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Farming and Capitol Hill

Sugarcane farmers know they can’t predict the yield of next year’s crop based on the previous harvest.

“Every crop year is different,” they say knowingly as they plant seedcane for the next cycle. Just as every crop is different, so is each United States Congress.

By Jim Simon
American Sugar Cane League

When the dust clears from the election and the new members of Congress start planning their agendas, America’s farmers will work to make sure that agriculture will be high on their checklists. That means it’s time for farmers to plant seeds on Capitol Hill. The philosophy of the 2021 Congress will be different from the 2020 one. Like a freshly planted field full of uncertainty and hope, how will the new Congress respond?

Sugarcane, along with other southern specialty crops like rice, cotton and peanuts, will start working as soon as possible to educate our newly elected leaders just how important agriculture is to their home state. They’ll stress what the stability of a farm bill means to them.

Many of the newly elected will come into office with questions on how farm policy works, and they will be looking for answers. The sugarcane industry will start cultivating the support of new champions as soon as possible.

It’s like planting a seed. Although debate on a new farm bill, and the sugar program it includes, is not until 2023, our goal is to nurture interest from congressional members on the importance of sugarcane and sugarbeets to the more than 20 states where these crops are economic generators. We’ll tell them America’s sugar producers support 142,000 American jobs and generate nearly $20 billion a year for the U.S. economy. We’ll tell them Louisiana’s cane growers are among the most efficient despite having much higher environmental and labor standards than foreign competitors and that our sugar industry is family-owned.

Other points that we’ll need to convey to new members of the House and Senate is that the world market for sugar is a dump market where foreign countries who are directly subsidized by their governments sell their excess sugar at below production costs. We’ll also emphasize that all of the sugar produced in the U.S. is consumed in America. (Dependence on foreign sugar in WWII forced the government to ration sugar. Those events helped spur the U.S. industry.) Ultimately, we want to maintain the current national sugar program, which operates at no cost to the taxpayers and provide for a safe and reliable supply of domestically produced sugar.

How do we do this? The sugarcane and sugarbeet industry has professional representation in Washington D.C. However, we find the best way to win the hearts and minds of Washington policymakers is to forge a direct connection with beet and cane farmers. That’s why in past years, the Louisiana sugarcane industry sponsors a Washington “fly-in.” We ask volunteer farmers to leave their tractors in the field and board a plane for Washington. While on Capitol Hill, these farmer lobbyists squeeze in as many meetings with congressional leaders, staffers and ag policy officials as possible and tell them about life and business on a commercial sugarcane farm. The fly-ins have been an effective tool in garnering support for the sugar program. With the ever-changing dynamics of the coronavirus, this year we are planning for “virtual fly-ins”

Like farming, working Capitol Hill is a never-ending process. You’ve got to have a voice in Washington if you want to be heard. The most important voice comes from our citizen farmers. This year, instead of hanging up their overalls and putting on a suit to walk the halls of Congress, our farmers will be turning on their computers for zoom meetings with congressional leaders and their staff.  The old axiom, “Where there’s a will there a way” certainly lives true today.

A virtual fly-in is certainly not our preference, but we’ll make the best of it to make sure that this new crop of legislators are appropriately cultivated and fertilized to yield a winning harvest for Louisiana’s sugar industry.

Jim Simon is the manager of the American Sugar Cane League.



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