Farm Bill — When President Obama signed the 2014 farm bill at Michigan State University on February 7, the ASGA Board of Directors was gathered for our annual meeting in Tampa, Fla. We took a break from board business to witness the signing on C-Span and a big screen TV, and a real sense of excitement, exhilaration, pride, success and relief filled the room from those who had worked tirelessly to get the sugar provisions extended.
The timing of a farm bill being signed during our annual meeting had never happened before and may never happen again. So it was a very special experience for everyone. The spirit of celebration permeated the entire meeting.
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In the meeting, your directors spent a good deal of time dissecting the farm bill process — looking at what worked and didn't; what was done well and not so well; what activities we would repeat, and what we would do differently for the next farm bill. Yes, we are already laying the groundwork for the 2018 farm bill. Growers are in Washington the last week of February and first week of March to thank lawmakers for their support, and to try to learn and understand the reasons why others opposed a strong sugar policy.
With the passage of any farm bill, there are two essential things to focus on after it has cleared the legislative process.
First, it must be defended against sugar policy opponents, who are relentless in their efforts to effectively modify it through other legislative avenues. For example, we have to defend the bill from attacks through the annual appropriations
process that are almost certain to come.
Second, we have to make sure that the program is implemented in a manner based on congressional intent. This requires us to monitor the supply and demand balance every month to make sure that USDA is administering the policy properly.
Mexico — Everyone understands that the massive unrestricted imports from Mexico, brought about by the NAFTA, constitute the fundamental problem that prevents the domestic market from being in balance and creates pressure on U.S. sugar policy.
Growers should be reassured that industry leaders have been consumed by this problem for some time and are searching for effective solutions. It is difficult to be patient when the market is in turmoil, but we must have patience a little longer. These matters are complicated, and international diplomacy takes time. By the time you go to the field to plant the 2014 crop, I am hopeful that we will be on a path to resolving the problem in the near term.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — Much of our attention is now focused on the TPP negotiations as efforts move forward to complete the agreement. Negotiators were in Singapore in mid-February to work toward narrowing the outstanding differences among the 12 countries in the trade pact. The sugar industry’s international trade advisor, Don Phillips, was in Singapore to monitor the negotiations, apprise us of the status and provide important input to our negotiators. The difficulty lies in having a comprehensive free trade agreement when your market is already oversupplied as a result of a previous trade agreement.
Given congressional pushback on the President’s desire for Trade Promotion Authority (fast track) — which assures other countries that Congress will not amend a negotiated trade agreement — it is uncertain when the negotiations can be concluded.
Trade issues are always highly political, and sensitivities are heightened during an election year. The U.S. is negotiating market access with each individual country in the group. Negotiations with Japan will be one of the most difficult, particularly in agriculture. Australia is the largest sugar exporter and our greatest concern in the talks.
We have to make sure that the program is implemented in a
manner based on congressional intent.
Leadership Transition — We said a huge thank you and goodbye at the annual meeting to several dedicated leaders on our board of directors from across the nation. This is an expected transition once a farm bill is completed. They have been great servants to this industry and are stepping aside to bring new and very talented directors to our board.
A special thanks to former ASGA President Kelly Erickson for his tremendous leadership over the past two years and for getting the farm bill completed during his term. Kelly was outstanding in his work with other organizations, and his progressive thinking was crucial as we addressed the key problems facing the industry. We have truly been blessed by his hard work.
He hands the reins over to former Vice President John Snyder from Worland, Wyo. John is well prepared, with plenty of experience to face the challenges ahead. He will be assisted by Vice President Galen Lee, president of the Nyssa-Nampa Beet Growers (Oregon and eastern Idaho) and chairman of the International Affairs Committee. Our secretary/treasurer is Mark Olson from the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. This is a great leadership team of which every beet grower can be very proud.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.