Grass & Grain

Grass and Grain 3-3-15

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By Julia Debes Kansas wheat farmer Paul Penner is equally likely to share updates from Capitol Hill or pictures of his grand- kids. While Penner will soon retire as president of the Na- tional Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) following the 2015 Commodity Clas- sic, he has served as a strong advocate for Kansas farmers during his tenure as both a state and national officer. "Three words come to mind when I think of Paul: thoughtful, sincere and artic- ulate," said Michael Jordan, president of the Kansas As- sociation of Wheat Growers (KAWG), from Beloit. "I have enjoyed the opportuni- ty to work with him for more than a decade and appreciate his efforts." Starting from Scratch Penner and his wife Deb- orah started farming in the late 1970s, but did not inher- it or buy into an existing op- eration. Today, Penner farms 1,000 acres of his own ground and custom farms another 1,500 to 2,000 acres for other small area farmers in Marion and Dickinson counties. The diversified op- eration is mostly no-till and includes wheat, corn, soy- beans and hay, in addition to an occasional rotation of sorghum. Penner started attending local Kansas Association of Wheat Growers (KAWG) meetings in the mid-1980s. One particular meeting in Great Bend piqued his inter- est in getting more involved in the organization. "I raised my hand and asked if I could contribute and they said sure," he said, adding that after the meeting was over, the chair asked if Penner would be interested in filling an unexpired term. He did and eventually worked his way up to run- ning for the officer team. Penner said he lost the first election by one vote to an opponent who shared his campaign slogan, "I'm not the best choice; the other guy is." He ran unopposed the next year and became a KAWG officer. Penner was actively involved in the ef- fort to create Heartland Plant Innovations, the for-profit company developed by Kansas wheat farmers to provide advanced plant breeding services for wheat and other crops, now spe- cializing in doubled hap- loids. "I was on the ground floor when the company started," he said. "It will continue to bring tears to my eyes when I think about it." After thoughtful discus- sions with his wife and other wheat industry leaders, Pen- ner decided to jump to serv- ing on the NAWG board and then running for the officer team. He was elected secre- tary-treasurer in 2011 and subsequently served as sec- ond vice president and first vice president before being elected as president in 2014. Broadening His Wheat Horizons Penner said that serving as an officer in the national wheat organization is time- consuming, but the lessons learned from working with wheat farmers in 22 states is worth it. "It is amazing the amount of knowledge you can ac- quire if you are observant," he said. "It really broadens your horizons." Beyond personal lessons, Penner said he appreciates the impact that grassroots action can have on policy. For example, he proudly re- called helping advocate on Capitol Hill for the farm dis- aster aid package passed in 2006. Just a year after Hurri- cane Katrina, Penner said the farm community was work- ing on a $4 billion aid pack- age for farmers hit hard by a years-long drought. He re- membered the White House called it inflationary, and Congress had just passed re- lief aid for those affected by the hurricane. Still, Penner said that once Congress learned from farmers about the impact it was having on their livelihoods, they were able to get the legislation passed. "It was a big struggle to get that through," he said. "It really brought a lot of farm- ers together." That unification means even more for the wheat community. Penner said that working for the national wheat industry can be more challenging than for other commodities as wheat is grown across the country and each wheat class and growing region has its own issues and concerns. "The wheat industry is more fractured than other commodities," he said. "To get all six classes unified on an issue is a remarkable feat by itself." Looking Forward When asked about what his plans are after turning over the gavel, Penner sim- ply replied, "Visiting grand- kids." He has three, and he promises that they are not short of their own ag educa- tion. "They are not going to be naïve about where their food comes from. I want to instill all of this love of agriculture and food in them. I hope it is infectious," he proclaimed. "Even if they do not become farmers, I want them to be aware of all the tremendous opportunities to work in the food industry." Echoing his agvocacy in his own family, Penner called for the next generation of wheat industry leaders to make consumer education the next top priority for agri- culture. "As I move into the sun- set of my tenure as a NAWG officer, the future is chal- lenging and encouraging," he said. "We are going to have to find ways to relate agriculture to people who are generations removed from the farm and communicate that farmers are stewards of their land and take their job seriously." The NAWG officers were joined by Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, following a productive discussion about issues important to the wheat in- dustry. Spending more time with his family is one of his priorities as Penner retires from his position as NAWG president. Courtesy photos Made from scratch: outgoing NAWG president Paul Penner recalls his work on wheat The U.S. Supreme Court recently found Nebraska "recklessly" over- used Republican River water in 2005 and 2006, and the court took the un- precedented step of ordering Nebraska to give up a portion of its unjust economic gains from keeping and using Kansas water, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. In a 28-page majority opinion, the court unanimous agreed that Ne- braska "knowingly" violated the Republican River Compact and took water that belonged to Kansas. As a remedy, the Supreme Court ordered by a 6-3 vote that Nebraska not only must pay Kansas' actual damages from loss of water during those two dry years but also must "disgorge" a portion of the economic gain Nebraska received from higher yields from irrigating crops with water that should have been sent downstream to Kansas. "Nebraska recklessly gambled with Kansas's rights, consciously disre- garding a substantial probability that its actions would deprive Kansas of the water to which it was entitled," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court's majority. "That is nearly a recipe for breach (of the Compact that governs sharing of Republican River water) —for an upstream state to re- fuse to deliver to its downstream neighbor the water to which the latter is entitled. And through 2006, Nebraska took full advantage of its favorable position, eschewing steps that would effectively control groundwater pumping and thus exceeding its allotment. In such circumstances, a dis- gorgement award appropriately reminds Nebraska of its legal obligations, deters future violations, and promotes the Compact's successful adminis- tration." Schmidt noted that the Supreme Court never before had ordered dis- gorgement of an upstream state's unjust gains as a remedy in an interstate water dispute. "Legally, this is a groundbreaking case that vindicates Kansas's rights as a downstream state," Schmidt said. "We brought this lawsuit to encour- age our neighbors to live up to their obligations in future dry periods. I'm hopeful this strong and clear Supreme Court order will have that effect." The Supreme Court ordered Nebraska to repay Kansas $3.7 million to compensate for Kansas's actual economic losses during 2005-06 and an- other $1.8 million as partial disgorgement of Nebraska's unjust gains from illegally using Kansas water. That $5.5 million recovery will be used to fully reimburse the attorney general's office for its roughly $4.5 million in bringing the lawsuit and defending Kansas water rights, making the state of Kansas whole for its cost of litigation. The remainder will be available to the legislature to designate for other purposes as provided by law. The Supreme Court also ordered technical changes to the calculation of future water flows from the Platte River basin into the Republican River basin as requested by Nebraska. The decision to order that reformation of the accounting procedure was 5-4. Supreme Court finds Nebraska liable for 'reckless' water use

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