From the ASGA: We Salute You

A lot of people deserve a lot credit for the sugar industry’s victories.

Published online: Apr 13, 2020 Feature Luther Markwart, Executive Vice President, ASGA
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This article appears in the April 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

Congress and the Trump administration came to the rescue of sugarbeet growers after disastrous 2018 and 2019 crops in various growing areas. On Feb. 28, the secretary of agriculture announced a disaster payment to the beet industry of $285 million, to be paid to growers through their respective cooperatives as part of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to help producers recover from losses due to hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, snowstorms, wildfires, severe drought, freeze, excess moisture and quality losses. This was essential to allow many growers to get financing for the 2020 crop and to keep many in our industry afloat.   

We give thanks to all those who made this disaster relief possible. First, it would not have happened without the leadership and persistence of Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota in the Senate and House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson and their dedicated staffs. While other members of Congress in affected areas were also engaged, active and supportive, Hoeven and Peterson led the charge. Growers need to reach out and thank them at every opportunity.

Second, the USDA had a massive job on its hands to implement a nationwide disaster program across many commodities. The final legislative details were not finalized by Congress until right before Christmas—right when most work in Washington grinds to a halt until after New Year’s.

Addressing a disaster in sugarbeets was both unique and urgent. Many high-ranking officials in the USDA are farmers, and they fully understood the problem and the urgency of a response.

Third, sugar cooperative executives provided mountains of data and, along with legal counsels, had numerous discussions with the USDA over several months to get the relief implemented in a timely manner so growers could get operating loans for the 2020 crop. By moving disaster funds through the cooperative to the grower, the speed of delivering funds in the most efficient and equitable way is significantly accelerated. You should thank your cooperative management and their team for the tremendous amount of time and effort they put into getting this done.

Finally, numerous beet sugar Washington representatives and legal counsel helped at every opportunity to inform members of Congress, the USDA and the media of the serious problems our industry was having and assisted in navigating all the key stakeholders and decision-makers to a timely conclusion.

Typically, nothing this big gets done this quickly in Washington, but it did. Thank all of you and your grower leaders for their hard work and constant support to achieve success. Now, let’s get a crop in the ground and have a record harvest of high-quality beets, stored and processed well in 2020-21 to continue to heal growers’ economic wounds.

We are pleased that RMA officially announced an “additional” 2020 price election for sugarbeets at 14.2 cents per pound of raw sugar, a substantial improvement over the 12.3 cents-per-pound “established” price announced last November. This increase was the direct result of our work at the ASGA (led primarily by Scott Herndon), assisted by legal counsel and several of the sugarbeet processing companies, providing data to RMA to demonstrate that the 12.3-cent “established” price simply failed to reflect actual market conditions. We will continue to work with RMA this year to make sure these issues do not occur again in 2021.

Our 2020 congressional fly-in covered over 300 offices by beet and cane teams that reinforced the need for U.S. sugar policy and to oppose any efforts to modify it. This is a huge logistical effort, and we salute our ASGA director of government relations, Zack Clark, for making this a huge success. It takes the success of schedulers to make the appointments for numerous teams, to train grower leaders to have a command of and effectively articulate multiple issues, and for grower spokespersons to work along with cane representatives as a team in communicating the benefits of a strong domestic industry. This is not easy work, and it takes lots of people to make it run properly. They have a tremendous reputation for doing a fantastic job and are highly respected in the offices they visit. We thank them and salute them for their dedicated service to the future of our industry.