The burning question on every grower’s mind is, “When will I know what I can plant?” It is a very simple question that, as of this latter November writing, has no definitive answer. We remain on hold in a very fluid situation until decisions are made by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and, if challenged, potentially a court.
On November 4, APHIS published three options for Roundup Ready® sugarbeet (RRSB) plantings in 2011. The first was to continue to keep RRSB restricted, and no plantings of RRSB seed would occur in 2011. That option, which we adamantly oppose, would clearly have significant and damaging ramifications for all producers. The second — and preferred option by APHIS — was to allow growers to raise RRSB with strict conditions under permits issued to the beet processor.
A third option is to maintain strict conditions through compliance agreements without the use of permits. The industry is working hard to better understand the operational ramifications of the two options and is developing specific comments that will be filed with APHIS before the December 6 deadline. It will then take some time (weeks) for APHIS to review all the comments before making a final decision. APHIS clearly understands the need for timely decisions to be made in order to plant a crop for 2011. Your local grower-leaders and processor will keep you apprised in a timely manner of any actions made by APHIS.
In the meantime, USDA, growers and processors are in the process of appealing the initial court decision of August 13 to vacate the deregulation and make RRSB regulated again. Documents in the appeal will be filed at various times by the parties, with final documents due no later than March 1, 2011. Given the timing of the appeal, it will not impact the planting decision for the 2011 crop.
Also pending is a decision by Judge Jeffrey White regarding the 256 acres of RRSB seed that were planted in early September under four separate APHIS permits for the production of stecklings. These stecklings could be important for seed production for 2012-2014 crops’ root crops. Final submissions to the court on this matter were made by the plaintiffs on November 16, and a decision could be rendered at any time.
Finally, work on the Environmental Impact Statement is underway, with an estimated completion date of May 30, 2012. A commenting period and review of comments would take additional time.
Members of the 111th Congress returned November 15 for a final session that will continue until close to Christmas. There are a lot of issues that House Democrats want to resolve before the Republicans take over in January, but the question is whether anything major can be accomplished. The Republican leadership has declared that their focus in the next Congress will be on jobs and cutting the deficit through a ban on earmarks and other cuts in federal spending. All programs are going to be evaluated, and farm programs will be in the cross-hairs.
The co-chairs of the bipartisan commission on the budget deficit recently released proposals for action and budget cuts, which perhaps will generate more heat than light. There is a December 1 deadline for agreement by 14 of the 18 members of the commission over proposals to reduce the national debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years, including: reducing agriculture subsidies by $3 billion annually; making cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; cutting and flattening income tax rates but increasing some taxes; removing popular tax deductions; and slicing government expenditures across the board. If agreement is reached (which appears unlikely), Congress could vote on the proposal before the end of the year.
There will be lots of new faces on Capitol Hill in the 112th Congress. After gaining 62 seats, the Republicanled House will welcome 90 new members — making the party ratio 190 D-241 R. All committee chairs and the number of Republicans/ Democrats on committees will switch. Committee assignments will be finalized in January, but members are already jockeying for shifts and promotions. Congressmen Frank Lucas (OK) and Collin Peterson (MN) will switch roles as chair and ranking member of the House Ag Committee; Rep. Dave Camp (MI) will become chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
In the Senate, where Democrats maintained control (53-47), there will be 16 new members — seven are former House or Senate members, and five have previous voting records opposing sugar policy. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) will remain as chair of the Budget Committee, clearing the way for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) to become the new chair of the Agriculture Committee.
Committee assignments will be finalized in January, and we will analyze the changes in my next article. The bottom line is that it is a huge change in members, staff and committee assignments. As we begin initial work on the 2012 farm bill, there will be plenty of work to do to educate staffers and 140 congressmen and 48 senators who have not yet cast a vote on sugar policy.
There will be plenty of work to do to educate staffers and 140 congressmen and 48 senators who have not yet cast a vote on sugar policy.