Lo­cal ag lead­ers play key roles in dis­cus­sion of farm­ing fu­ture

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

CENTREVILLE — Tal­bot farm­ers were front and cen­ter Thurs­day, July 27, as lead­ers in both na­tional and state grain pro­ducer or­ga­ni­za­tions at the Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic at Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park near Centreville.

The Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic co-chair­man was Cor­dova farmer Travis Hutchi­son, chair­man of the Mary­land Soy­bean Board.

“Mid-At­lantic grow­ers are in an uniquely ad­van­ta­geous

sit­u­a­tion,” Dr. Bob Kra­tochvil, Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic chair­man, said in ad­vance pub­lic­ity. “Mak­ing up the Lead­ers Panel on the af­ter­noon pro­gram are four na­tional farm or­ga­ni­za­tion lead­ers who make Mar yland or Delaware their home.”

Three of those four lead­ers are Mid-Shore farm­ers.

Cor­dova farmer Chip Coun­cell, out­go­ing chair­man of the U.S. Grains Coun­cil, and Ja­son Scott of Eas­ton, chair­man of U.S. Wheat As­so­ciates, also sat on the panel.

“We are very for­tu­nate to have such high-cal­iber lead­ers from a tiny but great state,” Thomp­son said.

The other panel mem­ber hailed from nearby Green­wood, Del. Farmer Richard Wilkins is chair­man of the Amer­i­can Soy­bean As­so­ci­a­tion.

Lind­say Dodd Thomp­son of Centreville, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Mary­land Grain Pro­duc­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, mod­er­ated the af­ter­noon panel dis­cus­sion held in the main show ring.

“I spent a lot of time in this show ring with cows,” Thomp­son said. She gave a shout-out to her grand­par­ents, who are farm­ers in Carmichael.

Al­though Coun­cell soon steps down as USGC chair­man, he spoke to the po­ten­tial of grain-based ethanol fuel and for “large, emerg­ing mar­kets” in fron­tier Asia, the Mid­dle East and north Africa.

Scott, who man­ages his family’s Wal­nut Hill Farm near Hur­lock, said Mary­land has a “ge­o­graph­i­cal ad­van­tage” in the win­ter wheat mar­ket.

“Soft-bread win­ter wheat is most of what we grow in Mary­land,” Scott said. “There are not many classes of wheat of that qual­ity.”

Scott said his van­tage point in U.S. Wheat As­so­ciates lets him see how the Eastern Shore’s wheat com­modi­ties are de­sired in the world­wide mar­ket­place.

“U.S. Wheat in­tro­duced ra­men-style Asian noo­dles to Nige­ria, and (that coun­try is) now the fifth largest mar­ket,” Scott said.

Wheat is used in prod­ucts as di­verse as Maker’s Mark bour­bon, Twiz­zlers and pret­zels, Scott said. The cookie and bis­cuit mar­ket is ex­pand­ing in north Africa.

“I’m think­ing that the mar­ket is really go­ing to take off,” he said.

“The re­search is ex­plain­ing what check­off dol­lars are really do­ing,” Scott said. “Spe­cific to wheat is a $24 to $1 ra­tio ... for ev­ery check­off dol­lar that comes in.”

Wilkins said check­off dol­lars mean “huge growth in our abil­ity to mar­ket our prod­uct over­seas.” More than 60 per­cent of U.S. soy­beans are ex­ported, he said.

Even with rel­a­tively high re­turns on check­off dol­lars, grain com­modi­ties need risk man­age­ment strate­gies, and that means crop in­sur­ance which is “be­ing at­tacked on both sides of the aisle,” Wilkins said.

The panel was asked to com­ment on the big­gest na­tional ob­sta­cle they saw.

“Un­cer­tainty with the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Coun­cell said. “I’m more worried about the short term, not the long term.”

“Mex­ico is our best cus­tomer,” Coun­cell said, al­lud­ing to a threat by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump early in 2017 to pull out of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment. “Brazil is our com­pe­ti­tion. We gotta get ag­gres­sive. Trade is about a re­la­tion­ship. It takes years to build; it’s not one and done.”

“I agree. Mex­ico is also our big­gest cus­tomer of wheat,” Scott said. “We have to build re­la­tion­ships. (Brazil’s) wheat is good for pasta, but not for bread and tor­tillas. We have to re­al­ize that most con­sumers (who) eat what we grow are out­side of the U.S.”

Con­clud­ing the panel dis­cus­sion at 3 p.m., all the panel lead­ers agreed Cuba should be a trad­ing part­ner for U.S. grain ex­ports.

“That’s our mar­ket. It’s right in our back­yard, and we’re giv­ing it away,” Coun­cell said. “Cuba could be our 10th largest cus­tomer. There’s an op­por­tu­nity right there in front of us, and we can’t let it pass.”

Scott said the peo­ple of Cuba are “hungry, and they need our goods.”

Com­mu­nism has been de­feated when bor­ders have been opened to trade, Wilkins said. “A mid­dle class was cre­ated” in places like Viet­nam and China.

“It’s long over­due to open up Cuba as a trad­ing part­ner,” Wilkins said. “The longer we wait, others will be able to cap­ture mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Sev­eral state agri­cul­tural or po­lit­i­cal lead­ers were also on hand for the Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic, which be­gan at 9:30 and ended with a crab feast, and pork and chicken bar­be­cue at 4 p.m.

Sudlersville farmer and Mary­land Grain Pro­duc­ers Utiliza­tion Board Pres­i­dent Jen­nie Sch­midt pre­sented a re­port of the board’s work.

Sch­midt awarded four re­cip­i­ents with MGPUB 2017 col­lege schol­ar­ships, including two for Mid-Shore stu­dents Jenell Eck of In­gle­side and Jamie Het­rick of Pre­ston.

Also at­tend­ing the Com­mod­ity Clas­sic were Sch­midt’s hus­band Hans, Mary­land Depart­ment of Agriculture as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for re­source con­ser­va­tion and his boss, MDA Sec­re­tary Joe Barten­felder of Pre­ston.

Lead­er­ship in state and na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions has its ben­e­fits, the lead­ers said.

“I could have never learned what I learned any­where else dur­ing this past year as chair­man of U.S. Wheat,” Scott said. “I rec­om­mend (tak­ing a larger lead­er­ship role) to any­one. After a cou­ple of years, I was hooked. I would do it a hundred times over.”

“It starts at this level: My 5-year-old grand­son tells me, ‘I’m al­ready a farmer,’” Coun­cell said. “It’s been a great way of life. We owe it to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and to those who came be­fore us to con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for agriculture.”

At the Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic on July 27 in Centreville, Sudlersville farmer and Mary­land Grain Pro­duc­ers Utiliza­tion Board Pres­i­dent Jen­nie Sch­midt, left, pre­sented Jenell Eck of In­gle­side with a MGPUB col­lege schol­ar­ship.

PHO­TOS BY CON­NIE CON­NOLLY

Cor­dova farmer Travis Hutchi­son, chair­man of the Mary­land Soy­bean Board and Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic co-chair­man, spoke to the af­ter­noon crowd at the Mary­land Com­mod­ity Clas­sic on July 27 in Centreville.

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