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Sugarcane exec testifies at Senator Kennedy’s field hearing

YOUNGSVILLE, LA – Mike Comb, the general manager of Louisiana Sugarcane Co-operative (LASUCA) in St. Martin Parish, testified at a field hearing Thursday, August 24 held by Senator John Kennedy about regulatory burdens, sugar policy, the farm bill and other issues state sugar producers face today.

Comb spoke on behalf of the 11 state sugarcane milling operations, the 450 farming families that grow sugarcane and their 16,000 employees.

LASUCA is a co-operative owned by local farmers, Comb said. He stressed Louisiana’s $3 billion industry begins with small producer businessmen and women.

"It all starts with the small businesses – the farmers – that produce the crop,” Comb said. "My mill cannot exist without that crop and the growers can’t extract the full value of that crop without our mills. As small businesses, and the mills dependent upon them for our existence, our concerns are entwined.”

Comb also stressed the need for a strong farm bill with good sugar policy and proper enforcement of trade agreements with Mexico, a sugar competitor that violated past agreements and caused the U.S. market to lose billions in value over the last four years.

"Just as the small businessmen on the farm and the mill do not survive alone, none of us will be in business without a strong U.S. sugar policy,” Comb said. "After four years of trial and error, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross negotiated modifications to the suspension agreements put in place after Mexico was found to have subsidized the sale of dumped sugar into the U.S. market in 2013-14, with domestic losses of $2 billion during that period and an additional $2 billion under the original suspension agreements. We are hopeful the modifications (to the policy) will work as the Administration envisions. Implementation begins October 1 and enforcement will be a vital component of the solution.

"The five-year reauthorization of farm programs is set to expire in October 2018 and the leaders of the authorizing committees indicate that they will move bills in early 2018. U.S. sugar policy is certain to come under attack during this process and our customers have already demanded Mexico be granted new access (to our market) to legally circumvent the freshly modified suspension agreements.

"The last thing the U.S. sugar producer needs is more uncertainty. Maintain a strong U.S. sugar policy and implement the new suspension agreements without introducing further volatility.”

Comb said sugarcane is produced on more than 400,000 acres in 22 parishes and Louisiana produces 13 million tons of cane each year. The state’s 11 mills extract 1.6 million tons of raw sugar from the cane and store the raw sugar until needed by the two refineries located in Louisiana on the Mississippi River.

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