Debate on a new farm bill is opening up in Congress and opponents to good farm policy are sharpening their knives to cut the safety nets beneficial to farmers and other ag related small businesses.
One of the best agricultural policies that have proven to work year in and year out is the United States Department of Agriculture’s sugar program. The program operates at zero cost to the consumer and helps keep sugarcane and sugarbeet farmers and their millers operating.
Detractors of the sugar program have introduced a measure they call the "Sugar Policy Modernization Act.” They might as well call it the "Sugar Farmer Bankruptcy Bill.”
Sugarcane and sugarbeet farmers are keeping an eye on this proposal. Galen Lee, a beet farmer from Idaho and a friend to the Louisiana sugarcane industry, is also president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. He said the measure is the handiwork of Big Candy, the main buyer of sugar.
"Big Candy companies have lobbied for decades to outsource production to foreign countries with high subsidies and low labor and environmental standards,” Lee said.
It’s no secret that foreign counties heavily subsidize their sugar production. The Big Candy companies know this but yet they persist in trying to create new policy that would essentially end sugar production in the United States. The fact is U. S. producers do not receive subsidy checks from the government.
Here’s how the sugar program works: sugar farmers produce sugar and store it in huge warehouses until it is sold to candy companies and other buyers. The producers get loans from the government to help cash-flow operations while the sugar is stored. Because the loans are repaid with interest, the American sugar policy has operated without cost to the taxpayer under the 2014 Farm Bill.
Sugar producers would lose access to these loans under the proposal by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA) and Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Danny Davis (D-IL). The bill would also force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to maintain an oversupplied sugar market and keep prices depressed with imports.
What if Big Candy got its way? Travis Medine, an Iberville and West Baton Rouge Parish sugarcane farmer, thinks it would end a way of life for thousands of farming families in Louisiana, Florida, Texas and the sugarbeet farmers throughout the Midwest.
"We literally have thousands of family farms and manufacturing jobs on the line. Without sugar, communities all across south Louisiana would suffer,” Medine said.
Looking at past history, Congress has always sided with the American farmers instead of enriching candy companies. The American sugarcane and sugarbeet farmers are among the most efficient in the world and maintain an incomparable food security for our country. They provide us with an affordable domestic supply of an essential ingredient and maintain more than 142,000 jobs. What’s more, the industry doesn’t cost the taxpayer one red cent.
As the old saying goes, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most lawmakers don’t want to upend that success story. I think they’ll send the "Sugar Farmer Bankruptcy Bill” to the trash pile.