The sugarbeet industry has been surfing along on waves of optimism, so a San Diego seaside hotel seemed like the perfect place to hold the 2013 American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting on Feb. 3-5.
With a record 2012 crop, the one-year extension of the Farm Bill Sugar Policy, and a victory in the Roundup Ready sugarbeet litigation, moods were high at the conference. Even calls to get involved politically in the coming year and what challenges may lie ahead, couldn't tamper the optimistic climate.
The fact that Roundup Ready will still be a tool in growers' toolboxes may be the biggest reason for high spirits, but precision ag will be an ever-increasing tool for growers. Due to biotech and other yield/precision developments, "You are going to see a big pick-up in yields in the latter part of this decade," said Jim Wiesmeyer of Informa Economics, referring to corn and soybean production.
He added that precision planters planting up to six different varieties in the same field will continue to improve and fundamentally change the seed industry.
The call to action for growers came from several speakers at the conference. Luther Markwart, ASGA executive vice president, said 250 congressional visits are planned in the next two months. He stressed the importance of getting in front of elected officials themselves, in addition to their aides.
"We do that through the political action contributions made by our growers," Markwart said. "Get your growers to support that with a strong contribution."
Jeff Harrison of Combest-Sell and Associates said "Make House and Senate members your champions."
Harrison also implored attendees to make PAC contributions and visit Washington, D.C., to educate others about sugar policy.
One potential challenge facing growers in 2013 was predicted by Craig Ruffolo of McKeaney-Flavell, a commodities brokerage firm in Oakland, Calif. He said sugarbeet prices will decline this year and that deliveries will be lower than USDA estimates, driven in part by the huge 2012 harvest. The upside to the strong harvest is a large surplus that will help stave off more attacks on sugar policy and further concessions at the negotiating table, according to ASGA President Kelly Erickson.
Markwart outlined a few more expected challenges. These include passage of a five-year farm bill, achieving compatible trade agreements and defending biotechnology. This year is expected to be a difficult political environment for passing a farm bill, but Markwart pledged to do everything he could so that sugar policy is not taken away.
Many recognitions and awards were presented by Erickson at the meeting. Retiring ASGA board members are Gene Meylan, Jeff Henry and Doug Etten. Henry was also selected as 2013 Grower of the Year by Sugar Producer magazine. New board members are Nick Ludowese (Southern Minnesota) and Clark Gerstacker (Michigan).
Several individuals and organizations were recognized for their work in the five-year legal battle to defend Roundup Ready seed. Among those were Markwart, Thomas K. Schwartz, Duane Grant, John Snyder and the team at Monsanto.