Grower leaders have just met in Long Beach, Calif., for the 2015 ASGA Annual Meeting to dig deep into several key issues facing our industry in 2015 and beyond.
The ASGA Board of Directors spent one very long and intense day studying the North American sugar and sweetener market from a variety of perspectives. A better understanding of the beet industry’s customers and competitors in the U.S. and Mexico will be very beneficial in every cooperative board room. It will also help clarify key issues that drive and impact domestic sugar policy and negotiations of pending trade agreements. This was a unique educational opportunity that keeps the industry leaders thinking ahead of the curve.
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Our general sessions focused on six key areas: Mexico, international trade, domestic sugar policy, operating in a changed political landscape, the biotech labeling debate, and sugar image/consumption and herbicide resistance.
The Mexican trade issue will be with us for a long time and will require a great deal of attention and work. The suspension agreements to the antidumping and countervailing cases negotiated by the U.S. and Mexican governments in 2014 are now being formally reviewed by the U.S. International Trade Commission at the request of two independent U.S. cane sugar refiners (Imperial Sugar in Savannah, Ga., and Am- Cane in Taylor, Mich.). The issue is whether the suspension agreements “completely eliminate” the injurious effect of Mexico’s subsidies and dumping. Stay tuned.
The Mexican trade issue
will be with us for a long
time and will require a great
deal of attention and work.
Industry experts walked the meeting attendees through these issues and examined how difficult it is to merge two very different industries and sugar policies in the same common market.
As we have learned with NAFTA, if you don’t get the right agreement from the beginning, it can have a devastating impact on your market and years of political and legal work to address the problem. So with the Trans-Pacific Partnership expected to be concluded in 2015, early negotiations of a free trade agreement with Europe, and on a path to normalization with Cuba in the future, we looked at all of those issues and how they impact U.S. sugar producers.
We also heard from the key person at USDA who monitors and makes recommendations on the actions USDA should take in managing the U.S. sugar program. As you know, those decisions directly impact your beet payment.
With the 2014 elections behind us and the political jockeying for the 2016 presidential election underway, we now operate in a very different political environment. What does that mean for agriculture policy now, and how do we begin to position for the next farm bill? Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest and ag journalist Jim Wiesemeyer helped meeting attendees understand the many forces in play and the ramifications for agriculture in the years ahead.
We also focused a great deal on the key issues in biotechnology for our industry. The labeling debate is big, and it’s loud. It will get bigger and louder in 2015 as competing labeling bills will be in front of the Congress. We heard from expert Karil Kochenderfer on how we talk about our technology. Growers also heard from Laura Rutherford, a ninth-generation farmer and North Dakota beet grower, on how farm women can talk about the technology.
Herbicide resistance is a key challenge for American agriculture. As an industry, we must be proactive and innovative to fend off the problem. It requires education, commitment and changes in the way you farm. Our industry has been working with the top weed scientists in the nation to determine the best way to educate and implement Best Management Practices. It is a very complicated issue, and beet growers may have a unique opportunity be leaders in this area. You will hear much more about this in the months ahead.
Finally, Andy Briscoe from The Sugar Association brought us up to date on the industry’s response to the many attacks on sugar in the diet. What are the real facts?
As a reminder, applications for the 2015 Cleavinger Internship at ASGA are due by the end of March. This is a wonderful and life-changing experience for our young leaders of tomorrow. Jake Chisholm, a grower for American Crystal and student at North Dakota State University, was the 2014 ASGA Intern, and he spoke to the meeting audience about his experiences in D.C.
Also, I have on my desk a copy of a doctoral thesis titled, “Analysis of the United States’ Sugar Industry,” written by Dr. Karen Lewis, who is now an esteemed assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in agricultural economics. She was the ASGA intern from Michigan in 2007, and she pursued this career path as a result of that experience.
Editor’s Note: Look for complete coverage of the 2015 ASGA Annual Meeting in The Sugarbeet Grower’s March issue.
The labeling debate will get bigger and
louder in 2015 as competing labeling
bills will be in front of the Congress.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.