There is a flurry of activities in Washington this summer that will impact the beet sugar industry in the months and years ahead. Here are a few of them.
Mexico: Fixing the problems with the suspension agreements that were devastating our industry was essential for the health and future of our industry. The next step is to make sure the agreements are properly adhered to by the Mexican government and industry. The sugar industry’s monitoring, and the oversight and enforcement by our government of the new agreement, are critically important to each and every grower. Sweetener trade with Mexico will be a perpetual issue for our industry in the years ahead, so we must always be vigilant in watching that Mexico complies with the agreements.
During the years of injury too much Mexican sugar was being sold into the refined market, causing the market to be out of balance. As the market continues its transition back toward balance, we need to make sure the USDA is accurate in its production and consumption forecasts so the market does not become oversupplied once again. In July, ending stocks are projected to be 11.4% at the end of September, which will help reduce beet sugar inventories as long as USDA does not significantly increase imports.
Biotech Disclosure: USDA has asked for public input on 30 questions that will be used to draft the proposed regulations for implementing the law, passed last July, for disclosing ingredients that contain genetic material from biotech plants. Sugar from Roundup Ready sugarbeets does not contain DNA or protein. A tremendous amount of work is needed to draft the regulations correctly. This is critically important to our industry and sugarbeet growers have been essential players in getting the bill passed and providing important arguments for the Trump Administration to craft the regulations in a manner that is not harmful to the beet sugar industry. Our suggestions to the Administration are due by late August. We then expect proposed rules to be drafted and put out for public comment later this fall. We will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule, and public comments will be reviewed. The final rule is expected to be published by July 2018.
NAFTA renegotiation: NAFTA renegotiations are expected to begin soon after August 16, with the intention to conclude them as soon as possible ahead of the Mexican presidential elections on July 1, 2018. Sugar trade with Mexico is being dealt with under the suspension agreements, and we have made it very clear to the Trump Administration that there is no need or justifiable reason to give Canada—which imports 93% of its domestic consumption--any further access to our sugar market.
Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations Bills: The House Appropriations Committee approved the Ag Appropriations bill on July 12th. During consideration, Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA) offered and then withdrew an amendment that would prohibit sugar companies from taking CCC loans of more than $40 million per year. All but one beet sugar company take out loans well in excess of that amount, and the inability to access cash through loans on sugar would cause serious problems for growers.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will be approving their agricultural spending bill the week of July 17th and we need to be prepared for possible attacks from senators on the Committee who are strongly opposed to U.S. sugar policy.
It is unclear how the appropriations bills will move across the floor of either Chamber, but we have to expect an anti-sugar amendment at any time.
2018 Farm Bill: All eyes are on the House and Senate Budget Committees to see how much money the Agriculture Committees will have to write a farm bill. The House budget requires a cut of $1 billion per year for ten years from agriculture.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing in Washington on July 25 on the topic, “Perspectives on Risk Management Tools and Trends for the 2018 Farm Bill.” Beet grower leader Ervin Schlemmer of Joliet, Montana, will testify on behalf of the domestic sugar industry in support of strong sugar provisions, oversight of the Mexican suspension agreements, and the critical need for good crop insurance and research funding. Crop Insurance: Sugarbeet crop insurance has been fully reviewed by crop insurance analysts and several improvements have been recommended. We will be pursing most of those recommendations to be adopted, as well as promoting other potential improvements. Current replant coverage is inadequate and needs to be increased. We need to move from “standardized tons” to pounds of sugar per acre. We will ask that growers’ Actual Production History (APH) not be penalized for beets that are harvested early. There are other specific and regional issues that will need to be addressed.
2017 Summer Intern: Abby Mueller, from Cummings, ND, did a fantastic job as our summer intern and made many very helpful contributions on projects we are working on for the 2018 farm bill. Her report on her experience is included in this issue. It is a life-changing opportunity to see all the issues the ASGA works on at a pace that keeps everyone on the run, as well as the wide range of political activities and DC experiences that the internship provides.
2018 ASGA Annual Meeting: Our meeting next year will be held in Washington, DC, at the JW Marriott hotel, February 4-6. We are inviting top agriculture and trade officials in the Trump Administration, as well as Agriculture Committee leaders from the House and Senate to talk about the Farm Bill. This is a special opportunity to visit your congressional offices and enjoy the many historical sights of Washington. The JW Marriott is two blocks from the White House, which is a perfect location. You can make your hotel reservation online here: https://aws.passkey.com/e/49149357
Information and registration will be available on our website November 1, but it is important now to save the date to attend a fantastic meeting. Contact your House offices three months in advance if you would like to request a tour of the White House or the Capitol--there are a limited number of tickets/days/times available for the White House tours.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.