Possibly An Early Growing Season

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

A clear path for completing a farm bill in 2012 remains shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty. The Senate Agriculture Committee is committed to reporting out a bill in April for consideration on the Senate floor as early as May. There is no assurance when it will come up for debate, but the Senate will need to act promptly in order to force the House to move on a farm bill.

Typically the House forces members to take tough votes on bills, only to have the bills die in the Senate, which creates political risk for House members. So, in an election year, the House will wait for the Senate to act before taking a bill to the House floor. There are also two fundamental problems that have to be dealt with.

First, the Senate is writing a farm bill with cuts of $23 billion over 10 years. Under the House Budget (which is not law because the Senate will not agree to it) the House version is supposed to cut about $33 billion out of the farm bill. Somehow the two bodies would have to reconcile a $10 billion dollar difference between the two bills, which is no simple task.

Secondly, time is slipping away. When the House returns on May 7 they will have only 51 legislative days before the election, which is not a lot of time to pass a major bill as a farm bill. Four anti-sugar policy bills (two in the House and two in the Senate) remain active but with relatively few co-sponsors, most of whom are the usual fervent opponents. The industry has been and will continue to prepare for opposing such proposals when they are brought to the floor as amendments to the Farm Bill.

Additional Imports

After April 1 the USDA is free to announce additional imports to supply our market. Typically the USDA waits until April supply and demand estimates are made public (April 10) before making a final decision and announcement.

Industrial sugar users have asked the secretary to import volumes in the 700,000 to 900,000-ton range, which would clearly oversupply the market and collapse prices. Most of the domestic industry has advised the secretary to be cautious with any consideration of additional imports. We have an earlier-than-usual spring this year; if we have a good growing season, we could see earlier harvests and production for the 2012 crop that would be sold in the current fiscal year ending September 30. This Administration has done an admiral job in managing additional imports while constantly facing uncertainty of unrestricted imports from Mexico and operating the policy at no cost to taxpayers.

Presidential Primaries

The final 14 states will cast their primary votes between May 8 and June 26 to determine the nominee for the Republican Party. At the end of March and early April, the big endorsements began to publicly support Mitt Romney. With such endorsements come campaign dollars. Given their passion, Gingrich and Paul will spread their message as long as anyone will listen and fund their campaigns, but they have become a distraction by a party who wants a lead candidate to focus on the President.

The Santorum factor has been surprising to most political observers. With the support he has gained he will be the most difficult element through the end game of the primary process. Political people at this level do not give in easily, so the final primaries will be extremely interesting in positioning the nominee for the November election.

60 Minutes

On Sunday, April 1(April Fools Day), the CBS 60 Minutes program ran a segment attacking the use of caloric sweeteners. It was a one-sided attack on added sugar and corn sweetener in our food system and an attempt to scare the American public.

Clearly it was not based on sound scientific information, but speculation and positions taken by opponents to our product. They should have ended the segment by appropriately saying, "April Fools!"

Most people could see through these allegations by knowing that sugar has been used for thousands of years and enjoyed by our grandparents and parents who have survived quite well using all natural sugar. I think people understand that too much of anything is not healthy. Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising is the key to healthy living. That is what this industry has been preaching for decades.

Remember, when it comes to food, do what Grandma used to say: "Eat a little bit of everything and go outside and play."

Biotech

We continue to wait for the judge in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. to digest the multiple briefs that have been submitted and lay out a course of action in the months ahead.

We are also waiting to see a final Environmental Impact Statement that we hope will be ready this summer.