Staying Vigilant

Published online: Aug 05, 2019 Feature Luther Markwart, Executive Vice President, ASGA
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This article appears in the August/September 2019 issue of Sugar Producer

It has been a tough year for farmers. A very late, wet spring coupled with commodity, prices driven down by the effects of retaliation in the trade negotiation scuffle, has taken a heavy toll on producers. It is simply heart-wrenching. While government payments to some commodities help offset the loss of foreign markets, they are no replacement for good weather and good customers. 

Fortunately, given the multitude of variables in the sugar market, the USDA has done a good job keeping it in balance during this period. We are expecting to have the lowest stocks (13.6 percent) since 2010-11, and it should be only the fourth time in the past 23 years we have had stocks below 14 percent. That is very good news for sugarbeet growers. As the 2019 crop moves toward harvest, we need the USDA to continue to practice its cautious discipline in balancing the sugar market.

During the House consideration of the 2020 agriculture appropriations in June, Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania filed three harmful amendments that would have effectively dismantled the U.S. Sugar Program. After a flurry of activity by Washington sugar reps and our congressional champions, none of the amendments were even allowed to be debated. These are the kinds of nuisance activities by our opponents that have to be dealt with annually in between farm bills. We must always be vigilant and always be ready. While the House had passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills by the end of June, the Senate had not started, and there was no agreement on the annual budget. The process still leaves the door open in the Senate for attacks on sugar producers, though the opportunities are very unlikely given the urgency to complete the process of funding the government, which must be complete by Sept. 30.

As we look to the fall, trade agreements and negotiations will be a major focus. The updated free trade agreement with our largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico, needs congressional approval; a new agreement with Japan should be completed rapidly; and a deal with China will be the most significant and difficult of all. Our country needs these agreements to be settled for economic and strategic reasons, and the president needs them completed for political reasons.

On the political front, the presidential race is off and running. Democrats will be in the process of “thinning the herd” of over 20 candidates—which will occur over time as a result of a lack of campaign finances and media attention for many of them. The challenge in a bruising primary battle is not to damage the final nominee so badly in the process that it harms him or her in the general election. The Democratically led House will relentlessly attack the president through the 2020 elections. President Trump is a powerful campaigner, so you can expect great theater in the months ahead. We are closely watching Senate and House races as retirements in both chambers—along with some states having to change the shapes of their districts—will open up interesting matchups for 2020. Filing dates to run for office are different for each state. They begin as early as November of this year with the bulk of them closed by May of 2020. We will examine each of the contests and meet with candidates in many of the key races.

The ASGA’s recent work also includes the following:

Provysol

Sugarbeet growers for the Michigan Sugar Company, the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative and the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative were granted an emergency exemption use by the EPA (known as a Section 18) to use Provysol to control Cercospora leaf spot (CLS). CLS caused over $100 million damage in 2018 to those cooperatives, and the disease continues to spread. Getting an emergency approval was a multi-faceted effort that involved the departments of agriculture for the states of Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota submitting comprehensive applications with the help and encouragement of the cooperatives. The ASGA and U.S. Beet Sugar Association also assisted in the efforts, along with grower-leaders who came to D.C. to make a personal appeal to the EPA. Our champions in Congress were also vital to this effort. Provysol is currently being reviewed by the EPA for full registration for many crops, so we are hopeful it will be available in the near future to all the sugarbeet growers in the country. 

Crop Insurance

As you near early harvest in late summer, you should be reminded that the new crop insurance provisions now contain an early harvest factor and several other changes to the policy. The USDA Risk Management Agency published a helpful Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on its website regarding the new provisions:  www.rma.usda.gov/en/News-Room/Frequently-Asked-Questions/Sugar-Beet. Several of the key questions relating to the early harvest factor and other significant changes to the provisions are answered on this page.

2019 Intern

Many thanks to ASGA intern Todd Lackman from Hysham, Mont., for his tremendous work on creating awesome PowerPoint presentations on key issues such as pesticides and sustainability for our industry. Todd also pulled together important data for our public relations program. He spent eight weeks meeting many congressmen and visiting many wonderful sites in Washington, D.C. It is a tremendous opportunity for a young adult to see all the work and effort it takes to care for our industry. Thank you, Todd, for all of your help!