Local ag leaders play key roles in discussion of farming future
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.
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.