Best Foot Forward

Published online: Nov 07, 2019 News Luther Markwart, Executive Vice President, ASGA
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This article appears in the November/December 2019 issue of Sugar Producer

In September, sugar policy opponents in Congress introduced the so-called “Fair Sugar Policy Act of 2019.” This is yet another attempt to oversupply the market, reduce prices and keep them there. This proposal is authored by the same old opponents, who refuse to acknowledge the important economic role both farmers and co-ops play in their communities and the nation as a whole. They would rather side with highly profitable confectioners over struggling farmers. One would think that a proposal defeated in the House by a 141-vote margin during the 2018 Farm Bill, and not voted on in the Senate, would be a deterrent to another attempt, but our opposition is relentless.

While different, this bill looks much like the amendments introduced during the House appropriations process in June. The legislation reduces the loan rate by 1 cent per pound, immediately repeals marketing allotments, directs the secretary of agriculture to oversupply the market, allows foreign countries to sell their U.S. access to other foreign suppliers, and eliminates the Feedstock Flexibility Program, which diverts forfeited sugar to non-food uses.

The churn of elections and resulting new members, along with the annual and quinquennial attacks on the program leave the sugar industry as busy as ever. In addition to elections, the census will alter congressional maps adding members in some states and removing them from others. Suffice it to say, there will be many new House members over that time, most of whom have no knowledge of sugar and agricultural policy. Our work will only be more challenging as we go forward, which is why we must defend and promote our industry every day, year in and year out.

Attempts to fund the government continue in Washington. The Senate recently advanced the FY2020 Agriculture Appropriation Act. Thanks to John Hoeven (R-ND), sugarbeet research received $1 million in addition to the $1 million appropriated in FY2019. This fulfills a great need in our industry, and we applaud Senator Hoeven’s efforts.

ASGA staff member Zack Clark continues to work with stakeholders and congressional staff to fund required repairs on the irrigation tunnel that collapsed in southeastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. That tunnel system supplies water for over 100,000 acres of crops (2,700 acres of beets). The crops suffered for two months without water, leaving beets and corn damaged and edible dry beans almost completely destroyed.

The ASGA’s Scott Herndon has spent a great deal of time on the “early harvest factor” for sugarbeet crop insurance policies. Together with the ASGA board, they are seeking ways to improve the current policy. Between the Senate’s hearing on climate change and the House’s Select Committee on Climate Crisis, the agriculture community has been fully engaged in climate change discussions. Herndon is sharing our industry’s positive environmental stories and working to build on federal policies that assist farmers who provide environmental benefits. Sustainability is a huge issue, and we must be part of that conversation with Congress.

On the trade front, there is a tremendous push to get the USMCA approved by Congress this year, which would stabilize our relationship with our two most important trading partners and neighbors. Congress understands the economic importance of long-established supply chains with Canada and Mexico, and regardless of all the other political rhetoric, this needs to get done.

Stage 1 trade negotiations with Japan are completed. Japan imports 63 percent of its sugar needs, so neither of our countries has an overriding export interest in sugar. We are watching the political drama over Brexit in the UK to see how it plays out and how quickly our two countries may move on a trade deal. Negotiations with China are very difficult and could very well last past the 2020 elections.

A special thanks to former ASGA board member Charlie Bauer. At the end of September, Bauer and Michigan Sugar hosted U.S. secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue and American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall at his farm. Perdue and Duvall got to see the harvest up close, with an opportunity to drive Bauer’s self-propelled harvester. Experiences like these are critical to our industry, and we applaud the level of engagement from Bauer and others across our membership. 

The 2020 ASGA Annual Meeting will be held in Orlando, Fla., with general sessions held on Feb. 7 and 8. Once again, industry leaders and participants will be focusing on key issues facing our industry now and in the years ahead. The range of topics, speakers and key stakeholders over the two days of general sessions will be posted on the ASGA website and updated as speakers are confirmed. Links to register, book your hotel, and purchase discounted Disney tickets can be found on the ASGA website (www.americansugarbeet.org).