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American Sugarbeet Growers Association meeting features economics, sugar demand, politics

The ASGA is holding its annual meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. The meeting will wrap up Tuesday, Feb. 1.

A man stands at a podium. Two other men in the foreground sit at a table with microphones and pitchers of water in front of them. The American flag is to the right and the Bayer logo is in the background.
Duane Simpson, head of North American public affairs, science and sustainability, crop sciences, at Bayer, spoke at the American Sugarbeet Growers Association on Jan. 31, 2022, in Scottsdale, Arizona, about challenges regarding pesticides.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The American Sugarbeet Growers Association's annual meeting covered a lot of ground on Monday, Jan. 31, but many presentations came back to the common themes of politics, inflation, supply chain woes and sugar demand.

The meeting, being held in Scottsdale, began Jan. 30 with a golf tournament and several receptions, but a jam-packed Monday agenda included much of the meat of the event.

Jim Wiesemeyer, vice president of farm and trade policy at Informa Economics, kicked off the day with a wide-ranging talk that went from the current state of Washington (where the dysfunction is "even more than you think"), the 2022 midterm elections, 2024 presidential election predictions, crop prices (for corn and soybean growers: "If you're not selling, why are you not selling?), inflation, geopolitics, trade (which he pronounced as boring under Biden), the upcoming farm bill, infrastructure ("Nobody can convince me that wasn't good for the ag sector"), energy, conservation, WOTUS, food shortages ("It hasn't hit Congress to the degree that it will") and many more topics.

The next two speakers focused on the decrease in sugar consumption and what that means for the sugarbeet and sugar refining industries. Nicholas Fereday, executive director of Rabobank, and Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of The Sugar Association, both discussed that topic. Fereday had to join by Zoom due to weather issues delaying flights on the East Coast. He focused largely on the numbers behind the sugar decrease and the fact that most of the drop came in high fructose corn syrup consumption. Gaine talked about efforts to differentiate "real sugar" from other sweeteners. Watch for more in Agweek, AgweekTV and on that subject.

Jose Orive, executive director of the International Sugar Organization, talked global sugar supplies as well as the supply chain problems that will impact the industry. The weather in Brazil is a big factor for the sugar industry, as it is in other commodities, and he also looked at the state of sugar production in other countries around the world. Even with lower sugar consumption per capita, population increases mean sugar consumption globally is growing, he said.


Robert Johansson, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, gave a broad talk about economics, the farm economy, sugar outlook (consumption is increasing relative to production), how sugar prices stack up when inflation is factored in (the "nominal" price continues to rise while the "real" price when adjusted for inflation has fallen over time), and the state of inflation.

Duane Simpson, head of North American public affairs, science and sustainability for crop sciences at Bayer, talked about inflation and supply chain issues impacting farm chemicals. On the supply chain front, Simpson said Hurricane Ida shut down glyphosate production for Bayer in the U.S., and it took five weeks to get production back online. The company has diverted glyphosate worldwide to the U.S., but there is less available overall.

"It's working its way out, but it's not going to work its way out quickly," he said. "In a tight supply market, every gallon matters."

But the bulk of Simpson's talk focused on Environmental Protection Agency regulation of crop chemistry, including glyphosate and dicamba. He said if the EPA is willing to work with Bayer, he expected "big changes" may be able to keep dicamba on the market for the 2022 growing season. If that doesn't happen, he said 60 million acres will be looking for herbicide "that's not there."

He said Bayer supports the EPA's plans to change the biological evaluation process to take some of the volatility that comes with litigation over chemicals out of the equation. He also discussed EPA's decrease in scientists working on endangered species work from 650 a few years ago to about 500 now. It's not normal for a pesticide company to lobby for increased funding for EPA regulators, he said.

"Here we are, asking Congress to put more money into EPA's budget," he said, explaining the agency can't function as is. "When you get overwhelmed, you don't do anything."

Farmers and ag groups are the key to keeping regulations realistic, Simpson said. And he thinks advancements in the field will come more through technological advancements to delivery systems that more precisely deliver pesticides will be the way of the future. New chemistries will come along, he said, but the technology will be more important.

The meeting continues Feb. 1 with speakers on sugarbeet research, sugar policy, climate policy and supply chain, communicating to Congress. The day will end up with the President's Luncheon.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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