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ASGA commemorates building a better future at 2024 convention

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The American Sugarbeet Growers Association (ASGA) was created to unite sugarbeet growers in the U.S. and promote the common interest of state and regional beet grower associations, which include legislative and international representation and public relations.

ASGA represents thousands of family farmers in top producing states, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

During the annual convention held in Orlando, Fla. on Feb. 5-6 participants discussed a variety of topics impacting the future of the sugarbeet industry, including the 2024 election, sugar as part of a healthy diet, sugar markets and funding for ag research.

Hot topics

To kick off the event, David Wasserman, senior editor and elections analyst for “The Cook Report” and analyst for NBC News, discusses what he believes the coming 2024 elections for the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives may look like.

Sugar Association President and Chief Executive Officer Courtney Gaine offers updates on consumer trends relating to sugar consumption and public health policy associated to recommendations for sugar consumption.

“Overall consumers are trying to moderate their sugar intake, but they are not looking to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners,” she notes. “Consumers have kind of moved on from sugar being public enemy number one.” 

She says the Sugar Association is advocating for sugar on several fronts in regards to U.S. policy, including making sure sugar guidelines are not contradictory and that they make sense. 

“The Sugar Association plans to continue its ‘Real Sugar’ messaging campaign about sugar being a natural, plant-based product and to launch a new campaign with the messaging, ‘Life is sweet. Keep it balanced,’” she explains. “This is to promote how sugar can be part of an enjoyable and healthy diet and to explain dietary guidelines for sugar.”

“It’s our message to drink responsibly, but we’re also correcting the narrative you can consume a lot less sugar than you actually can,” she concludes.

Sugar policy and trade markets

On the policy front, Dylan Daniels, senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service’s Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and Carlann Unger, economist with the USDA Farm Production and Conservation’s Economic and Policy Analysis Division, explains how the sugar program is managed and what may cause challenges.

Unger presents the January 2024 World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimates Report, illustrating how the U.S. remains a consistent stocks-to-use ratio for sugar and discussed what types of imports are coming into the U.S., including “high-tier” imports which are charged a higher tariff. 

“With world sugar prices driving domestic sugar prices up, it can make economic sense for users to bring in high-tier sugar,” she explains.

Daniels traces the history of sugar policy in the U.S., going all the way back to colonial times and explains the modern-day tariff-rate quota system, which determines how much sugar can come in to the U.S. and from which countries before tariffs go into effect.

“Over the years, the world sugar picture has changed while the U.S. system of allocations under the tariff rate quota system has stayed the same, meaning several countries on the U.S. allocation list either no longer produce sugar or no longer export sugar to the U.S.,” he adds.

American Sugar Alliance Director of Economic and Policy Analysis Rob Johansson says market fundamentals suggest high global sugar prices will continue and discusses sugar markets, their impact and perceptions of the sugar program. 

Johansson says it appeared factors leading to high sugar prices were continuing due to tight global supplies. 

“One factor that could change things would be if fuel prices reach a point where farmers living in countries where sugar is used as a source of ethanol decide to sell into the sugar market,” he remarks. 

He notes he believes USDA has managed the sugar program well and addressed the concern sugar was contributing to food inflation. 

However, he says there is no connection between wholesale sugar prices and food companies’ fees.

Supporting future research 

“The U.S. is a leader in doing more with less in agriculture because of past public investments in research,” says Rebecca Larson, chief scientist and vice president of government affairs for the Western Sugar Company. 

However, public spending on research in the U.S. has declined sharply, and Larson wants to figure out how to make research funding more flexible to ensure money goes to the highest-impact projects which have the best chance of making it to the farm. 

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Northern Crop Science Laboratory Research Manager and Plant Pathologist Melvin Bolton provides updates on the Sustainable Sugar Beet Research Initiative, which involves a competitive process in which scientists from anywhere can apply for funding for projects that are then evaluated based on merit and impact on the industry.

“What’s special about this program is while we have funding, we actually distribute it to the U.S. at large to every university, even to private companies and ARS researchers, to work on a variety of priority areas the industry thinks are important,” Bolton states.

This approach is important to meet the real needs of farmers, results are already leading to real solutions to problems such as Cercospora and other beet diseases, resistant weeds, beet storage and the use of sugarbeet cover crops in crop rotations.

ASGA Executive Vice President Luther Markwart adds, “The work done by scientists over time has made a big difference in agriculture, including improving the yields and sugar content, as they are very passionate about what they do.”

Wrapping up the two-day event, Markwart and Zack Clark, vice president of government affairs for ASGA, explains what the organization and its political action committee have been working on in the past year.

“We have been advocating for changes in policy in the farm bill, advocating against harmful changes brought up by opponents of sugar policy, including one proposal that made its way to the floor of the U.S. House and educating lawmakers and regulators about the importance of U.S. sugar and a strong sugar program,” Clark concludes.

Today, the U.S. sugar industry employs 151,000 people in 22 states and has an annual economic impact of nearly $23 billion on the nation’s economy.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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