The sun hid out for part of the week, but for sugarbeet growers visiting from places like Michigan and the Red River Valley, early February in San Diego still provided a warm respite.
About 360 beet growers, spouses and affiliated industry traveled to southern California for the 2013 annual meeting of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. Along with a lot of one-on-one conversation, they also listened to speakers addressing several timely topics of importance to the nation’s sugar industry.
ASGA’s 2014 annual meeting is scheduled to take place February 9-11 in Tampa, Fla.
Left: A veteran of several ASGA annual meetings and numerous other sugar industry events, the always-popular Jim Wiesemeyer delivered his take on the ag and trade outlook. Informa Economics’ senior vice president for farm and trade policy named nine key factors impacting U.S. and global food and agricultural markets over the next decade, including: (1) global growth and rise of the middle class in developing countries; (2) value of the U.S. dollar; (3) worldwide biofuels production; (4) role of trade and trade liberalization and transportation; (5) energy and agricultural input prices; (6) biotech and other yield/precision developments; (7) additional land for crops in places like Brazil, Africa and the Ukraine; and the two “wild cards” — (8) the weather; and (9) politics and policy. His take-away message: strong growth in food demand from emerging markets will keep global prices and profitability strong.
Wiesemeyer envisioned a new farm bill probably being a reality by the August congressional recess. “Stand your guard,” he cautioned beet growers.
Humberto Jasso Torres (left) and Craig Ruffalo
Left: Humberto Jasso Torres (left), executive director of the Mexican Sugar Chamber, joined Craig Ruffalo (right) vice president of Oakland, Calif.-based McKeany Flavell for a discussion of the North American sugar market.
Sweetener consumption in Mexico is projected at about 6.0 million metric tons in 2012/13 — equal to the nation’s (record) projected production of sugar this year. The country’s internal market for sweeteners is strong, having grown by more than 50% over the past two decades. Since the implementation of NAFTA, Mexico has exported more than 4.1 million (metric) tons of sugar to the U.S., while likewise importing about 3.9 million tons of high-fructose corn syrup from the U.S. Jasso advocated improved information flow on both nations’ sweetener markets, U.S.-Mexico harmonization of trade policies to the greatest extent possible, and a joint position on sugar when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Ruffalo recapped the U.S. market during the past several years, noting that current price levels strongly reflect the record U.S. beet and cane production — and Mexico’s projected record sugarcane output. Industrial buyers are in the “driver’s seat” right now, he pointed out, with only 20% of 2014 sugar needs having been contracted as of early 2013. That compares with about 75% at the same time a year ago.
Left: Pam Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, outlined the ever-increasing complexity of the global food supply. (Also shown in this photo are Kelly Erickson, ASGA president, and Luther Markwart, ASGA executive vice president.) Within the U.S., she noted, the average grocery store stocked about 7,300 different products as of 1965; today it is closer to 40,000. Most consumers don’t have much understanding of what goes into providing their food, she observed. “What consumers do pay attention to is the media” — including social media, she said. “It is imperative that we, as a value chain, provide consumers with simple, easy-to-understand information.”
Speaking on the subject of biotech and food labeling, “GMA and its member companies strongly support the continued use of food ingredients made from [biotech products],” Bailey stated. GMA and many of its member companies worked extensively to help defeat the recent California Proposition 37 labeling initiative. But “the public debate is far from over” on this subject, she stressed.
Steve Peterson, director of sourcing sustainability for General Mills, outlined the company’s sustainability program. General Mills “is committed to protect and conserve the natural resource base our business depends upon by continuously improving our environmental performance,” its mission states. The General Mills effort to lighten its carbon and water footprint is based on the understanding that while resources are finite, demand continues to increase dramatically, given global population growth and the rising middle class in numerous developing countries.
General Mills, the world’s sixth largest food company, has enlisted many of its suppliers in this collaborative stakeholder effort.
Jeff Harrison of Combest, Sell & Associates, whose clients include the American Sugar Alliance, reviewed the 112th Congress’ accomplishments (or lack thereof) and looked ahead to the 113th. Analyzing why a new five-year farm bill was not enacted, “I place the blame on a situation where Congress and Washington were more prone to extension,” he stated, noting that of 241 laws passed during the 112th Congress, only eight could be considered “major new legislation.”
Calling the sugar lobby an excellent example of “unity on substance and strategy,” Harrison encouraged ASGA members to “make your House and Senate members your champions,” to continue educating other members of Congress, and to remain supportive of their political action committees. “You have great representation in Washington, and you are excellent ‘on the ground’ there,” he emphasized.
Maxine Enciso of global public relations agency Ketchum works with the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance to infuse the voice of agriculture into the conversation taking place about food. “This is about having a long-term conversation with consumers and decision makers,” she explained. Trust and transparency are vital elements in helping consumers understand and be comfortable with the quality of the food they are buying and eating, Enciso said.
For more details on this program, visit www.fooddialogues.com.
Dr. Charles Baker (left), executive vice president and chief science officer for the Sugar Association, Inc., was one of several individuals and teams to be recognized by the ASGA Board of Directors for special contributions to the beet sugar industry in connection with bringing Roundup Ready sugarbeets to market and helping defend the technology during extended litigation. Baker was instrumental in the collection and analysis of sugar samples from around the world to prove that sugar from Roundup Ready beets was identical at the molecular level to sugar produced from conventionally or organically grown beet or cane. Here he is being presented with a resolution certificate by Kelly Erickson, ASGA president.
Others recognized via ASGA board resolutions included Tom Schwartz, executive vice president of the Beet Sugar Development Foundation; Idaho sugarbeet producer Duane Grant; Wyoming producer John Snyder; ASGA’s executive vice president, Luther Markwart; James Johnson, president of the United States Beet Sugar Association; the Monsanto Roundup Ready sugarbeet technology team; the USDA-APHIS Biotechnology Regulatory Services team; USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack; and members of the Baker Hostetler legal team.
Retiring ASGA board member and Michigan grower Gene Meylan (left) is presented with an appreciation plaque by ASGA President Kelly Erickson for his years of service to the association. Other board retirees this year were Doug Etten (Minn-Dak) and Jeff Henry (Idaho).
New members of the ASGA Board of Directors include Nick Ludowese (Southern Minnesota), Clark Gerstacker (Michigan) and a yet-to-be named member from Idaho.
“As we look to the year ahead, we must maneuver in a political environment that is both turbulent and unpredictable,” Erickson noted in his closing remarks to the 2013 annual meeting’s audience. “Such an environment requires us to play both offense and defense at the same time. Our industry is unified, coordinated, with strategic plans in place — and we are all properly motivated to carry out our respective tasks.”
ASGA’s 2013 leadership team includes, left to right: Executive Vice President Luther Markwart; President Kelly Erickson (Hallock, Minn.); Vice President John Snyder (Worland, Wyo.); and Treasurer Don Steinbeisser, Jr. (Sidney, Mont.).