SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The American Sugarbeet Growers Association’s annual meeting covered a lot of ground on Monday, Jan. 31, but many presentations returned to common themes of politics, inflation, supply chain issues sugar supply and demand.
The meeting, being held in Scottsdale, kicked off Jan. 30 with a golf tournament and several receptions, but Monday’s packed agenda included much of the meat of the event.
Jim Wiesemeyer, vice president of agriculture and trade policy at Informa Economics, kicked off the day with a wide-ranging speech that moved from the current state of Washington (where the dysfunction is “even more than you think” ), 2022 midterm elections, 2024 presidential election forecast, crop prices (for corn and soybean growers: “If you’re not selling, why aren’t you selling?) , inflation, geopolitics, trade (which he called boring under Biden), the next farm bill, infrastructure (“Nobody can convince me that it wasn’t good for the agricultural sector”), energy, conservation, WOTUS, food shortages (“It hasn’t reached Congress as far as it will”) and many other topics.
The next two speakers focused on decreasing sugar consumption and what this means for the sugar beet and sugar refining industries. Nicholas Fereday, Chief Executive of Rabobank, and Courtney Gaine, President and CEO of The Sugar Association, both discussed this topic. Fereday had to join Zoom due to weather issues delaying flights on the East Coast. He largely focused on the numbers driving the drop in sugar and the fact that most of the drop came from the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup. Gaine spoke about efforts to differentiate “real sugar” from other sweeteners. Watch Agweek, AgweekTV and agweek.com for more on this topic.
Jose Orive, Executive Director of the International Sugar Organization, spoke about the global sugar supply as well as supply chain issues that will impact the industry. The weather in Brazil is an important factor for the sugar industry, as for other commodities, and he also looked at the state of sugar production in other countries around the world. Even with lower per capita sugar consumption, the increase in population means global sugar consumption is increasing, he said.
Robert Johansson, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, gave a broad presentation on economics, agricultural economics, the outlook for sugar (consumption increases relative to production ), how sugar prices accumulate when inflation is taken into account (the “nominal price” continues to rise while the inflation-adjusted “real” price 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, spoke about inflation and supply chain issues impacting agricultural chemicals. On the supply chain front, Simpson said Hurricane Ida shut down glyphosate production for Bayer in the United States and it took five weeks to get production back online. The company has diverted glyphosate from around the world to the United States, but there is less overall.
“It’s working, but it’s not going to happen quickly,” he said. “In a tight supply market, every gallon counts.”
But the bulk of Simpson’s briefing focused on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on crop chemistry, including glyphosate and dicamba. He said if the EPA is willing to work with Bayer, he expects “big changes” can keep dicamba in the market for the 2022 growing season. If that doesn’t happen, he said. said 60 million acres would be looking for a herbicide “that’s not there.”
He said Bayer supports EPA plans to change the biological assessment process to remove some of the volatility that accompanies chemical litigation from the equation. He also discussed the decline in the number of scientists working on EPA endangered species, from 650 a few years ago to about 500 now. It’s not normal for a pesticide company to push for increased funding from EPA regulators, he said.
“We are here, asking Congress to put more money into the EPA budget,” he said, explaining that the agency cannot operate as is. “When you’re overwhelmed, you do nothing.”
Farmers and farm groups are key to keeping regulations workable, Simpson said. And he thinks advancements in the field will come more from technological advances in delivery systems that more accurately deliver pesticides will be the way of the future. New chemistries will come, he said, but technology will be more important.
The meeting continues on February 1 with speakers on sugar beet research, sugar policy, climate policy and supply chain, communicating to Congress. The day will end with the President’s luncheon.