2019 TRC - Harvest Luncheon

Moderator Tom Sell, along with panelists Tim Lust, Kody Bessent and Dale Artho, speak during the 2019 Harvest Luncheon. Presented by FiberMax-BASF, the luncheon took place at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, in the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center.

The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Harvest Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday at the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center.  

The luncheon was an opportunity for the community to discuss the importance of agriculture in the local area.

“This luncheon is designed to celebrate agriculture and what harvest means to this area,” Tom Sell, Combest, Sell and Associates co-founder and former deputy chief of staff for the House Committee on Agriculture, said.

The Chamber invited three experts in the agriculture industry to host a panel called “Tariffs, Tear Gas, and Teamwork: Tales from the Trade Trenches.”  

The panel included Tim Lust, chief executive officer of National Sorghum Producers, Kody Bessent, vice president of operations and legislative affairs at Plains Cotton Growers and Dale Artho, the owner of Dale and Kathy Artho Farms.

The panel discussed the trade war between the United States and China.  

“We throw around words like ‘trade war’ — the president uses those words himself — but this is the best kind of possible war we could be fighting,” Sell said. “There is no bloodshed.”

However, the United States’ agriculture industry continues to struggle in the face of the Chinese Trade War, Lust said.  

International sorghum trade has increased in the past five years, Lust said. International sorghum exports increased from one-third to about 70 percent.  

“There’s only one country that is important to our industry, and that’s China,” he said.  

Before the trade war, Bessent said the American cotton industry exported about $1.2 billion worth of cotton to China. This year, less than $200 million worth of cotton was exported.  

The U.S. originally dominated the agriculture industry in China, Lust said. Originally, sorghum would sell for about 90 cents, but now, it only sells for about 60 cents.

Trade with China not only affects the agriculture industry, but also the industries that rely on agriculture, such as banking and finance, Lust said.  

The trade war causes tension between the two countries for various reasons, but some may stem from cultural differences.  

As a Communist country, China values the government over individualism, Sell said. Good ideas belong to the Chinese State rather than the people who create them.  

“We take so many things for granted as Americans,” Lust said.  

Despite the trade war, American agriculture businesses still work closely with Chinese clients, Lust said.

“We still talk to them on a weekly basis because long-term, they need us, and we need them,” Lust said.  

However, many Americans in the agriculture industry have problems with Chinese business operations, Artho said. When trading with China, Americans must share aspects of their business plans that make them competitive, such as certain business secrets or technology.  

“You have to share with China to do business with China, and that’s not right,” Artho said.  

In addition, the panelists discussed some of the double-standards within American agriculture industries.  

“Every time something goes south in the business world, people are looking for a scapegoat,” Lust said. “You’re shutting down a factory in Ohio, it’s easier to blame that on NAFTA (North American Trade Agreement) than inefficiency in one’s own business.”

Conversely, Lust said when markets improve, people do not give credit to NAFTA or more efficient markets, but to individuals.

The panel also addressed the infrastructure on which most industries in the U.S. rely.

Agriculture relies heavily on other industries, such as transportation, Lust said.

“We can’t compete in this country as an ag producer without your help, without your infrastructure,” Artho said.

Overall, the panel said international agriculture affects West Texas.  

“Agriculture is the foundation of the Lubbock community,” Sell said. “It certainly improves our economy; it improves the values and spirit of West Texas.”

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