Senate — On June 20, the Senate concluded its consideration of its version of the 2012 farm bill. It considered 73 amendments to the bill passed out of the Agriculture Committee. Each amendment had a total of two minutes of debate – one minute in favor of the amendment and one minute against.
An unprecedented three amendments against U.S. sugar policy were raised by opponents. The first amendment considered on the farm bill was to completely eliminate U.S. sugar policy. The amendment was offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and co-sponsored by Senators Ron Kirk (R-Illinois) and Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey). It failed on a vote of 46-50.
The second amendment, which sought to eliminate all the changes and improvements to the sugar policy made in the 2008 farm bill, was offered by Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) and co-sponsored by Senators Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), Dan Coats (R-Indiana), Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), Ron Kirk (R-Illinois) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire). This amendment would have rolled the sugar loan rate back 27 years (1985), eliminated the feedstock flexibility program (surplus sugar to ethanol), eliminated the April 1 date that restricts adding sugar to the market until the U.S. crop is mostly processed and the harvest in Mexico is well along, and giving U.S. growers first right to 85% of the U.S. market. The amendment also mandated an ending stocks-to-use number (15.5%) that would have kept our market in an oversupplied situation, creating depressed prices and threats of forfeitures. It also would have allowed countries that could not fill their tariff rate quota amount to sell their excess to the U.S. market to another foreign supplier. This amendment lost 46-53.
The third amendment, offered by Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), rolled the April 1 date back to February 1, in which the USDA could announce greater imports to the market. By moving the day back earlier in the year, it adds more risk to making accurate import decisions. The amendment passed by a voice vote in the Senate.
The Senate farm bill must now wait for the House to take action on its own bill, which is completely separate from the Senate bill.
House -- On July 11, the House Agriculture Committee completed its crafting of the farm bill in a 15-hour marathon session during which 103 amendments were considered. An amendment by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) was the same as the amendment outlined above by Sen. Toomey, making drastic changes to the sugar policy. The amendment failed 36-10.
A second amendment regarding an attempt to effectively modify the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was ruled out of order and withdrawn because it was outside the jurisdiction of the ag committee. So the sugar provisions in the House bill are the same as those in the current bill.
Many Thanks to your grower leaders who were in Washington for our summer board meeting and the many visits they made on Capitol Hill asking members to vote against any amendments against the sugar policy. Their visits truly make a difference.
The big question now is when and how the House will proceed with consideration of the farm bill. With the Senate’s completion of the bill and the current bill expiring September 30, there is great pressure for the House to take up the bill before Congress recesses starting August 4 and continuing to September 10. As of this mid-July writing, there is no answer to that question.
Whenever the House completes action, the House and Senate farm bills will have to be reconciled so that one bill is created from the two separate bills. The leadership of the two committees will manage that process to produce a “conference report.” The conference report cannot be amended in either body and is sent back to both the House and Senate for a very brief debate and final vote. If approved by both chambers, the bill is then sent to the President for his signature and to become law.
In a separate action, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania) offered an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee to the FY 2013 agricultural appropriations bill. It was a “means test” restricting sugar processors from taking out CCC loans. The amendment failed in committee by a vote of 15-30.
The 800-plus-page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was published on June 8, and the public review and commenting ended July 9.
On July 20, USDA published the Record of Decision (ROD) in the Federal Register, which once again deregulated Roundup Ready® Sugarbeets (RRSB). While growers no longer have to abide by the USDA compliance agreements under the partial deregulation, they must retain their records and comply with the provisions of the technical use agreement with the tech provider. Specific instructions will be communicated to growers by their processor.
Beet growers have always been good stewards of the technology and will continue to be in the years ahead.
Litigation -- The two RRSB cases currently pending in U.S. District Court will now have to be reviewed by the court in the context of the deregulation of RRSB.
Supply & Demand
Carryover stocks ending September 30 are expected to be at 15.4% of usage, which is the highest level of stocks in many years. With a large beet crop expected this year, there will be plenty of sugar available for customers without increasing imports above our minimum obligations under our various free trade agreements.
The 2013 ASGA Annual Meeting will be held on February 3-5 in San Diego, Calif., at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. The program will include various speakers and events pertaining to key industry issues and current sugar policy.
Meeting registration will be available online at www.americansugarbeet.org beginning as of November 1. Visit the ASGA website for more information.
Many thanks to Leah Kramer from Bird Island, Minn., for a great experience this year. Leah met many members of Congress and worked on several projects that were helpful for our grower leaders’ work on the farm bill. We appreciate her dedicated efforts and support over the past two months.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.