Boredom is not an occupational hazard in the sugar industry. There are many diverse issues on the 2014 agenda that will impact our industry and that your grower and processor leaders will be watching and working on throughout the year.
Farm Bill — After three years of contentious battles in a toxic political environment, congressional approval of a five-year farm bill is likely in January and will be sent to the President for his signature. There has been more work on this bill than you have seen or can imagine to get it across the finish line. Again, we thank the champions of sugar policy in both the House and Senate for the great work they have done to maintain our policy and sustain our industry.
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The Market — The collapse of the sugar market is on everyone’s mind, every day. The massive amounts of sugar driven into our market by Mexico, as allowed by the NAFTA, have brought great harm to producers in the form of substantially reduced beet checks, and to the American taxpayers — who spent $278 million to dispose of the Mexican surplus. We are outraged over the injury it has inflicted upon us.
USDA has quickly disposed of forfeited sugar to non-human consumption uses, such as ethanol and as feed for cattle and bees in order to remove surplus stocks from the market. It has limited tools for taking additional steps to bring the market further back into balance, and can only do so when there are serious threats of additional forfeitures.
For many years, your industry leaders have conveyed to their Mexican counterparts the need for their government and industry to embrace a market-balancing policy to avoid severe surpluses and deficits that injure both producers and consumers in the North American market. It has been a persistent, patient, thoughtful and diplomatic effort to make sure that the NAFTA worked for everyone. Unfortunately, our sound advice was not heeded in a timely manner. So we turn to those historic words spoken by President Lincoln in his annual address to Congress in 1862: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” Over the course of 2014, we will be taking various actions toward balancing the market once again. Your grower and cooperative
leaders will keep you apprised of activities as they occur.
Trans-Pacific Partnership -- The Obama Administration is working hard to complete the trade agreement in the first quarter of 2014. As with any trade agreement, providing more access to our sugar market when it is already oversupplied by Mexico is a problem. The U.S. sugar market is only so large, and the unlimited access for Mexico limits what could be provided in future agreements. Sugar is clearly the most sensitive commodity issue in these negotiations, and the difficult issues are always the last to be
Whatever is agreed to has a direct impact on the ability of U.S. sugar policy to function as it is intended. Our negotiators are quite aware of the sensitivities with our industry.
Biotech — Three key issues will demand our attention in 2014. First, there will be a ballot initiative in
Over the course of
2014, we will be
taking various actions
toward balancing the
market once again.
Jackson County, Oregon, to prohibit the production of any biotech crop in the county. Jackson County is where some of our “basic” beet seed is grown, which is then used to produce commercial sugarbeet seed in the Willamette Valley. So this initiative has a direct impact on important aspects of some of our seed production.
Jackson County voters will cast their ballots by mail beginning on May 6. It is important that our industry strongly oppose these types of initiatives.
The second key issue will be over the labeling of consumer packaging in which product ingredients are derived from biotech plants. We have seen ballot measures fail in close votes in California and Washington state, but some victories in the Northeast by anti-biotech activists to move this direction. This debate will be very big in 2014, and is one to watch very closely.
The third key issue is the introduction of biotech crops in Russia and the Ukraine. These two countries have the largest sugarbeet acreage in the world, and they are moving quickly to put a regulatory process in place to produce biotech crops in their countries. While actual commercialization of biotech sugarbeets may be a few years down the road, we are seeing the initial moves by the governments to put an approval process in place this year.
Election Year — Of course, the mid-term elections are only 10 months away, and we will again see several new faces in both the House and Senate. We will be spending a great deal of time talking to candidates about the importance of a strong domestic sugar industry.
Internship — We will be accepting applications for an internship this year in the ASGA office. Please visit our website and submit applications to our office before the end of March.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.