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Sugarcane goes to Washington

Washington DC

Several Louisiana sugarcane farmers recently completed "fly-ins” to Washington D.C. to meet with Congressional leaders and staffers and other movers and shakers of American farm policy.

These fly-ins are a laborious undertaking. They are three solid days of early breakfast meetings, followed by attendance at Congressional staffer meetings and waiting in halls to talk with elected officials. Then there are office meetings with United States Department of Agriculture officials and lunch meetings and more hall meetings. It’s can be tedious and hard on the feet.

By Jim Simon, American Sugar Cane League Manager

The farmers and millers who made the trip just finished one of the wettest and most difficult harvests in Louisiana’s sugarcane history. They would rather be anywhere but Washington D. C. They’re farmers – they want to be in their tractors repairing damaged headlands.

Jim SimonOur fly-in participants have a civic calling to advocate for Louisiana’s 224-year-old sugarcane industry, so they shine their dress shoes, dust off their business suits and trek off to Washington in the middle of winter. Some might say, "Why bother? We’ve got a new farm bill in place for the next five years.”

True, but there are 104 new faces in Congress this year who have never voted for a farm bill. Shaping American agricultural policy is a vast undertaking and must consider regional, national and international markets. It’s not a perfect document and certainly not "one size fits all.” These new leaders have never heard of sugar policy.                                                                                     Photo: Jim Simon, right

Louisiana’s sugarcane story is a good one. Our industry is made up of 450 family farms and 11 family-owned or co-op-owned mills. The industry employs more than 16,000 people. When a sugarcane farmer from Acadiana’s "down the bayou” or "up north in Rapides” talks to a Congressional Member, they pay attention. Farmers have a certain look. Their hands are rough and their manner sincere and down to earth. When the Louisiana farmer explains tells their story, people listen. Teaming up with sugar beet farmers and hearing their experience make for powerful messaging.

We had a good group of farmers and millers who made the trip to Washington. Representing the Louisiana sugarcane industry was Taylor Blanchard, Quaid Broussard, Wallace Ellender, Lance Gaudet, Ricky Gonsoulin, Gary Gravois, Travis Medine, Stephen Savoie, Katie Sistrunk, Patrick Frischhertz, Pete Dufresne, Reid Engemann, Alton Landry, Heath Morris, Chad Hanks, Keith Crochet, Sandor Garcia and Todd Landry. These folks did an outstanding job of advocating for Louisiana’s sugar industry. It’s a pleasure to work with such a genuine group of people.

Washington watchers often say America’s sugar farmers and millers fights above its weight class in D.C. and generally prevails. Sugar policy is easy to sell because it’s true – it doesn’t cost the American taxpayer one single penny. Our sugarcane and sugar beet growers are very good at what they do and our millers make raw sugar very efficiently. All of our sugar is consumed in the United States which helps to keep our market stable. They say the stock market loves stability. Well, that’s true of any market and as long as the sugar market is stable, our Louisiana sugarcane farmers will find a way to make their business work.

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