In late May, I attended both a World Farmers Organization and World Seed Partnership meeting in South Africa. Once again, they reinforced how challenges in agriculture worldwide are nearly similar in every country, only on a different scale.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a global economy. It is not possible to isolate ourselves, even if we wanted to try. Other countries would simply fill the gap in supply and demand.

As farmers and ranchers, we are often told we overproduce the market. And, of course, many commodity prices are based on bushels or pounds of overproduction. I find it challenging to accept we have too much food supply when we have 850 million chronically hungry people in the world and a huge need for renewable energy.

You may ask why the president of NDFU would spend time at world gatherings? I find it necessary. Issues in the global market influence us all. Government structures, trade agreements, ownership of seed, suppliers of inputs, and the buyers of our products are all international and, at times, act in monopolistic ways.

Farmers and ranchers cannot stick their heads in the sand when it comes to world events. Nearly every event in a world setting has an impact on our markets. If we focus just on seed, for example, we see the important need for a set of rules on ownership of genetics, plant protected varieties, science-based seed development, and seed quality controls.

At the World Seed Partnership meeting, there were seed company displays. One company was showing a hologram of a kernel of wheat. As the wheat kernel spun in the hologram, questions would appear as to seed characteristic preferences. It was all about creating a designer seed an individual farmer could plant to meet the needs of their operation or a specific market. The new ability of genetic editing, where we can basically turn on and off DNA expressions, is the latest seed tool. The early stages of this technology and its potential is overwhelming. Even if this new tool is scientifically safe, it will present a series of market opportunities and challenges.   

I could write similar examples of future opportunities and challenges. Each one would reinforce the role our government has to be engaged in foreign affairs, fair trade efforts, limiting monopolistic practices, ensuring public development of seed varieties, and the list of essential necessities to keep a global market fair.

Farmers and ranchers, the global market will always be very complex. Diversity of governments, from democracies to dictatorships, will never allow for perfect rules. I challenge you to think logically about how a global market can truly function and the need for proper rules and regulations. It will be efforts by ourselves and other farm organizations to keep markets as fair and reasonable as possible. Domestic farm programs will be necessary to maintain each country’s ability to feed their own. And we cannot forget that an abundant food supply is essential to the economic security of our nation.

– Mark Watne, NDFU President