Trade, renewable energy
focus of TFU’s convention

By J.T. SMITH

Many key agricultural topics werein the spotlight at the 108th Annual Convention of the Texas Farmers Union in Abilene, with trade and renewable energy as hot-button items.

TFU President Wes Sims, a Sweetwater, Texas, farmer, said an imbalance of trade in many areas penalizes the U.S. “Products that get by the quota system probably had more to do with the disaster in the dairy industry in 2009 than any other factor,” Sims said. “That was especially true with cheese.”

Sims noted the same goes for U.S. cotton, with China and India as the world’s No. 1 and 2 cotton producers, respectively, far ahead of U.S. cotton production.

Sims, who has been TFU president for 15 years, said with the U.S. textile mill industry having almost disappeared, American cotton producers — with almost no domestic market now — greatly depend on exports. But there’s a huge problem in being export-dependent. “The rest of the world no longer has to depend on us for cotton,” he lamented. This leaves the U.S. as a residual supplier of cotton to other nations, he noted.

China moving up fast

Harwood Schaffer of the University of Tennessee’s Agriculture Policy Analysis Center said China has blown right past others’ early expectations. “When the ’96 Farm Bill was written, they projected China to import 500 million bushels of corn per year,” Schaffer said. “Well, they’re not. They’ve been importing soybeans instead. Soybeans put their people to work in meal crushing and the soybean oil industry.”

With a world of manpower, the Chinese are both smart and plenty industrious, Schaffer said. “China has all the same research we do,” he noted. “China has gotten ahead of its population curve, and nobody thought that would happen. True, there are 1.3 billion people in China, but 600 million to 700 million of them are farmers!” He said China has increased both its corn and soybean yields dramatically in recent years.

Renewable energy vital

Sims said renewable energy is absolutely crucial for the nation’s and world’s future. It, too, is interwoven with trade and politics in this country and in developing nations.

Sims said recent talks on global climate change may have stalled, but eventually will succeed. “India and China eventually will recognize the importance of joining the U.S. on this,” he said of the greenhouse gas, or global warming, issues.

Sims said he feels the key will be compromise. That means recognizing China’s desire to have emission limits based on a per capita basis. He said that’s understandable. “After all, China has 1.3 billion people, compared with 300 million people in the United States.”

Sims has attended global meetings on the topic and remains optimistic progress will be made on climate change. “China, India and the U.S. eventually will come together; we don’t have any choice,” Sims said. “It must be done for our children and grandchildren.” He quickly adds, “But there’s got to be lots of negotiating. We can’t have it all our way, and they can’t have it all their way.”

Sims said cellulosic ethanol will be a good fit for West Texas. He noted that if future budget cuts trim agricultural subsidies, some farmers, especially dryland cotton producers, will be looking for alternative enterprises. He believes renewable energy will fit many of their operations, whether that’s ethanol or wind turbines, or both.

Staying true to the 2010 convention theme — “Hope for Our Tomorrow” — the TFU delegates, officers and guests traveled to Kesters Inverters on Abilene’s east edge, where smaller wind turbines and solar panels are marketed.

Run by Virgil Kester and grandson David, the company sells solar and wind energy units.

Texas Farmers Union, P.O. Box 738, Sweetwater, Tx 79556