By KEVIN WALKER
LANSING, Mich. — The Corn Marketing Program of Michigan (CMPM) is one among many farm groups that hope the White House and Congress can solve its budget problems and get a farm bill passed just as soon as possible.
Jim Zook, executive director of the CMPM, returned from the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) board meeting in Indianapolis last month armed with numbers regarding Michigan and U.S. meat exports. “The main fact is, the livestock industry consumes about 40 percent of the corn we produce,” he said. “This whole export thing could fall victim if the farm bill isn’t passed, before January 1, before these other (federally mandated) cuts come into effect.”
The USMEF, as well as the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), would be affected by the expiration of the 2008 farm bill, since both receive funding through the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program and the Market Access Program (MAP). According to the CMPM, these two are involved in agricultural outreach to more than 50 countries.
“Agricultural trade continues to be a success story and one of the few bright spots among our nation’s economy,” said Pam Johnson, president of the National Corn Growers Assoc. “The continuing growth in agricultural exports contributes to economic growth for our economy and consistently provides a positive balance to global trade.
“The expiration of funds for MAP and FMD are yet another example of why Congress needs to pass a new, comprehensive five-year farm bill as soon as possible.”
The USMEF and USGC employ people not only in the United States but overseas, promoting American made meat and produce and defending U.S. market share. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service is helping to fund the FMD temporarily, but that will run out after a few months.
Zook said his understanding is the USMEF can go for four more months without permanent funding, and the USGC, for two more months.
“We’re very concerned about it. We’re facing our own fiscal cliff right now,” said Tom Sleight, president and CEO of USGC. “We get about $15 million from FMD and MAP. They help us cover our overseas costs. The MAP program helps us cover our marketing activities.”
He said the group can keep its offices open through the end of January. After that “we’re going to have to make some tough choices. We might be able to extend that to the end of March.”
Sleight said he’s being told funds outside of the farm bill to help support the USGC will not be forthcoming. “Everybody’s in favor of export development, but it’s getting lost in the shuffle,” he added. China recently bought corn from Argentina in an effort to diversify its sources of supply, Sleight said, adding if the USGC has to shut down its offices it will send the wrong signal to world markets.
Sleight pointed to the recent Export Exchange Conference in Minneapolis as an example of how important these outreach programs are for the agriculture industry. The conference, hosted by the USGC, was billed as bringing together more than 500 international buyers and sellers of U.S. grains. “People like to buy grain from people they know,” he said. “That’s the principle behind the Export Exchange Conference. It puts people face-to-face. Just putting people together helps facilitate sales.”
Zook said the information about exports he gleaned at the November USMEF board meeting was mostly new, at least to him. Beef and pork exports from the United States are on pace to have another good year, with pork exports set to be on par with a record volume set in 2011. Although beef exports are down from last year in terms of volume, through the third quarter of 2012 both beef and pork exports are ahead of last year in terms of value.
In 2011, approximately 77 million bushels of Michigan corn and 513,000 metric tons of dried distillers grains were fed to livestock in-state, and much was fed to livestock in other states as well.
Since meat consumption in the United States has decreased in recent years, the CMPM feels it’s especially important to support the livestock industry by maintaining and enhancing markets abroad for U.S. raised meat.