also argue against a drastic cut in defense procurement programs, especially those where the Pentagon is on record that they do not even want to purchase certain weapons and equipment.
Social Security is another entitlement program that is currently off limits. But as Barry Flinchbaugh says in an interview with the Oklahoma Farm Report, we cannot address this budget crisis without taking a serious look at the major consumers of federal tax dollars.
But I digress.
Even so, I am grateful for the opportunity provided by Kansas wheat producers to lead this grassroots organization and represent them in Topeka and Washington.
Kansas Association of Wheat Growers is in good hands. We have a great staff of capable people. Additionally, the board consists of intelligent, resourceful individuals that will serve the producer well. Plus, a seasoned team of producers are assuming their leadership positions, and I have great confidence in their abilities as well.