As farm bill writing begins, concerns arise about the ability of Congress to get difficult jobs done

In this edition of Dateline Washington, Luther Markwart, of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, discusses the national debt, the farm bill, pesticides and the Endangered Species Act.

A man in a dark suit, a white shirt and a red tie stands at a podium in front of a green curtain, with the American flag behind him.
Luther Markwart speaks at the 2022 American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek file photo

The beginning of the 118th Congress brought immediate turmoil among House republicans with a torturous process of electing the Speaker. With no viable alternative to Kevin McCarthy, this should have been a simple process.

A chart showing national debt over time as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product
National debt is projected to rise in relation to Gross Domestic Product, mainly because of increasing interest costs and growth in spending for Medicare and Social Security, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Courtesy / Congressional Budget Office

As you’ve seen across news coverage, if such a simple item as electing a speaker is so challenging, items that are far more complex like the debt ceiling will be even more perilous with far larger consequences. The spending on wars and COVID have ballooned the debt, and it cannot be ignored, as you can see in the accompanying chart. The negotiations to slash spending could impact programs across the board. No one knows at this point how that plays out and what areas of spending will be impacted more than others. It will make writing legislation, including the farm bill, a more difficult task. It will take some time for this to play out to better understand what the parameters are for writing farm policy.

In mid-January, House Agriculture Committee’s republican members were appointed. Of the 26 members of the committee, 12 of them are new. However, among the new members one of them is former Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas from Oklahoma. His experience and practical approach are always welcomed, and he garners strong respect. Democrats will seat their members the first week of February (after the deadline for this column).

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American Crystal Sugar Co., based in Moorhead, Minnesota, announced on Monday, Feb. 6, that it was going to close the Montana plant because Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association farmers who grow sugarbeets for the company showed there no longer was adequate interest in growing enough of the crop to sustain operations.
Commercial farmers in Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota start using drones for spraying, seeding.
Simply removing sugar from the diet doesn’t equate to weight loss because when it is removed, another ingredient often is added, Courtney Gaine of The Sugar Association told attendees at the ASGA annual meeting.
Louis and Cyril Keller are the inventors of the Bobcat skid-steer loader and were selected as 2023 inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

During the last congress, the Democratic-controlled committee held listening sessions and stakeholder-hearings. Now that the committee is Republican controlled, the process starts over again. Chairman Glenn Thompson has already begun a series of informal listening sessions in the countryside. Formal hearings in Washington with follow once field hearings are complete. Chairman Thompson has promised a robust hearing schedule that will lead the House to taking up the farm bill first.

In the Senate, the Agriculture Committee is, as always, taking a more predictable approach with fewer bumps. Field hearings and Washington hearings started last Congress and will continue into this new Congress. Now that Democrats have the majority in the Senate, the power sharing agreement among committees is no longer in place, making things a little more administratively simpler. Freshman Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont, who previously was in the House, is expected to join the committee. The big news of all is that Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan will retire at the end of 2024. She has been a great champion for agriculture and particularly for sugar. She’s promised that a farm bill will get done this Congress, and it's never good to bet against Sen. Stabenow.


The battle over regaining use of chlorpyrifos continues. On Dec. 15, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard our case. We continue to argue that the 11 safe uses should be allowed based on EPA’s own work. While we await a decision by the appellate court, EPA has proceeded to cancel the registration for the only remaining producer, Garda Chemicals, Ltd.

We’ve been spending a lot of time, like it or not, dealing with Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues. Activists who have targeted ag chemicals have used ESA as the lever to gum up the system. Dozens of chemistries are tied up in legal proceedings because of ESA. It not only has an impact of re-registration of existing chemistries, it also is slowing the approval of new chemistries. EPA is trying to resolve their obligations and clear the logjam, but we remain very concerned that their attempts may, at the end of the day, restrict access to chemistries we rely on, something we will fight aggressively.

ASGA Internship for 2023: Please go to our website and get a copy of the intern application. It must be in our office no later than March 31 so we can make a prompt decision and plans can be put in place. It is a tremendous opportunity for a talented college student.

Luther Markwart has been the executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association since 1982. Luther can be reached at

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