When Will The Farm Bill Be Finished?

Two factors are slowing the process

Published online: Aug 09, 2023 Feature Luther Markwart, Executive Vice President, ASGA
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The House and Senate Ag Committees continue to hold hearings on the Farm Bill in DC as well as listening sessions around the country. While this is valuable input for policy makers, it’s also an important opportunity to hear from stakeholders. Congress is working to resolve a debt ceiling increase in June. From that exercise we will learn how much money, more or less, will be available to write a Farm Bill.

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are making the case to the Budget Committees that they need more dollars for the Farm Bill. 

During Farm Bill hearings, members consistently hear of higher input costs, inflation and a safety net that has not kept pace. They have clearly taken this message to heart and are working for additional resources. Timing of a new Farm Bill remains uncertain. If the debt ceiling is not resolved till the last minute, it leaves very little time to complete a Farm Bill before the current one expires on Sept. 30. So money and time are the key determinants of how and when a Farm Bill gets done. 

In the meantime, the sugar industry is very busy having completed our spring fly-ins with 300 visits and 90 fundraisers to meet new members and to tell your story. In addition to the fly-in, Florida and Texas growers and workers were in town in early April to reinforce the initial wave of meetings. Now that the grower visits are completed there is a tremendous amount of follow up work and education that is occurring on a daily basis. 

Our industry is also working diligently to find various ways to strengthen the sugar safety net. Our focus is on keeping the U.S. market balanced and returns adequate for growers to be profitable in the years ahead. Our policy opponents want greater imports, lower prices, and domestic producers to expand production. It’s obvious that you can’t expand production with lower returns from the marketplace. This is how hollow and illogical our opponents’ arguments are. Even USDA officials are telling users, if you want more domestically produced sugar you are going to need to pay for it. 

On March 31, USDA published prospective sugarbeet plantings for 2023. It is anticipated that 1.11 million acres will be planted which is four percent below the 2022 projected acreage. Of special note is the Sidney, MT, factory which announced in early February it would cease operations. The closure of a beet factory is an anguishing experience for everyone involved. The growers, workers, owners, support industries, communities and customers all suffer. Competing crop prices, significantly fewer acres, and major factory maintenance costs are just a few of the economic pressures that cause facilities like this to close. The beet growers delivering to Sidney are excellent farmers who produced a high-quality crop and proud of their contribution to the food security of our nation. Our hearts go out to everyone in that region. 

When a beet factory closes it is important for our customers to fully understand what has been. First, we’ve lost the production of sugarbeets, the raw material. Second, we’ve lost refining capacity. Third, we’ve lost refined sugar storage that holds the inventory for our customers. Fourth, we’ve lost the location of the sugar. Beet sugar is produced in the heartland where a lot of food manufacturing exists. We push beet sugar from the interior of our nation to the coasts and cane sugar moves from the coasts to the interior. The less you produce in the interior, the more you must rely on imports from the coastal refineries. There are higher costs to move that sugar to the center of the country. This should be a wake-up call for our customers, think tanks, and editorial boards who fight us every step of the way on a sound and fiscally responsible sugar policy.

Sugarbeet farmers are strategically important to the food security of our nation. In a post Covid, climate changing, and geopolitically unsettled world, food security has a much higher profile both at home and abroad.