“It will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare, agriculture is of primary importance…” George Washington said that.
Similar quotes by great leaders have been sprinkled throughout the history of our proud nation ever since, and their words make clear just how important farmers and ranchers are to America’s economy, security, and way of life.
But not everyone sides with past Presidents or historical precedent when it comes to investing in agriculture. There is a small, but well-funded collection of anti-farmer lobbying groups like Heritage Action, the Environmental Working Group, and Americans for Tax Reform that want to rip apart farm policy, and with it America’s commitment to its agricultural heritage.
Ironically, these same groups sometimes use agriculture’s history against it. For example, they routinely spew the same old sound bite about U.S. sugar policy being a “Depression-era program.” As if succeeding for decades should be seen as a strike against sugar.
Don’t forget, some pretty important policies came out of the “Depression era” – Social Security, FDIC insurance on bank deposits, and electrification of farms and rural communities, just to name a few.
If sugar were a “Depression era” policy, that would be nothing to be ashamed about. But sugar policy is much older.
While the fuller framework of today’s sugar policy finds its origins in the Jones-Costigan Sugar Act of 1934, essential elements of U.S. sugar policy date all the way back to the first year of George Washington’s presidency. That policy began directly benefitting American sugar farmers when the Louisiana Purchase brought sugar-producing regions into the new nation.
These historical core policies would largely remain in place until World War II, when sugar was rationed and the U.S. government looked to sharply boost supplies any way it could in order to help feed hungry civilians and our GIs fighting in the European and Pacific theatres.
Following the war, Congress passed another law, the 1948 Sugar Act, which aimed to promote production at home – no doubt in hopes of avoiding future shortages of the essential ingredient. That law was extended in 1961, 1962, 1965, and 1971, and it remained in effect until it was repealed in 1974.
In 1974, for the first time in the country’s history, America was without a sugar policy – mirroring the exact situation for which agricultural critics are again clamoring. But the results were not good, and U.S. consumers got burned by the unpredictability of the subsidized foreign sugar market. In fact, prices nearly quadrupled over a 12-month period.
So the USDA took administrative action in 1975 to again implement a policy designed to smooth the price spikes for U.S. consumers brought on by the world’s grossly distorted dump market. And sugar policy was officially reauthorized by law in the 1977 Farm Bill.
When the authority lapsed from 1979 to 1980, American consumers got burned by higher prices once again, and once again sugar policy was reintroduced in the 1981 Farm Bill to ease the pain. No-cost sugar policy has been an implied and ultimately express objective of Farm Bills ever since.
So what does the future hold? It is impossible to know for sure; however, you can bet that foreign governments and their subsidized sugar producers are hoping that America again unilaterally disarms.
Agriculture’s critics are more vocal than ever before and they are willing to use misinformation to achieve their end goal. But agriculture still has plenty of friends in Congress on both sides of the aisle representing states and districts from coast to coast.
And they know that outsourcing U.S. sugar jobs to overseas subsidizers and cheaters is, frankly, a slap in the face of our Forefathers who founded America on the principles of hard work and playing by the rules.