The current president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, Barney, N.D., producer Russ Mauch, touched upon several key areas of ASGA priority and activity during his commentary toward the conclusion of the group’s 2011 annual meeting in Tucson, Ariz. A significant portion of his remarks dealt with biotech issues — specifically, the long and ongoing litigation regarding the availability of Roundup Ready® sugarbeets for 2011 and beyond. Below are excerpts from Mauch’s presentation.
2010 was a great year for our growers. We harvested a super crop that was paired with a strong market. We all know the challenges that Mother Nature can throw at us, and we do our best to overcome those challenges and employ risk management tools to soften the blow of nature’s wrath.
The unique challenges in biotechnology that we faced last year and this spring, however, lie squarely in both the speed and judgment of the courts. This past year, I received constant briefings from our staff and legal counsel as we dealt with the court’s decisions.
Vacatures, stays, appellate courts, TROs, injunctions, APHIS, regulated and deregulated are all words and terminology that a simple farmer just wanting to raise a family of girls needed to learn to keep up with the Roundup Ready issue. I have yet to see a “brief” that actually is!
The efforts of our staff and legal team on this front have been extraordinary. It has been — and will continue to be — our highest priority because of the importance and value it brings to our growers. Even more important, these legal challenges are, frankly, not about sugarbeets; they are a threat to the future of the entire agricultural biotechnology industry. What happens with our crop has global implications for all biotech crops.
Simply put, biotechnology is a gift to farmers. It is also a very important responsibility to use and manage this technology wisely. The beet sugar industry has respectfully addressed issues to make sure we can co-exist with our fellow farmers, particularly in the seed production region.
If you could pick the commodity that is best suited for biotech, it would be sugarbeets. We don’t produce seed in our commercial production; our root perishes over the winter (no volunteers); we rotate crops; and the sugar is the same. The seed industry has strict protocols that avoid cross-pollination, and that issue will soon be completely eliminated. So I remain confident that we will have this technology long-term and improve upon it in the years ahead. The possibilities are exciting.
I appreciate people who protect the environment, because every farmer in this room is a steward of the land. I also appreciate farmers who choose to grow organic, conventional [or] biotech crops. We can all co-exist without complicated and costly government intervention, make our livings and provide products to our respective customers.
I appreciate those consumers who want to produce and eat all-natural, organic, free-range animals, or not eat animals at all. We live in a country where people are blessed with sufficient income to allow them to make such choices and pay the significant price premiums to have that choice. This is a luxury most of the world does not enjoy.
If you think that is a viable, sufficient alternative to the production of our food, however, then it’s important to know that three out of every four people who live and work off the farm would need to quit their jobs and return to rural America to grow food in that manner to support themselves, their families and their communities.
You simply can’t feed and clothe the world from garden-sized, free-range farms. We have an expanding global population and limited land and water resources to feed a hungry world. We cannot meet the needs of starving people without the use of biotechnology.
On the sugar policy front, we have a good policy and it has been administered well. We are just beginning the 2012 farm bill journey. It is a huge challenge that we are already focused on. Somehow, I feel that the wisdom of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” won’t be the slogan of choice for Congress. We will have to be very vigilant on any new amendments or legislation that pop up.
It is so early, with so many new members in Congress, that it is impossible to know what we are going to have to defend against in order to keep a perfectly good “no cost to the government” sugar program intact.
Our user customers are not fond of the policy, and attacks against it are already underway. During a period of political frustration, some members of Congress may vote against things simply for the political optics of how it looks back home. So we must work hard to educate new members of Congress so they have a reason to stand with us.
The future looks bright as the food and beverage industry continues to recognize the benefits of using real, all-natural sugar. Sugar demand is up through new products that are coming out in teas, coffees, juices and sodas.
We continually work to bring better risk management tools to our producers. Farmers handle a lot of money. There’s an old saying that farmers often use: “I’ve got great cash flow; I’d just like to reach in and get some sometime.” So we meet with the top people at USDA’s Risk Management Agency to keep pressing for improvements in what we have and to look for new opportunities to reduce our economic risk.
We have much to do this year, and we have a great leadership team and board of directors to forge ahead. We have experienced talent at all levels to address these and other issues that may arise in the coming months.
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower