National spotlight Benton County grower takes helm of national wheat organization
This month, Benton County wheat grower Nicole Berg will step in as president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG). Berg has a long history of advocacy for the wheat industry, especially in Washington state, where she served as president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) in 2013/14. Besides her NAWG duties, Berg currently serves as co-chair of WAWG’s National Legislation Committee.
What does it mean to you, in terms of responsibilities, to be NAWG’s president?
I believe it is a great honor to be elected as the 2022/23 NAWG president. Being president of a national association comes with many responsibilities, especially as we are on the eve of the next farm bill. But I’m looking forward to the opportunity to lead NAWG and provide a unique perspective from my region as we continue to improve the farm bill programs, be engaged in the sustainability conversations and work with our partners to bolster trade for the wheat industry. The farm bill plays a very important role in a producer’s business plan, and I have always wanted to have more of an influence for us wheat growers.
How has the wheat industry and NAWG changed since you started going through the NAWG chairs?
The wheat industry has gone from historically low prices in comparison to expenses to the current prices. The farm bill and the $5.50 reference price was one of the main reasons I wanted to help tell the wheat story. I was looking at my cash flow, and $5.50 is below cost of production. In the 2018 Farm Bill, NAWG and WAWG worked very hard to make changes, but it was a tough hill to climb because of the costs of the bill.
In 2019, NAWG adopted a strategic plan that resulted in updated mission and vision statements and the identification of four key lines of business on which the organization will focus on in the years to come. It was a great effort to make sure all the NAWG member states are moving in the same direction. When I started on the NAWG board, I saw several areas that allowed for improvement, and over the years, NAWG has come together with a unified voice that advocates and benefits wheat growers across the nation.
Do you have any specific goals for your presidency?
To continue to work to protect our farm programs and crop insurance system, which plays a vital role for wheat growers throughout the U.S. Additionally, I would like to build a strong coalition with other national organizations to advocate for timely reauthorization for the farm bill ahead of its expiration in 2023
To work with our partners at U.S. Wheat Associates to advance a trade agenda that continues to find new market opportunities and promote U.S. wheat exports.
To protect key infrastructure that helps provide a safe, affordable and reliable transportation network for moving commodities to market. This includes pushing back on proposals that favor removing the lower four Snake River dams.
Climate and sustainability are priorities of the Biden Administration, which is why NAWG is working hard with our wheat producers on the topic. Wheat producers already implement many environmentally friendly practices to their farming methods and are having a positive impact on the environment and have increased resource-efficient practices in land, water and energy use. We continue to advocate for policy that is voluntary, incentive-based, market-based, ensures that farmers benefit from any program and that any program must recognize and account for the varied growing conditions in which wheat is grown across the country—not all practices work in all regions.
With a membership of 20 different states, how do you effectively represent such a diverse group that sometimes has competing priorities and needs?
I recognize that being president of a national association means representing wheat growers across our entire nation, and I will work to advance policies that benefit all of those growers. As president, I will work with our committees to pursue policy to ensure a better future for America’s growers and the general public.
Is there a role for industry (chemical, equipment, input, seed companies) in NAWG?
Our vision is advancing wheat through advocacy, alliances and innovation, which includes working with all members of the value chain to promote public policy that contributes to the success of wheat farmers.
The run-up to the 2023 Farm Bill coincides with your presidency. What are some of the obstacles Congress is likely to have to deal with in order to actually get a farm bill written on time?
One of the obstacles is educating new members of Congress who have never voted on a farm bill about its importance for rural America and their contributions to feeding the world. Currently, we are headed into an election year, which will play a role in determining who heads up the House and Senate agriculture committees, but NAWG has strong relationships with members from both sides of the pollical aisle.
How will NAWG make sure the wheat industry has a seat at the table during farm bill talks?
NAWG has a strong working relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the four corners of the ag committees, and we are confident we will have a seat at the table during the farm bill process to represent the interests of wheat growers from across the country. Wheat is grown in 40+ states and is one of the main food crops in America. Today, U.S. farmers grow about 50 million acres of wheat, providing food for hundreds of millions of people at home and abroad. Wheat growers’ impacts to the nation allows NAWG to have a strong and heard voice on the Hill and opens the door for us to be a part of these conversations.
You also sit on the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board of Directors. What insights have you gained into how crop insurance is developed and managed?
Crop insurance is a critical risk management tool for wheat producers. Like any other important tool on the farm, it needs periodic maintenance and “sharpening” to increase its utility and effectiveness.