All four members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees’ leadership took time out of their busy schedules to address the annual meeting of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association in D.C. recently – a testament to the importance of the sugar industry to our nation’s agricultural economy.
Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) thanked sugarbeet growers for working hard every day to keep America supplied with a homegrown product.
“The challenging work that you do to feed our country does not make any front-page news, unfortunately, but it sure is appreciated,” Roberts said. “Agriculture, including you and your families, are the lifeblood of our rural communities and one of the mainstays of our economy.”
Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered high praise for both sugar farmers and sugar policy during her remarks.
“We need to remind people that this is a no-cost program that creates jobs,” Stabenow said.
As 2017 came to a close in the United States, U.S. sugar policy once again cost $0. That makes 14 of the last 15 years of running at no cost. The lone exception was the result of foreign subsidization, after Mexico broke U.S. trade law and dumped subsidized sugar on the market.
House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), who grows a few acres of sugarbeets himself, stressed the importance of sharing the industry’s story with lawmakers as Farm Bill negotiations continue.
“Eighty percent of the people in this country have no idea what you guys do,” Peterson said of farming. “And they have no context to have any understanding, so they are easily manipulated.”
House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) told sugar producers that he is driven to pass a Farm Bill and that they are “in this fight together.”
He noted the great working relationship he has with sugar producers and said as the Farm Bill debate unfolds he will work closely with farmers to address “whatever the issue and try to come up with the best conclusion.”
One of the top priorities of U.S. sugar farmers is to ensure the Farm Bill maintains a strong sugar policy. Without the policy in place, U.S. farmers are concerned that their production will be outsourced to heavily subsidized foreign sugar industries.
Peterson addressed the problem of foreign sugar subsidies head on.
“If we could guarantee that everyone is playing on a level playing field and there is no government help, that there is no special treatment in any of these other countries, we wouldn’t need a sugar program,” Peterson said. “We would run them out of business. No question. We are the most efficient and the problem is that every country in the world subsidizes sugar in one way or another.”
U.S. sugar producers agree, and would rather compete in a subsidy-free world market, which is why they support the Zero-for-Zero plan by U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). But until that happens, unilateral disarmament of America’s no-cost sugar policy would only jeopardize U.S. jobs while rewarding Brazil, Thailand, India and other subsidizers for their bad acts.
“If we want to have jobs here and not overseas, we need a sugar program,” Stabenow said. “Everyone is talking about America first, which is great. Well, how about American sugar first?”
That sounds good to Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, who also stopped by to address the group.
“Leave sugar alone,” was his message to farm policy critics. “The sugar program is a success story in American agriculture. You can’t fix something that isn’t broken.”