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More Ethanol Pumps Are Top NCGA Goal

Farmers wrapped up policy debates at the Commodity Classic in Phoenix, Arizona Saturday, tackling trade issues, defense of crop insurance, environmental regulations and issues that seem as evergreen as perennial crops. But something new is growing out of fertile frustration with a federal government that seems broken.

At the Corn Congress, voting delegates from the National Corn Growers Association voted digitally for their top priorities, giving the most points to ways to build demand for corn. They picked their favorites, letting a computer program sort it out. It’s not the sometimes slow debate over resolutions, but a faster process that the group’s leaders and staff will use in budgeting and planning for the coming year, according to NCGA president Chip Bowling, who farms near Newburg, Maryland, and Chris Novak, who took over as the group’s CEO last fall. 

The result of the vote: bread and butter issues that could build markets for a crop currently valued at or below break even for many producers.

Delegates picked their main goals from three lists, called tiers. Leading tier A was building infrastructure to sell higher blends of ethanol. The top goal for tier B. was increasing exports. Topping a third, tier C list, was trade policy support, including defending USDA programs that help promote exports and were used last year for the first time for ethanol and distillers grains marketing overseas.

Novak said the list of goals was taken from more than 30 ideas sent to NCGA by state Corn Grower groups.

The emphasis on support for more ethanol sales follows a new program that NCGA quietly started within the past year called Prime the Pump.

So far Prime the Pump has raised about $26 million to buy blender pumps for retail fuel chains that agree to sell E15 (15% ethanol blends) for five years, Bowling said.

“We’re not doing this on our own. We’re doing this with the ethanol industry,” Bowling told after the Corn Congress So far, Prime the Pump is working with five chains in the Midwest and one, Sheetz, that serves populous East Coast states.

“It has been remarkably well received and it's working,” said Bowling.

NCGA has invested in a project to promote E15 with NASCAR, which uses the fuel in its races.

But that soft-sell market promotion ranked much lower in the priority voting. Continuing to work with NASCAR ranked sixth among the Tier B list of goals.

Bowling said that many NCGA members still like the NASCAR program and that NCGA likely will work with the racing organization through 2016. But later it will have to weigh how that compares with more direct investment in selling a product that now rivals livestock feed as the largest market for corn.

Corn Congress delegates approved waiting until their summer meeting in Washington next July to decide on language for a resolution offered by the Iowa delegation that would have made prevented planting insurance slightly less attractive. Some members have argued that prevented planting coverage is being abused. Others argued that a requirement to plant a field at least once very four years discourages excessive reliance on prevented planting.

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