The American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting in early February had the most participants in the history of our organization. It provided insights by top leaders on a variety of issues that directly impact our growers. Once again, we took an obstacle of not being able to meet in person and turned it into a resounding success for our members.
There were two overriding takeaways from the meeting. First, you have to relentlessly educate members of Congress and their staff about the benefits our industry provides to the nation. Those benefits include reliable and resilient supply chains to meet consumer needs, 142,000 good jobs in rural areas, responding to unfair foreign trade practices and doing it all at no cost to the American taxpayer. There are many new members of Congress and there will be more in the 2022 election before the next farm bill. With redistricting of House seats after the 2020 census, more congressional seats will move from rural to urban and suburban, so the challenge only increases to bridge the rural-urban divide. Your grower leaders have been doing this education every year for well over a decade and key members of Congress are saying, “Keep up the good work!” It is being done this year through hundreds of Zoom meetings with policymakers. Neither a pandemic nor political turbulence will keep our farmers from their appointed rounds and they do a fantastic job. We salute those making the appointments, providing technical assistance and making the presentations. It takes a lot of people to make this happen and we do it better than anyone.
While the overriding focus by the Biden Administration is to get vaccines distributed and economic support for those in need, the second major policy issue is climate change. Mr. Bill Hohenstein, director of the Office of Energy and Environmental Policy at USDA, spoke at our meeting to highlight key climatic impact issues for our industry. Wetter springs and falls impact planting and harvesting. Warmer early springs may allow growers to seed earlier, but then get hit with killing freezes causing growers to replant later imposing additional costs. Warmer winters have a direct impact on sugar loss in beet storage. He touched on just a couple of the issues published in a July 2020 report by the Trump Administration entitled “Climate Indicators for Agriculture,” which can be found at https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/climate_indicators_for_agriculture.pdf. It was produced through a collaboration between USDA, Colorado State University, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research under the National Science Foundation. The objectives are: 1) To document a set of variables that show how climate is influencing agricultural production over time; 2) Enable improved management choices that incorporate climate information; 3) Identify high-priority data and research that can enhance the capabilities of the agricultural and food system communities to accomplish their goals, such as increasing production, reducing costs and improving efficiency.
The table of contents makes for a great summary of the wide spectrum climate impacts have on agriculture that policymakers are looking at that threaten our future food supply. Several of these will impact your farming operation:
Physical Indicators: Extreme precipitation (soil and nutrient loss, disease occurrence, reduction in field workdays, impairment of root growth and function), soil moisture, nighttime air temperature (increase pollen sterility impacting grain, rice, soybean and corn fewer kernels and reduce weight) heatwaves (more frequent, more intense and longer duration), humidity (influences plant disease).
Crop and Livestock Indicators: Animal heat stress, crop-growing region migration, leaf wetness duration (conditions for bacterial, fungal, water old diseases).
Biological Indicators: Weed range and infestation intensity, insect infestation in corps, crop pathogens, pesticide use.
Phenological Indicators: Timing of budbreak in fruit trees, pollinators and pollinator management, winter chill units, disease vectors in livestock.
Socioeconomic Indicators: Crop insurance payments (drought and excess moisture accounted for 71% of insured losses from 2001-2016), total factor productivity (comprehensive measure of ag performance in changes in crop and animal yields as well as cost of production), heat-related mortality of agricultural workers.
I provide this to you so you can see how comprehensive and serious the issues are that will be discussed at length among the administration, congressional and agricultural circles this year. We have been working on these issues through a broad coalition since last summer and will be updating you on it as the year progresses.
Luther Markwart has been the executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association since 1982. Luther can be reached at email@example.com.