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The value of hay grower conferences

Brad Nelson Published on 22 February 2010

The annual Washington State Hay Growers conference was held in January in the Tri-Cities of Washington (Pasco-Richland-Kennewick).

Most hay- and forage-producing regions have some form of local or regional organization, and most of those are affiliated with the state group of each state. Around these parts each group will have some form of annual meeting, and the state association will have the biggest bash they can pull off.

Two days after the Washington State meeting, I asked one of the local hay growers if he made it to the conference. He said no. Then he told me that he did not need to go that far to listen to people tell him his hay was not worth anything. Wow!

Some people make things happen. Some people watch things happen. And some people sit up and say, “What happened?”

Those in charge of the hay and forage grower associations do their level best to make the meetings informative and interesting. In addition to meeting people and possibly even learning something, there is another much more important reason to belong to and be active in and attend the conferences of the group representing whatever it is that you grow. If you don’t grow anything, then find a group that represents what you do, and support them. (Ever notice how much political clout the welfare rights group has?)

My wife grew up in Minnesota. She remembers as a young girl getting to color the margarine. The margarine came in a plastic container, and after you got it home, the color capsule was broken, and then some willing child got to squish the grease and the color back-and-forth until the color was uniform, and would appear to be “just like butter” when spread on bread, toast or slathered on a mashed potato.

Oleomargarine could not be sold in retail stores colored yellow, the natural color of butter. Why not? Because the dairy co-ops had enough political clout to help the legislators see that this “imitation yellow grease” should not be allowed to be sold if it were the color of butter. It also could not be sold beside butter. It could not be sold even next to the dairy case in the store.

At the time, Minnesota was predominantly a dairy state. All the dairy groups in the state came to the consensus that margarine would be harmful to the dairy industry if allowed to be marketed looking like butter. The nutritionists finally figured out what saturated fat was and what it did to human bodies when the owners of the same bodies ate more than they burned off by exercise and work.

Then the oleomargarine people did a snow job on most of the country and made one of the best-kept secrets ever – the fact that butter was actually a more healthy food than the margarine of the day. They claim to have tuned up the chemistry in the imitation yellow grease sold today, but my taste buds and what common sense I have left both tell me that butter is the better grease.

There are a number of issues that will directly affect agriculture that are right now in the rule-making and law-writing stages. Those making the rules will do much better if those of us who know where milk and beef and potatoes come from give them some input.

Those directly involved in agriculture do not have the political clout to ban or limit the marketing of competing products, as was done with margarine 60 years ago. This makes it all the more important to be part of an industry group and speak boldly to the legislative bodies and other rulemakers. Here is a short list of some things that are pending that could have a devastating effect on all of agriculture.

Climate change legislation has the very real possibility of raising energy costs, both fuel, electricity, and the cost of fertilizer. The Energy Information Administration estimates that this pending legislation could increase the cost of gasoline by over 33.5 percent and the cost of diesel by over 44 percent. The House Agriculture Committee Minority Leader, Bob Goodlatte, states “Cap and trade has the potential to devastate the agriculture community with higher energy prices.”

Roundup Ready alfalfa has a lot of pluses. But the export market is still fighting with our trading partners both in Asia and the Middle East to allow it into those areas. More than 280 million acres of genetically engineered corn, cotton, and soybeans are in production around the world. Why not genetically engineered alfalfa? Speak up!

Pesticide use could be extensively limited thanks to the National Marine Fisheries Service and EPA as a result of activist lawsuits seeking to protect the salmon. This could prohibit the use of pesticides totally from a buffer zone up to 1,000 feet from nearly all water including ditches, canals and intermittent streams that are miles from any fish. Does your Congressman know what this will do to your farm?

Homeland Security legislation changes that are pending could make fertilizer and agricultural chemicals harder to get and more expensive. What constitutes “inherently safer technology,” anyway? This has nothing to do with homeland security but a lot to do with appointed bureaucrats who answer to no one, being able to exercise control over formerly free Americans.

Hours of service rules which address long-haul truck drivers may be expanded to include harvest-time employees. We don’t need this red-tape nightmare. Agriculture has enjoyed an exemption from this since 1994, for farm commodity transportation within 100 air miles of the source of the commodity or the distribution point.

These are but a few of the issues that the legislatures and regulators would do better on if they had some input from those of us “in the trenches.” Our grower associations can add volume to the voices of those who will be harmed by inappropriate actions on these and other serious issues that are pending. (Thanks to Alex McGregor for this short list.)  FG