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Industry influencers at International Sugar Beet Institute talk about successes, challenges facing farmers

Luther Markwart and Rob Johannson gave keynote addresses on Wed., March 16, the first day of the International Sugar Beet Expo, and will speak again on Thus., March 17.

A man stands at a podium, looking toward his left. The podium says, "Alerus Center."
Rob Johansson, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, speaks March 16, 2022, at the International Sugar Beet Institute at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The sugarbeet industry, like all sectors of production agriculture, faces a host of challenges, from supply chain interruptions, to high input costs, to rulemakers who increasingly are disconnected from agriculture, two spokesmen for the sugarbeet industry told farmers at the 60th Annual International Sugar Beet Institute held in Grand Forks

However, there also are positives such as sharing the industry’s successes with the policymakers, strong sugar prices and record domestic sugar production in 2021 that Luther Markwart, executive vice president of American Sugarbeet Growers Association and Rob Johannson, American Sugar Alliance director of economics and policy analysis, highlighted during their presentations

A group of people talk at a farm show, surrounding by booths with equipment in the background.
Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, right, talks to people on the event floor of the International Sugar Beet Institute at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on March 16, 2022.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Markwart and Johannson gave keynote addresses on Wed., March 16, the first day of the ISBI, and will speak again on Thus., March 17. The event, which rotates between Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota, also features a trade show with sugarbeet equipment and inputs used in the crop’s production.

One of the successes the U.S. sugar industry had in 2021 was record production, despite growing season challenges, Johannson said. Rains late in the otherwise dry growing season boosted yields in the northern Plains, which earlier looked like they were going to be drought-reduced..

Whether moisture this spring will be adequate is a concern for some growers, and the majority of them will spend more money to grow and harvest their crops. The increased production costs means that farm income likely will be lower in 2022 than it was in 2021 when input costs were lower, Johannson said.

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"We’re making the case in Washington, D.C., that you can’t just look at prices and say agriculture is in a strong situation,” Johannson said. “Last year was a high point.”

Besides higher production costs, federal assistance programs such as the Market Facilitation Program, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, which added to farm income, no longer will be in place, Johannson noted.

“Those programs were wrapped up,” he said.

Educating Congressional Ag Committee members, including some who weren’t in office during the drafting of the last Farm Bill , is important because there likely will be an effort to change policies, decrease loan rates and eliminate feedstock availability and market allotments.

Markwart has emphasized to members of Congress that because the sugar industry is so efficient, there wasn’t a shortage of sugar, like there was of many other items on grocery shelves, during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our great story was, 'Members of Congress, you had a lot of worries in the last two years, and sugar wasn’t one of them,’” Markwart said.

Another way the sugarbeet industry has sought to tell its story is to have sugarbeets in the U.S. Department of Agriculture garden in Washington, D.C., so policy makers can view the crop.

During the next few months, sugarbeet industry advocates will work to put together the best Farm Bill possible, which will include keeping the existing policies in place and protecting crop insurance.

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“I am optimistic about the future, but we have a lot of work to do,’” Markwart said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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