Farm Bill Talks Likely to Continue

Published in the February 2013 Issue Published online: Feb 05, 2013 Luther Markwart, Executive Vice President
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Farm bill: Once the elections were over and members of Congress returned for the lame duck session, all eyes focused on the fiscal cliff negotiations. It was our greatest hope that a farm bill would be included in those negotiations to give farmers certainty in planting crops for 2013 and contribute billions of dollars in savings toward addressing the nation's debt and deficit problems.

As of this writing (Dec. 19), however, hopes of completing a farm bill in 2012 are fading rather quickly. If it is not included in the deficit reduction package, we will have to start all over again in 2013, with yet another contentious farm policy debate in both the Senate and the House. The fiscal cliff negotiations will finally provide clarity for our legislative path forward.

Elections and appointments: The election brought many new members to the House (87) and Senate (15). After the election, there was a senator and a House member who resigned to take private sector jobs. At least one House member was then appointed to fill the vacated Senate seat, creating a vacancy in the House.

Other senators are on the short list to fill cabinet positions in the administration. Someone will be appointed to fill the seat of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). Governors can appoint persons to fill the Senate vacancies, and they often look to members of the House to elevate to the Senate. When this occurs, special elections must be held to fill House seats. So we could see special elections for a few House seats in the months ahead.

With all of these new faces, we must work hard to educate them about the sugar industry and U.S. sugar policy. We want to thank everyone who has participated in their Political Action Committees, because it provides industry representatives the opportunity to speak directly to the member of Congress so they can better understand our issues and the strategic importance of our industry.

Loss of two great champions: The industry will lose two great champions in the Senate next year. Kent Conrad (N.D.) retired after 25 years in the Senate. As a member of the Agriculture and Chairman of the Budget Committees, Sen. Conrad was a chief architect of the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills and a defender of sugar policy at every opportunity. He served the people of North Dakota, sugar producers nationwide, and the American public throughout his terms in the Senate. Our industry owes him a great debt of gratitude. We wish him the best in his future pursuits.

Sen. Inouye, a World War II combat veteran and the most senior senator in the U.S. Senate, passed away at age 88 on Dec. 17. Inouye had served in the Senate for 49 years. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, he was the state's first Congressman. He was a proud defender and protector of Hawaii's sugar industry and an advocate among his colleagues for a strong sugar policy.

Biotech: On Nov. 15, the last appeal on a Roundup Ready Sugarbeet issue was ruled on, ending a long legal battle over biotechnology in sugarbeets. We spent almost five years (1,755 days) in the courts - engaged in four cases in two U.S. District Courts (San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) and three appellate cases in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (San Francisco). It is our sincere hope that the opponents of biotechnology will now cease their attacks on our efforts to raise our crop in a more efficient and environmental friendly way. We have proven that the technology is safe, the sugar is the same as that from conventional production, and our producers are great stewards in removing bolters and managing against weed resistance because grower stewardship is essential to retain the value of the technology.

Biotech opponents, however, are renewing their efforts to pass state ballot initiatives to require labeling of foods that contain ingredients from biotech crops. While they lost such an effort in California last year, they are targeting Washington, Vermont and Connecticut. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other biotech crop producers to oppose such labeling efforts. The American Sugarbeet Growers Association has established a new Biotechnology and Research Committee to monitor and engage in these types of efforts for the years to come. We are prepared to face the challenges and opportunities before us.

Crop insurance: Price election for 2013 will be $58.95, which is appropriate given the state of the current marketplace. One important change this year is that replant reimbursement will not be 1.5 times price election, but a fixed dollar amount of $80/acre. We successfully sought this modification to avoid an annual battle to retain a more reasonable replant amount. When sugar prices drop, replant costs do not, so this is a great improvement over our traditional coverage.