What is in this article?:
- Trade is critically important to U.S. corn growers' balance sheets - just look at what happens to corn prices when export demand wanes - but trade issues never seem to take center stage the way ethanol or farm programs do.
As the U.S. corn economy and the trade environment have evolved, the NCGA's task has grown to encompass previously unimagined issues. NCGA has worked to halt the dumping of subsidized imported sugar into the U.S. domestic market and to prevent the misuse of U.S. ethanol incentives to benefit foreign producers.
Through the evolution of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) into the World Trade Organization (WTO), NCGA has pushed U.S. negotiators to develop trade rules that create a fair and level playing field for exports of U.S. corn and corn products.
Much of this work has been tedious and slow, and successes are rarely dramatic. Two examples illustrate, however, how important NCGA's work on trade is.
First, the passage of NAFTA has been an unparalleled victory for U.S. corn farmers. From a modest and unpredictable market that averaged just 76 million bushels of purchases, Mexico is now consistently the No. 2 U.S. export customer, with 325 million bushels in imports in 2009/10.
The second example is Colombia, where USGC market development programs turned a negligible market (less than 1.3 million bushels in 1990/91) into a major customer for U.S. corn. By 2006/07, Colombia was buying 125 million bushels.
Then, while approval of a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was delayed again and again, Colombia's trade pact with other corn exporters like Argentina and Brazil began to ratchet down Colombia's tariffs on their corn shipments.
Over several years, the U.S. price advantage eroded, and so did U.S. sales to Colombia. From marketing year 2007/08 through 2009/10, U.S. corn exports drastically dropped 78 million bushels, which is an estimated loss of $475 million.
"NCGA worked really hard on them [the Colombia, Panama, and South Korea free trade agreements]," says Bart Schott, the North Dakota grower who was NCGA president in 2010/11.
"I was really hoping to add approval of the free trade agreements to what we achieved when I was president. I talked to Ambassador Kirk in December 2010, and he thought we'd get it done in January or February," Schott remembers. It's one of those things that is going to help us and help the livestock industry even more."
Under pressure from NCGA and an array of U.S. commodity groups, Congress finally passed the Colombia FTA in October 2011, a bare two weeks after Schott stepped down as NCGA president.
Beyond its contribution as corn growers' official representative, NCGA plays a growing role as "the face of the American corn grower" around the world. In the last decade, NCGA and USGC have worked more closely than ever to answer trade concerns and educate foreign consumers about questions from the most basic -- how is corn grown? -- to the most critical - is the corn safe to eat? Will there be enough to feed our consumers?
Whether welcoming international groups to their farms or traveling abroad to answer speak for the industry, NCGA leaders are in the forefront of providing the answers.