With 2018 now underway, the first notable hiccup of the year was the government shut down on the one year anniversary of the Trump Administration. This is yet another sign of political dysfunction in our nation’s capital. Frustration and emotions are at a boiling point. Government shut downs, even short ones, are costly, inefficient, disruptive and avoidable. It does, however, provide lots of finger-pointing opportunities in an election year. Most people “outside the Beltway” are tired of the blame game and just want their government to work in a responsible and timely fashion.
A shutdown—even a brief one--only complicates the debate and adds further congestion to a busy legislative calendar in an election year. The lack of a budget is particularly harmful in the area of research. Important agricultural research work is not being done and new researchers are not being hired to fill positions left vacant by retirees. Sugarbeet research falls squarely in that category. There is nothing the Trump Administration can do about it until Congress passes a budget and appropriates the money. On top of all of this, we are still waiting on numerous political appointees to be nominated and confirmed.
199A Tax Provisions:
As the tax reform bill moved quickly through Congress last year, a provision was included to replace the Domestic Production Activity Deduction (“DPAD,” or Section 199) with a new provision giving tax relief to members of cooperatives. Later it was found that it gave a significant price advantage and preference for producers to market to a cooperative over private or publically-owned grain elevators/terminals. Lawyers and representatives of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the National Grain and Feed Association are in discussions to find a way to resolve the differences. Once a solution is found, it must be made part of a “must pass” bill in order to get 60 votes in the Senate.
2018 Farm Bill:
Both House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders want to get a bill drafted and on the floor sooner rather than later. Various provisions of the draft bill are being scored for their projected cost by the Congressional Budget Office. Once that is done and they have a good whip count on where the votes are on key parts of the bill, they will look to bring a bill to the floor. The bill will not be finalized until there is a commitment for floor time. Committees do not like to have bills lying around to be attacked between the time they are reported out of committee and when they go to the House or Senate floor. We could see a farm bill on the House floor by March.
Over the last week in February and first week March, growers will be in Washington, D.C. with Louisiana cane growers to visit hundreds of congressional offices to send a clear message that members of Congress should vote against bills or amendments that undermine our safety net in any way. There will be amendments on the floor of both houses to undercut our policy and harm our industry. Growers will make it very clear that members should vote against those amendments.
We fully expect the proposed regulations implementing the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard to be released by late February or early March. This will give us our first look at how refined products, like sugar, are dealt with. We will closely examine them as soon as they are published and then provide feedback to USDA to support what they have proposed or ask for modification of any element that we do not agree with. This is a long-term issue with international implications across all biotech commodities, so our regulations have to be properly positioned.
As the ASGA annual meeting ends on February 6th, we take a moment to congratulate President Galen Lee for two years of excellent leadership of the Association. Galen spent a good deal of time in numerous venues educating, promoting and defending our product, our industry and our policy. There is always something very special and impactful when a real farmer delivers the message to any audience. Meeting with key congressional members and the Secretary of Agriculture, speaking at the Farm Summit at the National Press Club, meeting other growers at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting or the Commodity Classic and being quoted in numerous press releases are just a few of the duties as president. I can assure you that he was always well received and well respected as the voice and the face of our growers. We are both proud and appreciative of all the good he has done during his two terms in office.
As a reminder, ASGA Clevenger Intern applications are due in our office no later than March 30. It is a fantastic opportunity for a young man or woman to experience the fast-paced and multi-issue workplace, as well as a tremendous growth opportunity. Please visit our website at www.americansugarbeet.org for an application.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.