As of the middle of November, key agricultural congressional leaders working to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills were signaling, with a level of confidence, that a farm bill would be passed before the end of the year. It has taken far too long, there are far too many reforms, there are genuine and significant spending reductions, and it will solve international agricultural trade disputes. It will be one of the few actions taken by the Congress this year that achieves all of those objectives.
Oh, and by the way, next year is an election year. Members of Congress know they need to get this off of their plate.
Since the sugar provisions are the same in both the House and Senate versions, no changes are expected in our policy in the final farm bill.
Once the conference report is completed, American agriculture needs to lock arms and get this bill passed and signed by the President.
Rebalancing the Market
Everyone recognizes that U.S. sugar prices collapsed as massive Mexican surpluses moved north and oversupplied our market. Several actions have been taken by USDA since mid-July to reduce supplies and rebalance the domestic market. The bottom line is that by September 30th (the end of the fiscal year), 603,878 metric tons (665,655 short tons) were removed from the market at a cost to the government of $278,200,000.
This is the first cost of the program to the government in more than a decade. While sugar users rail against government expenditures, they fail to mention that their proposal for a sugar policy in the 2008 farm bill was for the government to spend $1.5 billion in direct subsidies to growers every year so we could stay in business and they could buy cheap sugar at world prices.
Much of the sugar is being offered for the commercial production of ethanol, so it is removed from the market to avoid forfeitures in this fiscal year that ends September 30, 2014. While domestic stocks remain excessive, there are two important factors yet to consider.
First, Mexico may finally realize that shipping all of its surplus north is unsustainable, and it is in their best long-term interest to find other foreign destinations for their sugar.
Second, the beet crop is not yet processed, the cane crop is not yet harvested, and the Mexican harvest will not finish until the summer of 2014. There are many unpredictable weather events that can still change the supply across North America.
I can also assure you that growers’ concerns have been heard at the highest levels at USDA and the Trade Representative’s offices, and other tools are being evaluated to ad- dress this problem in order to pre- serve an adequate safety net for our producers and avoid taxpayer costs.
Washington state voters defeated a ballot measure — by 55% to 45% — that would have required mandatory labeling of foods that contain or are derived from biotech crops. This fol- lows on the heels of the defeat of the ballot initiative in California last year. You will see an effort in the weeks ahead to address the labeling issue at the federal level in response to the state legislative and ballot initiatives in various states.
ASGA will be offering an intern- ship program for 2014. The term of internship will be between June and August and last 6-8 weeks. Throughout the program, the intern will participate in a variety of tasks and projects necessary to the functionality of the Association. The intern will have an opportunity to meet with members of Congress and gain an understanding of the political process of an effective lobbying organization. Applications will be accepted beginning January 1 through March 31, 2014. You can find the application and details on our website.
2014 Annual Meeting
ASGA’s 2014 annual meeting will be held in Tampa, Fla., February 9- 11 at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina. This world-class downtown Tampa hotel overlooks Tampa Bay and is near Ybor City, with lots of shopping and restau- rants within walking distance. The ASGA golf tournament is scheduled for the morning of February 9 at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (Copperhead Course). The Innis- brook Golf Club is world-renowned for its courses.
To register and make hotel reservations, visit www.americansugarbeet.org. If you have any questions, please call 202-833-2398.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.