About 310 growers, spouses and affiliated industry personnel gathered in Tampa, Fla., on February 9-11 for the American Sugarbeet Growers Association’s 2014 annual meeting. While the weather outdoors provided a welcome respite for all those from northern climates, the important activity took place indoors at the meeting’s general sessions and hallway conversation periods.
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On these pages we provide photos and message highlights from several of the invited speaker presentations, as well as other photos from that week. On pages 8 and 9 you’ll find an outline of 2014 ASGA priorities from Luther Markwart, while on page 10 we introduce you to the association’s new president, John Snyder of Wyoming.
In addition to the speakers highlighted on these pages, ASGA meeting attendees also heard, via video conference, from four key congressional leaders: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), a member of that committee; Rep. Frank Lucas (ROK), chair of the House Agriculture Committee; and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), ranking member and former chair of the House Ag Committee. All four spoke of the relief of having the new farm bill finally signed into law, and they likewise complimented sugarbeet growers for their role in keeping the sugar provisions intact.
The 2015 ASGA annual meeting is scheduled for February 1-3 in Long Beach, Calif.
Jim Wiesemeyer addressed “Farm Policy, Politics and a Look Ahead for Agriculture.” Informa Economics’ vice president for farm and trade policy pointed out that the final product of the long and winding road to the recently concluded Agricultural Act of 2014 is 959 pages long, has a price tag of $956 billion and covers 12 titles.
Three main principles guiding both the House and Senate ag committees as they worked on the new farm bill, Wiesemeyer said, were: (1) Farm policy must work for all crops and all regions of the country. (2) It must be able to protect against multi-year deep price declines. (3) It must do no harm to crop insurance – and must make improvements where possible.
Speaking to sugar, the longtime Washington ag reporter said there were four key reasons why the sugar portion of the new farm bill survived intact. First was excellent lobbying by producers and their representatives, with the industry being 100% united in its message. Second was the continual contact the industry maintains with its congressional delegations “as if there was a farm bill being written every year.” Third, staying politically engaged on a bipartisan basis. And fourth, “solid groups, both in Washington and ‘on the ground’ – grassroots.”
As to key issues ahead for sugar, Wiesemeyer said the dominant shortterm one is the outlook for “relatively low prices and more cost.” The biggest issue in that regard? Mexico. For the medium term, trade agreements, e.g., the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Looking to the long term, Wiesemeyer said the large amount of money being spent by the food industry for the discovery and development of “natural" sugar substitute products is a very important matter for the sugar sector.
Scott Dahlman is executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a grassroots coalition representing agriculture and forestry on issues of pesticides, fertilizer and biotechnology. “Over the past two years, we have seen a slew of antibiotech activities in Oregon,” he noted. In late 2013, the state legislature passed a bill that basically said municipalities and counties should not have the authority to regulate agricultural seed. But an exemption remained for Jackson County, where in May there will be a vote on whether to ban GMOs.
Why is the Jackson County vote important to sugarbeet growers? About 85% of the beet seed sold in the U.S. is produced in western Oregon, Dahlman pointed out, and a ban in Jackson County would add to the pressure for bans in other individual Oregon counties or statewide. He asked ASGA members to support the effort to defeat the ban initiative in Jackson County.
David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report, kicked off this year’s ASGA annual meeting with an assessment of the 2014 election outlook. He first outlined the major causes for the current climate of polarization in Washington, D.C., including: ever-more residents/ voters living among “like-minded” others; gerrymandering, resulting in fewer competitive House districts; a decline in split-ticket voting; the fact that in four out of five House districts the primary race is now tantamount to election in the fall; and finally, divided government due to geography, e.g., Democrats being more clustered in urban areas.
Looking to this year’s elections, “Voters are down on President Obama, but they don’t necessarily want to reward House Republicans, either,” Wasserman noted. He does believe Republicans will gain seats in both the House and Senate – one reason being that mid-term elections tend to have a higher percentage of older voters, which favors the Republicans. The big question in the Senate is whether they’ll win enough seats to gain the majority.
Dan Colacicco, former director of the Dairy and Sweetener Analysis Group at USDA’s Farm Service Agency, is now a consultant for the American Sugar Alliance. In his former USDA post, he administered the Sugar Marketing Allotment and Sugarcane Disaster Assistance programs. He also provided economic analysis for all of FSA’s sugar programs, including the sugar loan program, sugar PIK programs and FSA’s sugar inventory disposal programs.
Colacicco spoke to the challenges involved in balancing the North American sugar market — a market in which two very different support programs exist, those of Mexico and the United States. “If anything, the Mexicans place a greater importance on supporting their growers,” he said – of which there are many more than in the U.S. industry. When it comes to price support, Mexico exhibits strong support for the price of sugarcane but more of an “ad hoc” support for the price of sugar, Colacicco noted. The U.S. program has integrated support for cane, beet and sugar prices, with sugar loans establishing the support level – which drives supply control programs.
In the trade arena, Mexican sugar policy does not allow any regular access for non-NAFTA sugar, whereas the U.S. policy permits substantial access from non-NAFTA sources. Another key difference is that oversupply management on the Mexican end requires discounted export sugar sales, while oversupply in the U.S. market is handled internally. There are no mandatory internal market-sharing mechanisms in the Mexican sugar sector (marketing agreements for exports are voluntary), whereas expansion in the United States is limited by the Sugar Marketing Allotment program.
Cathy Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture with the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), spoke to how the biotech sector is working to impact the conversation about GMOs. After outlining the growth — worldwide and domestically — of biotech crops since the late 1990s, Enright discussed the scope and messages of the antibiotech community. She also provided an overview of the mandatory labeling bills that have been introduced in recent years in numerous states and on a federal level.
“What have we learned?” Enright asked. First, that the anti-biotech industry “is cyclical, well-coordinated, very well-funded and politically well connected,” she said. Also, it has a track record of “great messaging, effective and emotionally driven.” Opposing state-by-state challenges is unsustainable and untenable, Enright added. Also, online and across social media are key areas where biotech products and companies are being regularly attacked; yet to date, the industry has not had a strong response.
“It’s time for each of us to become part of the conversation,” Enright stressed. “We have great stories that are not being heard because we are not believed.” The answer, she said, is to “show our audience that we have nothing to hide. Only when our audiences understand we are listening to them will they begin to listen to us.”
One important vehicle for telling the GMO side of the story is a newer website: www.gmoanswers.com. The site invites questions from anyone on any facet of GMOs, with answers provided by experts from leading academic institutions, industry groups and Biotechnology Industry Organization member companies.
Looking forward, BIO is focusing on several major areas, including: (1) promoting innovation and continued investment in U.S. agricultural productivity, (2) bolstering U.S. agricultural competitiveness to ensure access to technology, (3) empowering audiences to make up their own minds about GMOs — with facts, not fear, and (4) food security. By the year 2050, the world will require 100% more food, Enright pointed out — and 70% of that additional food output, according to the UN-FAO, must come from efficiency-improving technology.
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Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower