Message to Congress is Clear

Published in the February 2012 Issue Published online: Feb 13, 2012 Luther Markwart
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2012 Farm Bill

With the failure of the "super committee" to produce a recommendation for deficit reduction last fall, an opportunity for an expedited and simplified legislative process to quickly pass a farm bill, evaporated. Writing any reauthorizing legislation during a turbulent election year overshadowed by a staggering national deficit/debt problem is no simple task. And yet, that is exactly where agriculture policy finds itself. Both congressional and industry leaders will be challenged in forging a new farm bill that meets current and future spending restrictions while providing an adequate safety net for producers. It is uncertain as to the timing and the path this journey will take, but whatever route that is chosen will present many challenges for everyone in agriculture.

Sugar's message to the congress is very simple and clear. We have a policy that works and costs the taxpayers zero. We are efficient producers providing an essential ingredient in the nation's food supply that generates 142,000 jobs and puts almost $20 billion into the economy. It is a policy that allows our efficient family farmers an opportunity to compete against foreign producers who are subsidized and dump their surpluses on the world market below the cost of production. Under previous farm bills we saw consolidation in both the beet and cane industries and vertical integration as a means of survival. Only under the 2008 farm bill has the industry leveled off and now in a position to have the income from the market place to invest back into our business. It is in the best interest for our customers to have multiple suppliers that compete for their business. For the past three years we have imported about 30 percent of the sugar to meet our needs from foreign suppliers. Becoming more dependent on imports is not in the best interest of our nation.

Some of our customers have energized their members of Congress to come after the current sugar policy in an attempt to oversupply the market and drive prices to the forfeiture level. These are short-sighted efforts to shift revenues from producers to users, but long term, threaten the reliable supply of an essential ingredient for the user. They will be very vocal and active throughout the farm bill debate and it will take a great deal of focus and effort by our industry to counter their activities.

2012 Elections

With newly drawn congressional districts, lots of retirements, the Senate poised to change to a Republican majority and a battle for the White House, politics will be rampant throughout the year. Your industry leaders and representatives will be meeting with incumbents and candidates throughout the year leading up to the November elections, educating them on the importance of our industry and policy. This constant education process occurs year round in order to cover a number of key legislators.

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Free trade negotiations among the U.S., Chile, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Viet Nam will be very active in 2012. Negotiations will be intense and on an expedited track. We need to make sure that existing FTA agreements the U.S. has with some of the countries are not reopened (Australia), additional market access would not harm the functioning of our domestic policy, and sophisticated circumvention schemes are not allowed to blend sugar with other ingredients to be shipped to the U.S. market. The Obama Administration hopes to complete these negotiations in 2012 so a good deal of attention must be paid to these talks.

Thank You Russ Mauch

For the past two years the ASGA has had the privilege to be led by President Russ Mauch of the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative. He dutifully carried out the responsibilities as President in a most thoughtful and professional way as did his predecessors. It has been a big responsibility to guide our Association through a number of very important legal, political and policy issues over the past two years. He did so with great dedication and distinction. As required by our bylaws, Russ is term-limited for after this year's ASGA annual meeting. On behalf of our staff and the growers from across the nation, we express our deepest gratitude and appreciation to Russ and his family for the time and dedication to serving and leading our industry during this critically important period.