While the issues surrounding agriculture seem to never end, it is encouraging to find instances where our voice is heard, and decision-makers implement policy to address our issues.
The Washington Grain Commission (WGC) joined nearly 300 other organizations and businesses in signing a letter drafted by the Agricultural Transportation Coalition (AgTC) urging U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to work with the Federal Maritime Commission to address vessel-operating common carriers who decline to ship U.S. agricultural commodity exports from U.S. ports and impose hundreds of millions of dollars of unreasonable charges to exporters.
In another effort to raise awareness of an issue, the WGC collaborated with the Transportation Work Group at U.S. Wheat Associates to discuss the impacts of a proposed merger with Kansas City Southern Railway and Canadian Northern Railway or Canadian Pacific Railway. Read more about this from our July issue.
It can be easy to be cynical about the effectiveness of one letter or one conversation. Too often we may think these efforts, like so many others, create moments of education without any real impact.
However, in the case of at least these two examples, we can see how these issues are making their way to decision-makers. Not long after the letter was sent and conversations occurred, President Biden issued an executive order to promote competition urging the Federal Maritime Commission and the Surface Transportation Board to protect conditions of fair competition in one or more ways, including:
- Policing unfair, deceptive and abusive business practices.
- Resisting consolidation and promoting competition within industries through the independent oversight of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.
- Promulgating rules that promote competition, including the market entry of new competitors.
- Promoting market transparency through compelled disclosure of information.
After the executive order was released, new conversations were sparked about issues that previously had not gained traction. While this executive order didn’t solve all of agriculture’s problems, it let us know our voice can be heard and encourages us to continue to take action.
We see several key issues in the forefront of the conversation where our industry’s voice is needed:
Snake River Dams
Each side of the aisle is talking about how to move the needle on salmon recovery up and down the West Coast in rivers with and without dams. The eight navigational locks and dams with state-of-the-art fish passage along the Columbia-Snake River System are key for our ability to move wheat to export. The recent federal Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concluded breaching Snake River dams is not the answer, but litigants disagree.
Funding for essential dredging to maintain the federal navigation channel depth necessary to effectively load and transport barges along the river system is crucial.
Columbia River Treaty
Negotiations for the Columbia River Treaty with Canada are underway, which could impact river flow levels, power generation and flood mitigation for our region. Flow changes could impact lower Columbia River water levels and the ability of ships to call on ports.
Many policymakers at the state and federal level are looking at climate change. Agriculture can play a large role through sustainable farm practices, water management and carbon sequestration. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack is looking at ways to fund the industry to make an impact.
National Grain Standards
USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service is being asked by some to consider changes to the U.S. Grade Standards for wheat, such as reclassifying the hard white wheat class into winter and spring; allowing higher blends of wheat of other classes (hard white) in hard red winter; or even looking at creating a “hard wheat” class with subclasses of red and white wheats.
We are facing a myriad of issues, and we need to continue to write letters, call legislators and engage with associations that are fighting on our behalf.
The WGC works with several groups on the state and national level to continue to raise awareness and educate decision-makers on the challenges and opportunities facing small grains farmers and food production. Your help is needed as these issues continue to move forward. If you are not familiar with who your representatives are, you can use the district finder at the Washington State Legislature website.