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A new Congress means new challenges as farm bill discussions fire up

In this edition of Dateline Washington, Luther Markwart of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association discusses upcoming farm bill plans and what the sugar industry needs to overcome to continue to succeed.

U.S. Congress in Washington D.C.
U.S. Congress in Washington D.C.
Agweek file photo
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The November elections have set changes in motion including political changes that result in an altered policy agenda in Washington. There was a very large group of members that retired. There were members that lost reelection. New members will arrive in January that bring a different agendas and priorities. We won’t fully know the impact of these changes right away. Yet we will have to navigate the new Congress all the same as it begins deliberation on a 2023 Farm Bill. With more than 200 members of the House who have never voted on a farm bill, we have a huge amount of educating to do in the months ahead.

Luther Markwart

Keeping with Farm Bill, cost is always a factor, and this time around is setting up to be no exception. Inflation has driven up the cost of everything. On the nutrition side of the ledger, it will cost more money to feed the same amount of people. Current projections indicate that it will cost around $1 trillion over the next 10 years to help feed those who need assistance. There is also demand for more innovative and streamlined programs with improved outcomes to increase our population’s health. Nutrition, especially given the cost, is often pitted against farm programs, but it need not be the case. As the greatest nation on earth, surely, we can feed those in need while also working to better the agricultural economy.

As we look to bolster the agricultural economy, there is no shortage of work to be done, and we must reject calls for a slimmed down safety net. Truly, we must head the other direction. Commodity program spending has seen an 8.5% reduction in expenditures since 2018, due to reduced payouts from higher prices. But with crop input costs skyrocketing, growers need a stronger safety net with either higher reference price or programs that account for margins. On top of this, dollars for public research to accelerate agriculture innovation is lagging and this is essential to address the climatic challenges we face in the decades ahead. Bottom line is more resources will be needed, but there will be strong pressures to reduce government spending in the wake of massive budget deficits. There are no simple solutions.

For sugar, we’ve successfully run a “no cost” sugar policy for almost two decades. Restrictions to protect us from dumped world sugar provides us with a stable and predictable market. But we are in the process of looking for ways to improve our program as well as opportunities outside sugar to help our farmers. Lawmakers must understand that the U.S. beet sugar industry is a strategically important industry to the food security of our nation. From computer chips to baby formula, we’ve seen the impact of stretched international supply chains. Without a strong beet sugar industry there could be massive disruptions in our food supplies.

Ambassador Katherine Tai, our current U.S. Trade Representative, made the following observations in a recent speech:

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“We’ve been doing (free trade agreements) for almost 40 years now. And while some sectors of the economy have benefited, many in this room know that the traditional approach to trade — marked by aggressive liberalization and tariff elimination — also had significant costs: concentration of wealth. Fragile supply chains. De-industrialization, offshoring, and the decimation of manufacturing communities. To get this right, trade has got to be about more than just unfettered liberalization, cheap goods, and maximizing efficiencies. Now, we have not sworn off market opening, liberalization, and efficiency. But it cannot come at the cost of further weakening our supply chains, exacerbating high-risk reliances, decimating our manufacturing communities, and destroying our planet. [Trade policy] needs to be tailored to the challenges we have today.”

Supply chain disruptions across two administrations is forcing a new approach to our trade policies. There is bipartisan support for a new direction and we will look to harness strong support for domestic industries.

The ASGA will hold our annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in January and will call on leaders in Congress and industry to discuss the key issues that impact our industry: the future of the 2023 Farm Bill, fertilizer, pesticides, fuel, trucking, rail, climate smart practices, agricultural trade and more. For details visit our website at americansugarbeet.org.

We extend our best wishes to you and your families as you celebrate a happy and healthy Thanksgiving and Christmas season knowing that you have produced enough sugar so 140 million Americans can enjoy the fruits of your labors for an entire year.

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

Related Topics: SUGARBEETSPOLICYAGRICULTURE
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