Farm Bill -- As of January 20, it appears that the last great hurdle of completing the farm bill is being resolved. Getting an agreement on dairy policy has held up the farm bill completion for weeks, and finally all of the key players in the debate may have found a way to exit the conflict, embrace a policy and move the farm bill to its conclusion. We will expect the bill to be passed by both Houses and to the President’s desk for signature in early February.
This has been a farm bill like no other. Now it must be defended from opponents who will seek various means and legislative opportunities to attack and undermine it. The battles over sugar policy are never over.
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Trade — You are now hearing more and more about “Trade Promotion Authority” (TPA) — commonly referred to as “fast track” negotiating authority. Congress gives the authority to the President to negotiate international trade agreements that Congress can only approve or disapprove — not amend or filibuster. Trading partners will not submit their final negotiating positions if they know that Congress has the authority to amend the agreement once it has been negotiated.
Within that authority, there are required consultations with Congress, as well as certain parameters for the negotiations. As the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations head toward a conclusion in 2014, it is essential that the
Obama Administration has the TPA to complete the toughest and most sensitive issues (like sugar) in the negotiations. Concerns are being raised by members of Congress that agreements could supersede U.S. wage, safety and environmental laws. Other issues of concern are foreign currency manipulation, food safety laws, state-owned businesses, online commerce, etc. While the bulk of the negotiations are noncontroversial and can be agreed to without
TPA, it must be in place before their completion.
With it being an election year and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, leaving soon to become U.S. Ambassador to China, it is uncertain when the TPA will be passed. You will see a strong push as soon as it is completed to finalize the negotiations. There will probably not be a vote on a final agreement until after the November
Crop Insurance -- As you may know, the price election for the 2014 crop is set at $40 per ton, and there is no justification at this time to increase it above that level. In a depressed and uncertain market environment that is driven mainly by unpredictable exports from Mexico, our ability to manage risks has become increasingly more difficult.
The good news is that we moved from a variable replant reimbursement (1.5 times price election) to a fixed amount of $80 per acre. We made it clear a couple of years ago that when sugar prices collapse, sugar production costs do not.
Biotech -- There are two key issues that our industry is focusing on in 2014.
First, there is a ballot initiative in Jackson County, Ore., to prohibit the production of any biotech crop in the county. The rest of the counties in Oregon are pre-empted by a state law that was passed in 2013. Jackson County had already begun a ballot initiative process and is allowed to complete it before it falls under the state pre-emption rules thereafter. County residents will cast their ballots on this initiative as part of the primary balloting (mailing ballot) that is held May 6-20.
Basic sugarbeet seed is produced in Jackson County, which is then used to produce commercial sugarbeet seed in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Many thanks to our sugarbeet cooperatives for stepping up to help support efforts to convince Jackson County residents to reject the proposed prohibition.
The other major battle will be over food labeling at the state and federal levels of products using ingredients derived from biotech crops. With the defeat of state ballot initiatives in California and Washington State over the past two years, and a
possibility of four more states this year, a federal standard is required to avoid a patchwork set of commercially untenable labeling requirements. Food manufacturers, retailers, commodity and farm groups, technology providers and other stakeholders across the value chain will support proposed legislation that will address any concerns for consumers.
We will be battling the organic and anti-GMO groups who want mandatory labeling on everything derived from a GM plant, even when the ingredient is identical to its conventional or organic counterpart. This will be a very big, loud, expensive and bruising debate. There is no speculation at this point on a timeline as to when this issue will be resolved, but it will consume our attention in the months ahead.
Elections — The 2014 election season is now well underway, and quite a number of retirements have already been announced. We will see a lot of new faces in the next Congress. With your dedicated support through your political action committee, we can meet and visit with prospective candidates regarding support for our industry and our policy. This should be a very high priority for each and every grower.
Internship — College-age persons interested in working in the ASGA office for six to eight weeks this summer can apply online at americansugarbeet.org. Applications are due no later than March 31.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.