As 2015 comes to a close, we can look back to many successes by our industry this year. In addition to producing a tremendous crop, we have succeeded in tackling big issues that have threatened our industry.
After almost two years of work by beet and cane growers and processors and a tremendous legal team, the Mexico trade problem is now addressed, with provisions that will limit Mexican sugar imports at minimum prices and will not threaten forfeitures. With USDA back in control over imports to balance market demand, U.S. sugar policy is back to a “no cost” program that will stabilize the market for producers for at least the next five years. Much work still needs to be done to protect the agreement from legal challenges and assure that the agreement is well monitored so that industry participants in the U.S. and Mexico are in compliance.
The second success is the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that provided access of sugar and sugar-containing products from 11 other countries in a manner that will not disrupt our market, harm our producers or undermine our sugar policy. Negotiators for the Obama Administration were excellent to work with, and they stood by their commitments to negotiate an agreement with results that our industry could live with.This is the largest and most complex free trade negotiation the U.S. has ever negotiated, so it takes time for all sectors of our economy to digest the details. As with any trade agreement, the forces for and against it will be loud and active. A date for congressional consideration has not yet been scheduled for 2016.
A third success was fighting off a $3 billion attack on crop insurance contained in the two-year budget deal that was forged by congressional leaders and the White House. The cut came as a last minute and dead-of-night surprise to everyone, including the House and Senate Agriculture committees and the crop insurance industry. The broad spectrum of agriculture interests immediately closed ranks and were outraged that more harm would come to a critically important risk management tool for farmers, given all of the cuts that had already been made to agriculture during the farm bill fight. House and Senate leaders and the White House got the message loud and clear and agreed to not only correct the problem, but find the $3 billion in spending cuts outside of any programs “under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee.”
This is very important, because more attacks will come against farm policy by the “Anti-Farmer Coalition,” which includes conservative think tanks on the right, the Environmental Working Group on the left, and some large agribusinesses, sugar users and the mainstream media. We are not only defending the 2014 farm bill; we are already preparing for the 2018 farm bill. We are likely to see attacks on sugar policy in the appropriations process in 2016, so we must stand together to oppose any reopening of the farm bill.
A fourth success is on the biotechnology front. KWS and Monsanto announced that they are moving forward with a triple-stack herbicide trait for sugarbeets. While it will take almost a decade to get seed into growers’ hands, the first step is to get a commitment to move the technology forward. Grower frustration over much of the anti-biotech misinformation that activists have disbursed over the Internet for years has motivated a number of our women farmers, and they are committed to pushing back with the truth about the technology. You will see more activity by women who will take on the activists and educate consumers.
Finally, efforts to get a federal labeling standard for foods containing genetically engineered crops or ingredients have been very controversial, complicated and emotional.
The issue is driven by activists who have pressed for state labeling initiatives and mandatory labeling. We were successful in getting a federal pre-emption bill passed this summer in the House, and continue to work on a Senate bill that would also pre-empt the states from creating a patchwork of different labeling requirements. It is a very high priority for us, and we are working with commodity groups and food manufacturers to find a solution to the problem.
The 2016 election season is already in full swing. Presidential debates are gaining a good deal of media attention, and predicting the final nominees for either party is filled with uncertainty. There are also a number of Senate and House races that we are very focused on.
Support of your local Political Action Committee is critically important as we move into the election year. Your contributions allow us to spend time educating members of Congress and their key staff about U.S. sugar policy. There will also be numerous congressional candidates who will want to meet with us and learn more about our industry. If you have not participated in your PAC in the past, you need to start right now. If you have participated, then thoughtfully consider doing more. The challenges before our industry and agriculture as a whole are daunting in the years ahead.
Success is not a result of random acts of kindness by policy makers. It is achieved by targeted and methodical education activities to counter misinformation spouted by clamoring industrial sugar users. The threats are real and the challenges are serious. Your voice needs to continue to be strong . . . our industry leadership respected . . . and new relationships forged with policy makers across our nation.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.