Nearly 400 growers, spouses and affiliated industry personnel gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz., on February 7-9 for the American Sugarbeet Growers Association’s 2016 annual meeting. On these pages, we provide photos and message highlights from several invited speaker presentations, as well as a summary of comments (page 10) by Galen Lee, Idaho grower and incoming ASGA president. We also carry a tribute (page 11) to outgoing president John Snyder of Wyoming. The next ASGA annual meeting will be held on January 29-31, 2017, in Miami, Fla.  Other 2016 ASGA officers are Vice President Richard Gerstenberger of Michigan and Treasurer Patrick Freese of Minnesota. Chairmen and vice chairmen, respectively, of this year’s ASGA committees are:

Jim Wiesemeyer, senior vice president with Informa Economics and the dean of Washington ag journalists, has spoken at several ASGA annual meetings. He did so again in 2016 — and, as always, kept the audience’s close attention with his insider’s perspective on D.C. politics, the economy, trade policy — and sugar’s fare specifically. "Your group in Washington continues to be the best," he told the assembled growers. "They know if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re going to be part of the menu."  mong the biggest issues on the table this year, Wiesemeyer affirmed, are GMOs and food labeling. "You (sugar) are a litmus test here," he stated, adding that the Vermont labeling law, passed in 2014 and scheduled to go into effect this coming July, has huge implications for sugar. Commodity market realignments are still underway in the uneasy global marketplace, Wiesemeyer noted. "If you grow any major crop in the U.S., it’s ‘hunker down’ time," he said. "These are cycles. You go through them. This is why you need leaders."

Geri Edens, legal counsel with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Baker Hostetler, spoke on "Understanding and Solving the Biotech Labeling Issues." She referred to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey indicating that of U.S. adults surveyed, more than half (57%) said it’s generally unsafe to eat genetically modified foods, with 37% saying they believed it was safe. But of AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) scientists asked the same question, 88% said eating genetically modified foods was generally safe, with just 11% saying it was unsafe. Edens outlined recent ballot initiatives focused on the labeling of genetically modified foods, making special note of ones that have passed in Vermont (2014), Maine (2014) and Connecticut (2013). Edens also told the ASGA audience they could expect efforts to pass GMO labeling bills in several additional states this year. What does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have to say about GMO labeling? In 2015, she reported, the FDA denied a petition from the Center for Food Safety to require GMO labeling. The FDA stated that "consumer interest alone is not enough to compel food labeling." It must, the agency said, be based on "objective characteristics" of food, not the method by which it was produced. Edens discussed the path forward, noting that the next several weeks will be extremely important in what has been a very fluid situation. Discussions with Congress are ongoing, she noted, with opponents of state labeling laws pointing out the problems with a patchwork of state laws. Legislation has been introduced to pre-empt the Vermont law in favor of a uniform national policy. "It will come down to whether there are enough votes in the Senate," she stated.

Karen Lewis grew up on a Michigan sugarbeet farm and was ASGA’s Cleavinger Intern in 2007. She is now an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics at the University of Tennessee. To date, Lewis has published three peer-reviewed articles on sugar policy from her 2014 doctoral dissertation from Arizona State University titled "An Analysis of the United States’ Sugar Industry." One was a 2015 article in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics titled "Impact of NAFTA on U.S. and Mexican Sugar Markets." Lewis outlined her sugar-related research findings to the ASGA audience and also underscored her respect for this industry and ongoing interest in it. She said her intent is to contribute to its understanding and viability not only through her professional research and writings, but also through individual and group conversation, as well as in the classroom.

David Wasserman, House editor for the highly regarded Washington based Cook Political Report, provided his ASGA listeners with intriguing commentary on the 2016 political season. Speaking to the presidential race, he forecast Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate — yet as one who is "very beatable in November." On the Republican side, he viewed Marco Rubio as the best bet for the GOP to both gain the White House and keep its Senate majority. Ted Cruz as the nominee would cost Republicans the White House and possibly the Senate, Wasserman opined. Donald Trump would be highly detrimental for the party on all levels, he suggested. Turning to Congress, Wasserman noted that the Republicans currently hold their largest majority in the House of Representatives since 1928, and they’re unlikely to lose that majority in 2016. "I see the Senate going the way of the presidential race" outcome, he added.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

 Robert Cassidy and Dan Colacicco provided the ASGA audience with their insights on "Mexican Sugar Exports to the U.S. Under Suspension Agreements: How Are They Working?" Cassidy is sugar industry legal counsel with the Washington law firm of Cassidy Levy Kent. Colacicco is an American Sugar Alliance consultant and former served as the sugar program manager with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. The U.S. sugar industry first filed its antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) cases against Mexico in March of 2014. In December of that year, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), the government of Mexico and Mexican sugar exporters entered into suspension agreements to suspend AD and CVD investigations on U.S. imports of Mexican sugar. The CVD agreement limited exports from Mexico based on U.S. needs as determined by USDA-WASDE data. It has a term of five years, as does the AD suspension agreement. There have been numerous twists and turns since then. In September 2015, the U.S. DOC ruled that Mexico’s sugar industry was found to be dump-ing at margins of 40.48 to 42.14% and subsidized at from 5.78 to 43.93% (that latter number being the level at which Mexico’s government-owned mills were subsidized, according to the DOC ruling).  In early November, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) announced its determination that the U.S. industry has been "materially injured" by reason of imports of sugar from Mexico that the DOC had deter-mined are subsidized and sold in the U.S. at less than fair value.      "As a result of the USITC’s affirmative determinations, suspension agreements that Commerce previously entered concerning sugar from Mexico will remain in effect," the ITC noted at the time.        Imperial and AmCane since have appealed to the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) the ITC decision that the suspension agreements completely eliminate the injury to the domestic industry caused by dumped and subsidized imports from Mexico.   Imperial and AmCane filed briefs with the CIT in December, and the ITC and American Sugar Coalition will file briefs in March.  There will be a court hearing in May and a decision by the court later this year.

     One of the highlights of the 2016 ASGA annual meeting was the introduction of, and presentations by, a group of women collectively known as the Sugar Industry Spokeswomen.  These 19 women have volunteered to communicate the story of biotechnology in agriculture — and specifically as it involves the sugarbeet industry.        Representing all U.S. sugarbeet production areas (plus Ontario), they are utilizing social media, as well as local print, radio and TV media and community speaking engagements and individual conversations — to educate the public on the use of biotech in the sugar industry and its safety.  Most of these women are partners in the family farm.  Some come from farm backgrounds themselves; others grew up in urban households.  Their message to the community, both local and extended, centers on the benefits and safety of the technology. Shown in this photo are:      Front Row, Left to Right:  Allyson Maxwell (Michigan Sugar), Connie Clark (Wyoming Sugar), Rhonda Steiger (Western Sugar / Montana), Rita Herford (Michigan Sugar), Laura Rutherford (American Crystal Sugar / North Dakota), Kristal Crosby (Western Sugar / Wyoming), Sarah Lungren (Wyoming Sugar) and Elizabeth Bingham (Amalgamated Sugar / Idaho).      Back Row, Left to Right:  Suzanne Rutherford (Spreckels Sugar / California), Jennifer Schlagel (Western Sugar / Col-orado), Melissa Halloran (Michigan Sugar / Ontario), Michael Ann Relka (Western Sugar / Nebraska), Sierra Kanten (Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar), Megan Klosterman (Minn-Dak /North Dakota), Nancy Wulfekuhle (Minn-Dak / Minnesota), Rebecca Larson (Western Sugar) and Stephanie Rovey  (Amalgamated Sugar / Oregon).      Not Pictured:  Megan Stevens (Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar) and Julie Mauch (Minn-Dak / North Dakota).

A sugar user’s views on U.S. sugar policy was provided by Greg Breunig, vice president of operations for Clasen Quality Coatings, Madison, Wisc., and a board member of the Sweetener Users Association.  Clasen produces and markets confectionery coatings, chocolate and fillings, with sugar ac-counting for about half of its commodity purchases. While, not surprisingly, bringing a different perspective on the sugar pro-gram to the podium, Breunig also affirmed his company’s support for the right of sugarbeet producers to use and benefit from GMOs, and he likewise supported the effort to work together for a national standard rather than "a patchwork of conflicting state laws."  However, he simultaneously stressed that food companies cannot ignore their customers’ specs and overall consumer sentiment. That carries big implications for sugar policy, he stated, suggesting that it’s possible future sugar policy may need to be designed for two separate product categories: GMO and non-GMO.

Don Phillips, trade advisor to the American Sugar Alliance since 2002, recapped sugar’s position in international trade agreements.  He focused on the U.S.-EU (TTIP) talks, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the World Trade Association (WHO) and then briefly dis-cussed the normalization of relations with Cuba and possible implications for U.S. sugar. Of the above,Phillips said the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is of most concern at present.  The EU intends to eliminate production quotas for sugar in 2017, but will still subsidize in the form of direct payments, he said.  The U.S. industry’s position in the TTIP negotiations is that there should not be additional access to the U.S. market. The TPP is "basically a done deal," Phillips reported, "and U.S. sugar came out of it satisfactorily."  The key ques-tions right now is whether the TPP will pass in Congress this year or drift into 2017 — which may well happen. The DOHA Round of the WTO is essentially dead, Phillips noted.  "We don’t have anything to worry about this year" and probably for several more when it comes to WTO, he added. Given the very likely lifting of trade embargoes with Cuba, should U.S. sugar producers be much concerned about more Cuban access to the U.S. market?  That’s unlikely anytime soon, Phillips suggested, given the state of the Cuban sugar industry infrastructure and its lower production levels.

Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, provided an overview of "Foreign Sugar Subsidies: Understand-ing What You Are Up Against."  For decades, the U.S. sugar industry has had to confront foreign subsidized and dumped sugar, with both trade policy and farm policy based on and impacted by that reality. Roney emphasized that while American sugar producers rank among the world’s most efficient, they cannot com-pete unprotected in a global sugar mar-ket badly distorted by foreign subsidies.  "So-called ‘world market’ prices are running barely half the world average cost of producing sugar," he pointed out.   ​Roney charted the world raw sugar "dump market" price since the late 1980s, comparing it to average cost of production.  Over the past quarter century, the average production cost ran 18 cents per pound; the average dump market price, 12 cents.  Only 20-25% of sugar is sold at that price, he emphasized, with government subsidies keep-ing their producers in business in such a market climate.  He outlined the subsidy programs of three countries as examples: Brazil, Thailand and Mexico. The ASA economist presented three main conclusions to his audience: •; The world sugar market remains distorted, with government interven-tion in the global market rising, not falling.  So the world sugar price does not reflect the cost of production in even the most efficient countries. •; The U.S. sugar industry is competitive and efficient — but cannot be expected to compete against treasuries of foreign governments. The U.S. will surrender its sugar policy only if and when other countries give up theirs (the ‘Zero-for-Zero’ concept). •; It would be foolhardy to dismantle U.S. sugar policy in the face of the extensive trade-distorting subsidies and policies that continue to dominate the world sugar market. Doing so would sacrifice U.S. jobs and make U.S. food manufacturers and consumers dependent upon foreign supplies that are less reliable, less safe, less responsibly grown — "and, in the long run, more expensive." — Don Lilleboe