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More voices needed

DANIEL LOOKER 08/19/2013 @ 9:00am Business Editor

Now that the farm bill debate is almost over -- either bogged down again in Congress or resurrected -- consider joining a commodity group if you haven’t yet. Why? Because the other issues those groups tackle are more likely to affect your bottom line in the future.

Last spring, just before the House and Senate made another run at passing a bill, I had a chance to visit the Canton, Mississippi, farm of Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association.

ASA doesn’t just work for a farm bill. “It seems like there are 25 or 30 issues we are working on all the time that are lurking in the background that could make a difference,” Murphy says. “I don’t think most farmers realize how those issues really impact them and how much work our commodity organizations do.”

One issue was the May 10 deadline from EPA requiring those of you with more than 1,320 gallons of above-ground fuel tanks to have a spill-prevention plan and containment measures. ASA and other groups got Congress to suspend funding for this until the end of September. A bill is in the hopper to exempt smaller operations with no spill history.

ASA and others also work hard on transportation glitches that can nickel-and-dime away the cash price you get for your soybeans, corn, or wheat. It helped push the Senate to pass a new Water Resources Development Act, which may help repair aging locks and dams. Preventing just one serious lock failure on the upper Mississippi River would be worth the $55 to $110 you’d spend on ASA dues (depending on which affiliated state group you join). Membership in the National Corn Growers Association averages about $65 a year.

ASA and state soybean groups support the Soy Transportation Coalition, which has fought to keep rail shipping rates competitive and has pushed for efficient river transportation.

ASA promotes biodiesel. It confronts trade barriers to soybeans that seem to sprout in the European Union like weeds.

Finally, ASA opposes a bill by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would require labeling of genetically modified food ingredients. It has little chance of passage now.

Consider that ASA has 21,000 members and National Corn Growers Association has 38,810 members. Compare that to 340,000 voters in Washington who signed petitions to require genetically modified food labeling in that state. Connecticut already has passed a similar law.

Commodity groups aren’t perfect, of course. I’ve heard grumblings about some groups being too close to agribusinesses. Most of the time, they are, in fact, working hard for your interests. If more producers joined, that would just make these groups more independent -- not less so.

Food activists have long labeled commodity groups as tools for mythical corporate farms that are almost nonexistent.

Murphy’s well-managed 1,500-acre operation hardly fits that category. His grandfather worked as a carpenter at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II and saved enough to buy land in 1944 that had been repossessed by the Federal Land Bank. One gullied field of briar patches “was only fit to hold the world together,” a neighbor said at the time.

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