Litigation: On December 21, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals extended its stay pending appeal of Judge Jeffrey White’s November 30, 2010, injunction requiring the destruction of sugar beet stecklings (seedlings) currently being grown under permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The stecklings are intended for research and breeding purposes, as well as for basic seed and hybrid seed production for 2012 and future years.
The Appeals Court consolidated the permit litigation with the appeal of Judge White’s August 13, 2010, decision vacating the deregulation of biotech sugarbeets, and expedited the briefing and hearing schedule so that the appeals can be heard in early February 2011. To allow for consideration of the appeals, the stay of Judge White’s injunction has been extended to February 28, 2011, or such other time as the Ninth Circuit orders.
The beet sugar industry’s growers, processors, technology providers and seed producers are pleased that the Court of Appeals will now have sufficient opportunity to consider relevant legal precedents and unrebutted evidence that the planting of these permitted steckling fields is authorized by law and would cause no harm. We are hopeful that this expedited appellate process will bring more certainty to our industry early in 2011.
Administrative Action: Public commenting on the proposed options to grow Roundup Ready sugarbeets until the Environmental Impact Statement is concluded closed on December 6. Approximately 3,700 comments were filed with USDA, with the majority (80%) in support of partial deregulation. There was broad support from university scientists, sugarbeet growers, other commodity groups, organic growers, sugar customers, bankers, local businesses and more.
USDA is aggressively processing those comments, and they will need to publicly respond to any key issues raised in the submissions. Any final modifications will be made to the Environmental Assessment, and then they will announce their decision on how to move forward.
We have made USDA aware of the challenges growers face in making crop decisions for 2011, and we believe USDA is moving as expeditiously and thoughtfully as they can. At this time, we cannot speculate as to what decision they will make or when they will make it.
The sub-freezing temperatures in Florida in mid-December damaged sugarcane being harvested and the plant cane that was planted in the fall. Damage assessment usually takes some time to evaluate, and it will likely be late January before accurate assessments can be made. The domestic sugar industry, customers, and government analysts are watching this closely to see the impact on domestic supplies and stocks. With production and inventories stockpiled early in the year, there is time to react to weather problems once all the factors are adequately assessed.
The initial price election has been established at $41.50 per ton ($43 in California) by USDA’s Risk Management Agency for the 2011 crop. We clearly believe that the price is too low. As in the past three years, we have taken our case to the administrator of RMA, asking that the estimate be revised upward. That process is currently underway again this year, and a final decision by RMA will be made in mid-February.
House Republicans are slowly organizing committees and assignments; the Democrats will wait until lists are “official” on January 5. Former Ag Committee chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota will become ranking member. The new committee chairman, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, has announced there will be 16 freshmen members on the committee. None are from beet areas, and only one freshman is from a beet state (Colorado). One new member is from a non-cane area of Florida.
Republicans leaving the House Ag Committee for other assignments are: Jerry Moran (KS, moving to the Senate), Sam Graves (MO), Mike Rogers (AL), Adrian Smith (NE, moving to Ways and Means), David Poe (TN), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO), Bill Cassidy (LA) and Cynthia Lummis (WY, moving to Appropriations).
Chairman of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management will be Michael Conaway of Texas. Jurisdiction is over programs and markets related to sugar, cotton, cottonseed, wheat, feed grains, soybeans, oilseeds, rice, dry beans, peas, lentils, the CCC, and risk management, including crop insurance, commodity exchanges, and other specialty crops.
Congressman Conaway is a strong leader and knowledgeable about sugar. We look forward to continuing to work closely with him in the years ahead.
In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) will become chair of the Agriculture Committee. If, as expected, current ranking member Saxby Chambliss (GA) steps down to become ranking on the Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Pat Roberts (KS) is likely to become ranking on Ag. Sen. Chambliss is expected to remain on the Ag Committee. No other committee assignments had
been made official as of the end of December.