Chip Bowling went to the Sunbelt Ag Expo, the first sitting president of the National Corn Growers Association to visit the annual farm show located in southwest Georgia, to promote the industry and hear from Southeast corn growers.
“The fact is a lot of farmers down here grow corn. The average row-crop farm here may not be what you might see out in Illinois or Iowa, but neither am I,” said Bowling, who grows corn, wheat and soybeans in Newburg, Md. He’s the first NCGA president to be from the East Coast.
Bowling said he wanted to come to the show in Moultrie, Ga., as NCGA president to show the organization has a presence in the South, and one that is growing. “We want to get the Southern farmers more involved in what we do -- whether it is in D.C. or St. Louis (NCGA is headquartered in Missouri.), or around the country,” Bowling said. “We’re here in Moultrie to learn more about the growers who farm here.”
From Maryland down to Texas, corn is grown on about 50,000 farms. NCGA has 6,500 members in the South, where about 9.3 million acres of corn were planted this spring and 1.4 billion bushels were produced in 2014. “And that trend is growing in the South,” he said, during an interview Oct. 15 at the farm show.
The industry, he said, as a whole faces the same challenges: unwarranted federal regulations, aggressive campaigns by non-agricultural groups and large corn supply weighing down the markets looking forward.
The 2014 crop is on record pace to produce 14.5 billion bushels. With carryover crop, that means the overall corn supply will likely land around 15.7 billion bushels. These supply numbers have dropped corn prices to levels not seen since 2009, when corn prices averaged $3.50 per bushel. “These prices simply are sustainable to farmers,” Bowling said.
He said this is no time for government regulations or policy to stifle the corn market or profitable farming practices. In an effort to keep prices from falling farther -- or maybe even help tick prices back up -- he and NCGA over the next few months plan to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency proposed cut of 10 percent to the amount of corn ethanol in the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014, an action that could set pace for more cuts in the future. The organization also wants clarity on what waters will be regulated under the EPA Clean Water Act. Which waters will be covered? The “Waters of the U.S.” rules need to be fixed, he said.
Bowling is no stranger to government regulations. He farms around the Chesapeake Bay, which is under a federal mandate to control pollution in the region. “Everything that I do; every way that I farm; every decision I make revolves around the Chesapeake Bay Mandate. That’s a huge deal for Maryland farmers and the rules are always changing.”
He warned what is taking place in his region could very well happen in other parts of the country. If so, he hopes what is learned in the Chesapeake Bay can better guide any proposed environmental regulations in other regions to be fair and workable for farmers.
Annually, 90,000 to 100,000 people visit the Sunbelt Ag Expo, which is now in its 37th year.