WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of High Plains and western congressmen and senators have announced the formation of a Congressional Grains Caucus to promote the long-term economic viability of domestic grain producers and the grain industry.

"I am pleased to join with my colleagues, Congressmen Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., to establish the Congressional Grains Caucus to focus attention on the small grains industry in our country and the issues that impact it from the field to the mill," said Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas.

Senate co-chairs are Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Members of the Congressional Grains Caucus will work on behalf of wheat, barley, oats and other small grains producers, as well as the processing, handling/shipping and milling sectors of the grain industry. Most of the caucus members are from wheat-producing states, although their efforts do not appear to be limited to wheat.

Stenholm, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, said caucus members will also attempt to educate other Members of Congress about the importance of grain in people's diets, the effects of trade and food aid on the domestic grain industry, and the effects of domestic policy on farmers, growers and millers.

"Given the constant discussion of carbohydrates in people's diets today, members of the Grains Caucus will remind our colleagues that grain products are an essential part of our diets, and that a calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from the bread or the turkey you use to make your sandwich," Stenholm said.

Texas produced 97 million bushels of winter wheat out of 1.7 billion bushels produced in the United States in 2003. Wheat production accounts for nearly $300 million in producers' pockets, and the wheat industry generates almost $1 billion for the Texas economy.

Thousands of jobs are involved, from the seed and fertilizer dealers to the longshoremen who load the wheat on to ships for export at our port cities, according to the caucus members.

Congressman Stenholm is expected to be involved in a close race for re-election in November after the Texas Legislature combined portions of his district with that of freshman Congressman Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. Neugebauer won the seat of former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, who retired in May 2003.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com