The combination of a near government shut down and an unprecedented three-week speaker-related paralysis in the House exposed internal Republican divisions. It was a waste of extremely precious time.
There is no agreement between both chambers on the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government. At the same time, there is a slew of must pass legislation that has not been acted on. Most important to us, the current farm bill expired at the end of September. We now expect a one-year extension, while Congress works to hopefully finish the bill early next year. House Speaker Mike Johnson committed to passing a farm bill this year, but there is uncertainty that such a deadline can be met. We will be ready if either chamber considers the bill.
The American beet and cane industries worked for over a year examining legislative proposals to strengthen our industry. Each concept required deep analysis to fully understand its impact on stakeholders, trade agreements, and cost. Balancing the needs of beet and cane farmers in a fiercely competitive market is no simple task. In the end, we will be providing a list of improvements to the Congress. We also must ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture operates sugar policy in a manner that avoids forfeitures. All of this must be done in respect and compliance of our antidumping and countervailing suspension agreements with Mexico.
As we seek to incorporate our requests into the farm bill, we will also have to play defense against several opponent proposals that undermine the U.S. sugar program. Importing significantly more sugar to oversupply the market and drive domestic prices down and their corporate profits up are the essence of their proposals. Now is the time for farmers to lean in hard and get this bill passed.
The other major battle we face is the challenges associated with the Endangered Species Act. EPA has continued to lose in court over their failure to consider endangered species when registering or reregistering pesticides. As a result of EPA’s failure, we face a potential situation where if EPA does not take corrective action, pesticide registrations could be vacated by the courts. EPA and industry do not want this. As such they’ve proposed a new and novel strategy to mitigate pesticide impact on endangered species.
If EPA advances many of its mitigation proposals as currently written, growers would be required to implement a range of environmental practices that would reduce runoff, erosion, and drift in order to use a particular pesticide within a particular area. Each mitigation measure would provide a point value to growers. Depending on the compound growers need to use, they would be required to use several mitigation measures to reach a prescribed point total for that compound.
Most recently ASGA, in conjunction with the U.S. Beet Sugar Association and Beet Sugar Development Foundation, submitted comprehensive and substantive comments on EPA’s draft herbicide strategy. We conducted case studies as part of these comments to demonstrate to EPA how harmful this strategy could be to growers. Based on the herbicide strategy’s targeted herbicides, we found that roughly 400,000 acres, or one-third of sugarbeet root production, occurs within restricted use areas. The vast majority of that acreage would struggle to comply. Tens of thousands of acres would be eliminated outright. Costs of compliance would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and economic losses would cause hundreds of millions of dollars more in damage. Please know, we are fighting these efforts aggressively.
Mark your calendar. The 2024 ASGA Annual meeting will be held Feb. 4-6 in Orlando, Florida. We will be covering the 2024 elections, the farm bill, pesticide issues, ag economics, dietary issues and focus on various aggressive innovative efforts on several fronts to make sugar farmers more productive and profitable. Join us to peek into the future. Registration is open, so please go to our website for details.
Luther Markwart is the executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.
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