Roundup Ready Sugarbeets
The 60-day public commenting period for the draft Environmental Impact Statement ended on December 13. A preliminary count indicated more than 1,400 unique comments being submitted for the record, of which roughly 90% were favorable and 10% in opposition to the full deregulation of Roundup Ready® sugarbeets. Your individual comments were very helpful to have as part of the public record in support of the technology, so we thank you for the time and effort you took to make a submission.
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USDA-APHIS is now in the process of reviewing each of the comments to address and respond to any issues that are warranted. There is no set schedule to make a final determination. At the time the comments were requested, APHIS believed June 2012 would be a reasonable time frame to complete its work. It is our hope that they can stay with that schedule. There is nothing further that the industry can do except wait for APHIS to complete its evaluation of the comments.
At the end of November, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced a price election of $51.30 per ton for the 2012 crop. While this remains a conservative estimate of anticipated value of the crop, it is at a level that will help our growers manage risk as they go to the fields this spring.
We will also see provisions for a pilot program for “clamps” or field piles in Southern Minnesota and Michigan for 2012. We believe this is in the best interest of both the grower and the insurance companies to improve efforts to recover beets under difficult harvest conditions.
2011 Sugar Crop
As of late December, the beet and cane crops have been or are being harvested and processed without any major weather problems. USDA projects domestic sugar production to be nearly 7.89 million tons, raw value, which is slightly above the 2010 crop. Total imports are expected to be 3.45 million tons, of which Mexico will supply about 1.59 million tons.
2012 Farm Bill
In early December, after the deficit reduction super committee process collapsed, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said, “We will resume holding hearings when Congress returns in January. The goal is for the committee to complete an initial product in the spring to provide plenty of time for Congress to complete its work.”
The Senate’s ag committee held 12 public hearings and accepted more than 5,000 public comments in 2011 in its work to produce a bipartisan and bicameral effort to provide recommendations to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. This will be a basis for forging a new farm bill.
As of this writing, the House has not announced its specific plans for going forward in 2012. If the bill follows regular order, it will be drafted in the spring; separate bills will be voted on by the respective houses in the summer months; and a reconciled conference report will be voted on by both houses by October 1. A number of various scenarios can trigger deviation from that path and timeline, but it is too soon to say what particular route it may take.
Trying to write any legislation in a presidential election year is always tricky business. Elections have a way of pushing final decisions on major policy issues past the election into a “lame duck” session or the following year. This is particularly true if there is a reasonable chance to change the majority in either body of Congress or the occupant of the White House.
The bottom line is that the industry must always be ready to defend and promote its domestic sugar policy whenever and wherever the debate takes place. Even though we have a sugar policy that has cost the taxpayer nothing for the past 10 years and is not projected to cost the taxpayer anything during the next 10 years, the opponents have been and will be continually attacking it with vigor.
The January 3 Iowa caucus is the official launch of the political marathon to the November elections. Twenty-two states will hold their caucuses or primaries through the March 6 “Super Tuesday” when a Republican presidential nominee should be pretty well identified. Mitt Romney has the money and organization that will be difficult to derail throughout the long selection process. But this is America, and anything can happen. As candidates run low on funds and support, forcing them to depart the race, watch who they support as sign of who they believe will be the best candidate against President Obama.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.