Wheat groups question Emerson Trust action

Officials with U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers made those comments after USDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development announced Aug. 28 that they were planning to “release” 300,000 metric tons of wheat held for food aid purposes in the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.

While it might seem that USDA was releasing the wheat for shipment to Southern Africa, USDA actually will sell the wheat in the U.S. domestic markets and use the proceeds to purchase corn for shipment to the hunger-plagued region, officials said.

“Just about everyone who hastily scanned the announcement assumed that it meant that the U.S. was sending Emerson Trust wheat to Southern Africa,” said a spokesman for U.S. Wheat Associates. “That is not the case, and U.S. wheat organizations sent a letter to U.S. Secretary Ann Veneman, protesting the actual government plan.”

The decision by USDA and U.S. AID, made public last night after markets closed, follows a release earlier this summer of 275,000 tons of wheat, according to the groups.

“U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers could not be stronger in our support of efforts to meet the food needs of millions of people in southern Africa, and we commend the U.S. for their strong commitment to the effort,” said Jim McDonald, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates.

“We continue to express our concerns with the problems that lie in the mechanics of the delivery of this food aid, not in the purposes for it.”

McDonald said the United States has several programs available to it for the express purposes of providing food aid, even on the scale necessary in southern Africa. The 416(b) program, which the administration has targeted for virtual elimination next fiscal year, is particularly well suited for efforts like this.

“We would prefer that these other options be used, rather than see our own government dump stocks on the market while our harvest is still underway,” points out Gary Broyles, president of National Association of Wheat Growers. “Actions like this can cancel out the price recovery we’re starting to see in the market.”

The USDA announcement about the release indicated that they would be making future purchases of U.S. wheat for food aid donations elsewhere in the world in the coming weeks. “Why not use the Emerson trust wheat to meet those needs, rather than interfering with local domestic markets?” Broyles asked.

The organizations take further issue with the government’s position that wheat is not needed in southern Africa. “There is a huge shortage of wheat in the region, and the supplies continue to dwindle as farmers are being forced to abandon their wheat fields in Zimbabwe. Bread is being sold on the black market, with no immediate hope for future supplies,” McDonald reports.

“Wheat is needed in South Africa, but U. S. AID doesn’t want to put it there for some reason,” he said. “Government wheat is not needed in the U.S. domestic market where it competes with the American farmer, but U. S. AID does want to put it there. We fail to see the logic.”

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