How Louisiana Has Sweetened America for Two Centuries

Louisiana farmers are growing sugarcane on some of the same soil their ancestors did more than two centuries ago.

The key to the resilience and success of Louisiana’s 450 cane farming families and 11 raw sugar mills is simple:

“We take care of what Mother Nature has provided,” said Jim Simon, General Manager for the American Sugar Cane League.

For over 100 years, the League strengthened Louisiana’s sugarcane industry through investments in research, student fellowships, and advocacy for the sugar policy that keeps its legacy of family farming alive. Louisiana’s sugarcane farmers and workers support 19,600 jobs and drive $4.23 billion back to the state’s economy.

“We’re very proud of what we do here in Louisiana; the average cane farmer here produces enough sugar to take care of about 125,000 Americans. It’s a quite impressive, important part of our culture, our history, our economy,” Jim said.

“I want my children, if they choose to farm, to have the same opportunities that I had, if not maybe more,” said 6th generation farmer Catherine Floyd.

Her family grows sugarcane on some of the same land in South-Central Louisiana that her ancestors farmed more than 100 years ago. She credits their success in part to their commitment to sustainability.

That commitment is shared by every sugarcane operation in Louisiana. The League actively partners with researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Louisiana State University (LSU) to find ways to minimize inputs and protect soil health.

“Things that we are doing now for the sustained success of our industry are in turn achieving sustained success of the land that we live on, the continual production of food that we can provide,” said sugarcane farmer and scientist, Brayden Blanchard.

Brayden is studying plant breeding as he works towards his PhD in agronomy at LSU. His work focuses on adjusting current research procedures to develop more cold-tolerant, disease-resistant, and higher-yielding sugarcane varieties so that growers have the tools they need to face a changing climate.

“It’s all data-driven, it’s all science-driven,” Brayden said. “[It’s] geared towards making more with less and providing a more sustainable and productive industry for our growers, and really across the country.”

The American Sugar Cane League’s 100-year history is a testament to the resiliency and strength of our sugar producers, but also the investments that the Louisiana sugarcane industry has made in sustainable research and technology. We can’t wait to see what the next 100 years looks like.

Investing in Sugar’s Future

America’s sugar farming families and workers are building a brighter future through investments both in sugar crops and the talent needed to produce this essential ingredient.

The grower-owned Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, North Dakota, is committed to producing sugar sustainably.

Mike Metzger, Vice President of Agriculture and Research, works alongside his team to give Minn-Dak’s farmers the tools they need to grow the best possible crop. Healthier plants more efficiently harness the power of the sun to create sugar.

One recent development that has helped farmers raise healthier beets are seeds coated with targeted disease and pest control treatments.

“We always say, the hope of the harvest starts with the seed,” Mike shared. “[With] seed treatments, we’re able to deliver a very specific amount of product that’s very active on our pest, that’s in the zone where we want it, while not hurting the seed. It’s been a very great thing.”

This has a major downstream impact. It reduces the need for insecticide applications and results in a healthier sugarbeet, lowering the respiration of beets in storage, increasing sugar, improving efficiencies in processing, and supporting the economic viability of growers.

“Sustainability to me, as an agronomist for sugarbeets, is really the documentation of practices that have been in existence for years. You don’t get to be a 4th generation sugarbeet farm and be successful unless you’re being incredible stewards of the land,” Mike said.

Another way Minn-Dak is showing its commitment to a sustainable future is by investing in its workforce.

Emily Skaare began her career at Minn-Dak as a college intern. She is now a process engineer and part of the team that keeps the co-op running smoothly.

Emily’s work at Minn-Dak includes finding new ways to increase efficiency and become more sustainable. For example, the co-op is working to create more sugar while using fewer resources by recovering waste heat. The co-op captures the heat from hot water that needs to be cooled and then uses it in another part of the process that requires warm water.

Sustainability is consistently top of mind for Emily. “How are we protecting the earth, land, and the resources for the generations ahead of us?” she said. “Are we using appropriately and are we saving appropriately?”

Emily also hopes that her role at Minn-Dak serves as inspiration to others interested in the sugar industry. “It’s good for people to see that this job can be for anybody,” she said.

Check out some more of the sweet ways our sugar producers are helping to create a more sustainable future by viewing our Sugar Sustainably series on YouTube.

Preparing the Next Generation of Sugar Growers

Sugar farmers grow far more than beets and cane. They are also growing the minds of tomorrow’s sugar producers through programs like the Amalgamated Sugar’s Youth Sugarbeet Grower Program. 

Amalgamated Sugar Company, a grower-owned beet sugar cooperative headquartered in Idaho, began its Youth Sugarbeet Grower Program to invest in young farmers and ensure the industry is sustainable for future generations. The program provides hands-on experience with sugarbeet farming, giving participants the opportunity to raise two shares of sugarbeets on their family farm and requiring a presentation on a research topic of their choice.  

High school student Aleigha Robertson farms with her family in Paul, Idaho. Aleigha has worked to raise sugarbeets while researching topics such as cover crops. 

Her participation in the Youth Sugarbeet Grower Program has taught her new skills and strengthened her advocacy for sustainable farming practices.

Her mom, Mindy, has helped her along the way. “Every good farm kid should know how to pick rock, move hand lines, drive truck, be involved in what we do and it’s important for me to teach my kids to work and to be involved in our farm and grow to love it,” Mindy said. 

America’s sugar farmers, like the Robertsons, continue to invest in ways to produce sugar more sustainably. On their farm, the Robertsons have made gains with efficiency and sustainability while improving yields. They have gone from harvesting 13 tons of sugarbeets per acre decades ago to 40 tons per acre today. 

“My dad has done a great job about keeping the land, being able to harvest it and use it over and over,” Aleigha added. “And then that just means my siblings, if any of us want to come back, it’s here for us and we can use it.” 

Check out some more of the sweet ways our sugar producers are helping to create a more sustainable future by viewing our Sugar Sustainably series on YouTube.  

American Farm Bureau Federation Backs No-Cost Sugar Policy

America’s largest farm advocacy group renewed its support of a no-cost sugar policy that creates a level playing field for sugar producers while ensuring a safe, reliable and affordable supply for consumers.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) issued its policy resolution in support of the U.S. sugar policy at its convention in Atlanta. The convention marks the 103rd consecutive gathering of America’s farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses.

The convention helps set the agenda in Washington for the leading voice in agriculture while giving members the inside scoop on ag policies and perspectives.

American Sugar Alliance was honored to be among the invited guests.

AFBF’s policy resolution supports critical concepts in the sugar policy, including:

  • A program to protect the interests of domestic sugar producers and recommend that any appropriate legislation should include a sugar title with provisions that ensure a strong and economically viable domestic sugar industry
  • USDA publishing monthly USDA-validated reports on Mexico sugar consumption, production, processing, exports, imports, and non-food use, similar to reports available in the United States
  • Domestic allocations should be distributed to sugar from domestically produced cane or beets to their respective sectors before increasing import allocations

AFBF has long supported the no-cost U.S. sugar policy – most recently backing the policy in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer loans to domestic producers to provide for orderly marketing. The loans are repaid with interest and there are no subsidy checks so the policy operates at no cost to taxpayers.

If too much sugar is produced, U.S. producers store the excess at their own expense. If more sugar is needed, additional sugar can be quickly imported. USDA monitors the amount of sugar produced domestically along with the sugar imported through existing trade deals which provide preferential access to 41 countries. The U.S. is the 5th largest producer, 3rd largest importer and 3rd largest sugar market in the world.

“We applaud American Farm Bureau Federation’s renewed support of no-cost U.S. sugar policy,” said Luther Markwart, chairman of the American Sugar Alliance. “We look forward to once again having AFBF as a strong partner as we advocate for America’s sugar producers in the 2023 Farm Bill.”

Baby oysters, water reductions part of Domino Sugar’s sustainability efforts

From raising baby oysters in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to cutting water usage at the Yonkers refinery, Domino Sugar is a leader in sustainability.

Dr. Daryl Sabourin, ASR Group’s Global Director of Sustainability, is part of the effort to raise baby oysters in Baltimore that eventually help filter water in the Chesapeake Bay.

“They’re literally nature’s wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “So, an adult oyster can usually filter about 50 gallons of water a day.”

For generations the sturdy Domino Sugar bag has lined grocery store shelves promising to safely deliver home the sweetness inside.

To make the sugar bag more sustainable, the packaging team at Domino Sugar designed a 4-pound bag that uses one-ply paper instead of two-ply paper.

The new bag uses special paper that works with the company’s existing packaging machines. It turned out stronger than the old bag even with less paper. And the difference was unnoticeable to consumers.

“We really wanted it to be invisible to the end user,” said John Monroe, Director of Packaging Engineering. “And sometimes those are the best changes.”

The change is projected to save 600,000 pounds of paper annually or a 20 percent reduction in paper use.

“For us it really impacts the overall viability of the organization because you know we do have that agriculture component to it and if we’re not taking sustainable steps for the overall health of the planet we can’t survive as a business,” Monroe said. “We have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to sustainability so it’s always something that is on the forefront of our mind.”

For the fourth year in a row, ASR Group’s Domino Sugar Refinery employees partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to raise about 150,000 baby oysters.

Volunteers from Domino Sugar in the Inner Harbor raise the baby oysters and transport them to a sanctuary reef in the Patapsco River, where they help filter water headed for the Chesapeake Bay.

“They’re going to sit there for another 20 years and there’s 150,000 of them treating 50 gallons of water a day. You’re looking at about seven and a half million gallons of water that just is treated by nature’s own device,” he said.

The effort has been so popular with volunteers, the refinery hopes to double the size of its oyster garden in the Inner Harbor.

“It’s got to be everybody actively pursuing sustainable development,” Sabourin said. “Whether it be in oyster gardening or whether it be optimization of the facility’s resource use, it’s got to be really a combined effort and I just consider myself very lucky each year to get the invite to come help out.”

In New York, ASR Group’s Yonkers Refinery is also taking steps to protect the water.

The team at ASR Group’s Yonkers Refinery installed water meters all over the facility and reexamined every process to find ways to reduce or reuse water.

Cold water that once left the plant after a single use is now heated for hot water needs. Steam and vapor is captured. Water used to rinse off sugar resin is cleaned and put back into service elsewhere.

The end result is a 24 percent reduction in water use.

“It’s just something that I know the city of Yonkers knows about it’s something they’re proud of,” said Elizabeth Mendonca, Yonkers Refinery Manager. “I hope that people in Yonkers do know all the things that we’re doing to be more sustainable and support our local community. We’re trying to bring the water usage down overall in Yonkers so that we’re all benefiting from it.”

Domino Sugar invests in a new sign and a new sugar bag as part of sustainability commitment

Domino Sugar recently made big changes to two of its most iconic fixtures as part of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

Domino’s iconic sign has been a beacon of pride and prosperity in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for generations. But at 70 years old, the sign was showing its age. Its old neon bulbs were never fully lit, and it was getting harder to find people to replace them.

The company decided to upgrade the sign to LED lighting. After a few months of being down for only the second time in its history, the sign was back in a new, more sustainable way.

The new LED sign reduces energy use by 33,000 kilowatts a year and reduces more than 23 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Domino Sugar unveiled the new sign on the Fourth of July with fireworks and dignitaries.

“We had our longest employed personnel light the sign. Charlotte Hardy works in our lab, and has been here over 50 years, so it was an honor for her,” said Coricka White, Baltimore Refinery Manager.

And it was an honor for White.

“I was truly honored to be able to not only bring the sign back to Baltimore but to do it in a more sustainable and a more efficient way,” White said.

For generations the sturdy Domino Sugar bag has lined grocery store shelves promising to safely deliver home the sweetness inside.

To make the sugar bag more sustainable, the packaging team at Domino Sugar designed a 4-pound bag that uses one-ply paper instead of two-ply paper.

The new bag uses special paper that works with the company’s existing packaging machines. It turned out stronger than the old bag even with less paper. And the difference was unnoticeable to consumers.

“We really wanted it to be invisible to the end user,” said John Monroe, Director of Packaging Engineering. “And sometimes those are the best changes.”

The change is projected to save 600,000 pounds of paper annually or a 20 percent reduction in paper use.

“For us it really impacts the overall viability of the organization because you know we do have that agriculture component to it and if we’re not taking sustainable steps for the overall health of the planet we can’t survive as a business,” Monroe said. “We have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to sustainability so it’s always something that is on the forefront of our mind.”

America’s sugar farmers and workers continue to build a brighter future by producing sugar, sustainably.

Get the Facts

Univ. of Tennessee Study Rejects Candy Lobby’s Long-Held Accusations

WASHINGTON – Researchers from the University of Tennessee released a study today that sheds new light on how sugar prices affect sweetened product prices, and their findings stand in sharp contrast to decades-old claims made by candy company lobbyists.

Drs. Karen DeLong and Carlos Trejo-Pech, of the university’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, found that the retail cost of sweetened products, such as candy and baked goods, is not affected by the price that the food manufacturers pay for sugar. In fact, the researchers noted that sugar generally accounts for less than 2.6 percent of sweetened product prices.

“Sugar prices do not impact how food companies price their sweetened products in any statistically significant way, which ultimately reaffirms the fact that U.S. sugar policy does not harm sugar-using firms,” the authors concluded.

U.S. sugar policy involves loans that are repaid with interest instead of subsidy checks, which enable producers to store large amounts of sugar that can be delivered to customers when needed. The system operates without taxpayer cost.

“This study shows that there is little-to-no correlation between changes in sugar prices and the prices that grocery shoppers ultimately pay for sweet treats,” explained Rob Johansson, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance, which commissioned the work.

“In other words, gutting U.S. sugar policy and outsourcing America’s sugar supply to subsidized companies abroad won’t yield positive results for U.S. consumers or food makers,” said Johansson, who previously served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It will only harm American farmers and workers.”

This study is the second conducted by the University of Tennessee about U.S. sugar policy and prices. The first, an independent peer-reviewed piece that was published June 2020 in Agricultural and Food Economics, found that U.S. sugar prices did not harm the financial performance of food manufacturers.

Drs. Karen DeLong and Carlos Trejo-Pech are scheduled to present their findings at the 2022 Southern Agricultural Economics Association meeting.

What’s in Your Halloween Haul?

After a truly spooky year, Americans plan on celebrating Halloween in a big way. Expected spending on candy is projected to hit $3 billion.

This Halloween, don’t be tricked by candy corporations. They want to send U.S. sugar policy to the grave so they can buy unlimited amounts of subsidized foreign sugar. They’ll try to tell you a haunting tale, but the truth is that U.S. sugar policy has provided stable sugar prices and a reliable domestic source for an essential ingredient – even throughout a global pandemic that has snarled global supply chains.

That means you’ll be ready to fill the bags of all the trick-or-treaters who come knocking at your door on Halloween.

While corporate confectioners want to spook you into thinking that sugar policy is hurting their Halloween profits, the reality is that sugar is only a small part of the cost of your Halloween haul. (Not to mention, a peer-reviewed study recently said “Boo!” to that claim, finding that sugar policy does not impede the profitability of sugar-using manufacturers.)

We analyzed some favorite Halloween candies and found that America’s hardworking farmers and workers will receive just pennies for these sweet treats. Now, that should send a chill up your spine.

Follow along with us on Facebook and Twitter while we unmask how little sugar producers will receive this Halloween.

For example, a bag of candy corn that costs $1.59 contains less than $0.11 of sugar. One serving of candy corn contains less than $0.02 of sugar. The farmer who grew that sugar will receive even less.

A $4.99 bag of peanut butter cups contains about $0.13 of sugar, adding up to less than $0.01 of sugar in each sweet treat.

A fun-sized bag of chocolate candies is the perfect size to toss in a trick-or-treater’s bag, but what’s not so fun is how little sugar producers receive for the sugar in that candy. Two fun-sized bags will run about $0.40, with less than one penny going to sugar producers.

A bag of lollipops will cost you $3.29, with just $0.17 going back to the sugar producer. But how many pennies of sugar does it take to produce a lollipop? Just one.

A $13.99 bag of chocolate kisses contains just $0.47 of sugar. That amounts to a ghoulish $0.01 per serving for our sugar farmers and workers.

A package of chewy fruit candy costs $4.29 and contains less than $0.20 of sugar. That’s less than $0.01 per Halloween-treat-sized serving going back to the sugar farmers who grew the sugar crop.

This Halloween, we’ll be thanking the sugar farmers still hard at work in the fields harvesting and the workers who will make those crops into sugar.
On behalf of America’s sugar producers, have a very happy – and sweet – Halloween!

Driving Climate-Smart Farm Technology: One Woman’s Work Towards a Sustainable Future

What if you could build a diesel engine equivalent to the strength of 600 horses that produced almost no emissions? It might seem like a futuristic dream, but it’s already been made possible thanks in part to the hard work of one sugarbeet farmer.

RaNae Isaak, an engineer at Cummins, has helped design more efficient engine systems for the tractors used on sustainable farms across the country. Her personal connection to agriculture has been a driving force behind her success.

“My history growing up always involved being around my family and doing what we loved, farming,” she says.

RaNae grew up on a farm in southeastern Idaho, where her family grew sugarbeets, alfalfa, grain, sorghum, and corn as well as raised livestock. This is where she was first introduced to the incredible mechanics and engineering that power farm vehicles.

RaNae recalls her father using a front end loader to lift one ton hay bales in an alfalfa field and load them on a flatbed semi-truck that she drove. Her father would give quick lessons on the farm’s machinery: how to operate machinery safely and maintain it so it kept working smoothly.

“I have always been intrigued by a challenge. Trying to figure out something complicated, understanding why things work, and how to fix them,” RaNae says. “I always enjoyed math and science, and routinely excelled. Being around agriculture just further identified a way for me to apply math and science.”

That love for agriculture, math, and science followed her to Idaho State, where she earned first a bachelor’s and then a master’s in mechanical engineering, and now fuels her work at Cummins, where she helps develop on-highway and off-highway engines.

In her 15 years at Cummins, one thing RaNae has learned is that building new technology is not easy. Especially farm technology. It needs to work efficiently and reliably in all types of conditions.

“Not only does the engine need to work and be productive, but it needs to work through extreme conditions. It needs to start when it’s incredibly cold, it needs to be cool when it’s oppressively hot, so it needs to be able to operate in all conditions,” RaNae says.

Not to mention, an engine is not just an engine, but an integral part of the entire vehicle system.

“Whether that be an agriculture tractor transferring the power and torque to the ground that pulls massive planting and harvesting equipment, or an irrigation pump that transfers water to hundreds of acres of crops in a dry environment,” RaNae explains. “It’s not just an engine system that must be designed, but in this case it’s a farm machine system that needs to be integrated in a way that performs the task the way the farmer needs done in that seasonal condition.”

Cummins has developed diesel engines that not only meet these requirements but do so with near-zero emissions. They’re also working on alternative off-highway engine solutions that use fuel sources such as natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells and electric batteries.

The results have been incredible.

“I am not sure people really understand how much emissions reduction has occurred over the last 30 years,” RaNae says. “If you think about this in accumulated emissions, it would take 25 tractors for a sugarbeet harvest today to equal the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions produced by just one tractor in 1997.”

New, more efficient tractors can now harvest 100 acres with the same emissions it would have taken to harvest just one acre back then.

In other words, the tractors used by farmers today are radically better for our environment.

RaNae is proud to work for a company that is on the forefront of innovation and advocates for lower emissions throughout the supply chain. Her background in agriculture has strengthened her commitment to the environment.

As a consumer of our agriculture, a designer of past and present engineering and a part of many farm family traditions, I realize the importance of our land, our livelihood, and the way things have been and could be,” RaNae says.

If you’re in Idaho, you just might see RaNae in a sugarbeet field behind the wheel of a tractor powered by a Cummins engine. She’s an Amalgamated Sugar shareholder and still makes time to help with planting and harvesting, when she isn’t working towards a more sustainable and climate-smart future.

Waste Not: From Sugarcane Waste to Sustainable Power Source

Louisiana is known for its flat bayous – not exactly its rolling hills.

But outside each of Louisiana’s 11 sugar mills, there stands a hill of bagasse. Bagasse is the fibrous material that’s left over after the sugar juice is squeezed out of sugarcane stalks.

American BioCarbon is a Louisiana-based company that’s helping turn bagasse into a sustainable energy source as well as a carbon-rich product that can be returned to the soil.

Bagasse has long been used in the sugarcane industry to fuel boilers, producing steam and bioelectricity to power company operations. Many companies even place excess power from this process onto the electrical grid to help light local communities.

Bagasse can be used as a renewable fuel source or soil additive with economic and environmental benefits.

But in its bulk form, bagasse can be difficult – and expensive – to transport.

American BioCarbon saw an opportunity to create a dense, transportable energy source that doesn’t have to be used onsite but can be shipped to anyone in the world. They process the bagasse into compressed, portable pellets.

“Bagasse is a natural co-product of sugar production. But the bagasse that the mills aren’t able to use is sometimes discarded as waste. By giving the bagasse a second life as a renewable fuel source, we’re benefiting both the environment and the sugarcane industry,” said Joshua Hockman, Vice President of Business Development for American BioCarbon.

The company began with a pilot plant at the Cora-Texas sugar mill. There, they are currently demonstrating their process to transform bagasse waste into environmentally beneficial products such as biofuel pellets for renewable energy production, absorbent pellets for environmental remediation and biochar to help improve the productivity of the sugarcane and other crop lands.

“We’re proud to meet the growing global demand for sustainable energy sources. And by manufacturing our products from what might otherwise be a waste, right at the mill where the feedstock is generated, we have increased efficiency and lowered our carbon footprint even further,” Hockman said.

In addition to renewable fuel pellets, American BioCarbon also produces biochar and absorbent pellets.  Biochar captures carbon from the sugarcane plant and is then returned to the field to improve water retention, decrease runoff, improve nutrient retention and soil carbon content, and increase crop resiliency. Biochar sequesters carbon in the soil that would have otherwise been released if the bagasse were left to decompose naturally.

The grassy structure of bagasse makes it excellent at absorbing liquid.  American BioCarbon’s absorbent pellets soak up four times their weight in water, making them an ideal solution for landfill remediation, Oil & Gas remediation, and other uses.

American BioCarbon has big dreams and sees a bright future for the expanded use of bagasse. They’re planning on building a full-scale plant, ready in time to turn the waste from the 2022 crop into the energy source of the future.

A Sweet Beet to Beat Cancer

Renville, Minnesota is a small town that’s had a big impact on the fight against cancer.

For a decade, community members and employees of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative (SMBSC) have been hitting the pavement at the Running to a Sweet Beet 5K to raise money for research and supportive care for cancer patients.

SMBSC is based in Renville. They’re the largest employer in the county and they support 5,200 jobs throughout the state, generating more than $800 million in economic activity according to a University of Minnesota study.

They take their commitment to creating more resilient communities seriously, contributing to efforts to help secure a strong foundation for the families that call southern Minnesota home.

“We recognize the strength of our cooperative depends on strong and healthy communities,” said Liza Fagen, a SMBSC employee and a member of the Running to a Sweet Beet organizing committee.

Over the years, SMBSC has invested in community health and service organizations, county fairs, local fire departments and ambulance teams, education opportunities, agricultural activities, and more.

Twenty years ago, a group of SMBSC employees decided that they wanted to utilize the strong community networks they had forged to make an impact on cancer. They started with small fundraisers at SMBSC and quickly became involved with the Renville County Relay for Life, raising money for the American Cancer Society.

In 2010, SMBSC decided to organize the first-ever Running to a Sweet Beet 5K, held in conjunction with Renville’s town celebration, Sugar Beet Days. Fifty-three people participated in the first race.

SMBSC is the sole sponsor of the event, financing the cost for a successful race and ensuring that all registration fees are donated to initiatives to fight cancer. Race proceeds are given to Renville County Walk in the Park, formerly Relay for Life.  Renville County Walk in the Park supports cancer patients locally in Renville County through emotional and supportive services as well as Hope Lodge.

What started as a modest community event has grown into a powerful force for a stronger, healthier community.

“The race draws together a diverse range of people: serious runners and casual walkers, seasoned athletes and young kids. It is truly inspiring to see how SMBSC has joined hands with our community to help support our friends and neighbors who are battling cancer,” Fagen said.

More than 260 people walked, jogged and ran to the beat during the 2019 race. Top runners in all divisions receive gift bags filled with sweet treats made with Minnesota-grown sugar during the closing ceremony. SMBSC’s 10th anniversary Running to the Sweet Beet 5K raised more than $6,600, bringing the total contributed to cancer initiatives from the race event alone to nearly $44,000 over ten years.

All told, SMBSC has contributed more than $154,000 to the fight against cancer.

Those donations will provide real support to a mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister in their fight against cancer.

SMBSC hopes to run – not walk – to a cancer-free future. What a sweet day that will be.

U.S. Sugar Provides Backpacks and School Supplies to Thousands of South Florida Schoolchildren

Pencils. Glue. Scissors. Notebooks. Each item packed carefully into a backpack by a volunteer.

Thanks in part to U.S. Sugar, thousands of students in Florida started school in August 2019 with brand-new backpacks filled with the supplies they would need for a successful year.

U.S. Sugar partnered with several community organizations, including the Clewiston Library, the City of South Bay, the Palm Beach and Hendry County Education Foundations and the Palm Beach and Hendry County Sheriff’s Departments to provide more than $110,000 in backpacks and school supplies to elementary school students in the Glades farming communities.

Approximately 70 percent of schools in Palm Beach and Hendry Counties are designated as Title 1 schools, meaning they serve a high percentage of students from low-income families.

These Glades communities are vitally important to U.S. Sugar. The Glades communities in western Palm Beach County are agricultural towns that many sugarcane farmers and workers call home, while U.S. Sugar is headquartered in Clewiston, in Hendry County.

Investments in education through projects like U.S. Sugar’s backpack initiative to provide school supplies to help the next generation be successful will help sustain their local communities.

Brannan Thomas, U.S. Sugar’s Community Relations Manager and a native of Belle Glade, helped lead this project and was proud to give back to the community where he went to school.

“U.S. Sugar is proud to donate filled backpacks to our students and help support the important work our teachers are doing to educate the next generation of Floridians,” Thomas said. “Our families live, work, and play in these communities, which means that our success is intrinsically tied to their prosperity.”

Thomas and other U.S. Sugar employees were able to deliver hundreds of backpacks to children at the Clewiston Library and South Bay City Hall as well as to school leaders at Eastside and Westside Elementary Schools in Clewiston.

According to the Florida Department of Education, during the 2018-2019 school year, 100 percent of students at each of these schools qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

National surveys place the cost of buying school supplies at an average cost of more than $100.

“Notebooks and pencils are necessities for any back to school list, and every student deserves to have access to the supplies they need to succeed in the classroom,” Thomas said.

Pencils. Glue. Scissors. Notebooks. These are more than just supplies checked off a list.

They’re tools that will help secure valuable education opportunities for thousands of children in South Florida.

Texas Sugar Producers Tip Their Hat to Sugar Policy

Deep in the heart of Texas, approximately 112 farmers grow sugar cane across 41,000 acres along the banks of the Rio Grande river.

These farmers and their farmer-owned cooperative, Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, are important members of the Rio Grande Valley community and a critical part of the Texan economy. Unfortunately, they are all that is left of the once-booming sugar industry in south Texas.

Sugar production in the Lone Star State has a rich legacy spanning more than 200 years. However, economic and political hardships in the early 20th century forced the closure of the last of the sugar mills. In 1973, a group of farmers worked together to re-establish a sustainable sugar industry in the Rio Grande Valley.

Today, the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers are not only keeping this historic industry alive but also working to sustain the local economy. And America’s sugar policy has played a critical role in allowing sugar production to once again take root in Texas.

During the 2017/2018 growing season, their mill in Santa Rosa, Texas processed almost 1.7 million tons of sugar cane, producing more than 165,000 tons of raw sugar and nearly 60,000 tons of molasses. In fact, the mill produces enough sugar to provide an entire year’s worth of refined sugar to more than 7.7 million consumers.

And all of the hard work that goes into harvesting and processing that sugar certainly has a sweet effect on the economy.

According to Sean Brashear, President and CEO of Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, the sugar cane industry in Texas contributes $140.3 million annually to the state’s economy and supports an estimated 801 jobs statewide.

From the fields to the mill and everywhere in between, more than 300 people are directly employed by the sugar industry in the Rio Grande Valley. And hundreds more have jobs thanks to the economic impact generated by the mill and the farmers who supply it.

“We are proud to contribute to the rural economies that rely on the sugar industry,” Brashear said. “America’s sugar policy allows our farmers and workers to withstand a global market that is defined by foreign subsidies and depressed prices. Continued support of this policy will ensure that the legacy of sugar farming in Texas can survive.”

Just like sugar farmers and workers across the country, the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers are continually striving to become more efficient producers.

Farmers utilize GPS technology to minimize the use of diesel, fertilizer and pesticides and the Rio Grande Valley mill uses leftover cane from the milling process, called bagasse, as fuel to generate steam and electricity. When operating at peak efficiency, the mill creates enough electricity to power the nearby town of Santa Rosa.

The positive effects of the Texan sugar industry extend far beyond the state. Raw sugar is sold to a refinery in Louisiana and shipped by barge via the intracoastal waterway, bringing economic benefits to communities along the Gulf Coast on the way.

Many of the Rio Grande Valley farmers share a deep connection to this land. Board Chairman Leonard Simmons’ family has farmed in the Rio Grande Valley for 100 years.

“It’s important for us to share the story of sugar in the Rio Grande Valley,” Simmons said. “Producing sugar means supporting our families, contributing to our communities, being responsible stewards of the land, and continuing this heritage for the next generation.”

And Simmons credits Congress for supporting the sugar industry in Texas by approving a 2018 Farm Bill that maintains a strong sugar policy.

“Congress firmly rejected cutting our families, farms and livelihood out of the Farm Bill. We hope they will continue to stand up for sugar producers in Texas and beyond.”

Thankfully, the sugar industry in Texas is no longer simply a part of history.

Idaho Grower Trailblazes Industry-Changing Technology

Duane Grant never set out to be an agricultural pioneer. He just wanted to continue the family farm and make his dad proud.

Grant grew up on his father Douglas’s farm in Southern Idaho and contributed from an early age, eventually joining the operation full-time after high school.

Since he joined the operation in 1980, he has become the CEO of Grant 4-D Farms and guided a more than 50-fold increase in the farm’s size and production. Grant 4-D Farms grows sugarbeets, potatoes, seed potatoes, wheat, malt barley, corn, and hay on its farms in Southern Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

“Hard work and technology fueled the growth,” said Grant, who is also the chairman of Amalgamated Sugar Company.

And no technology has been as revolutionary as sugarbeet seeds that are bioengineered to resist weed-killing herbicides – a process commonly called GMO. Grant credits the invention with reducing the industry’s environmental footprint as well as saving countless farms from ruin.

“My family has been involved in agriculture since migrating from Scotland more than 100 years ago,” Grant said. “We are now seeing the next generation working on our family farms, and it is an incredible feeling to know that thanks to advancements like biotechnology our operations can continue to contribute to the local economy and the nation’s food supply.”

Like many farms in his area, sugarbeets are at the heart of Grant’s operation. But the crop was becoming harder and harder for families like his to produce.

“Beets are a nightmare to grow because of weeds,” he explained. “Sugar farmers can go bankrupt if they can’t successfully control weeds. That used to mean a rigorous regimen that required lots of money, lots of chemicals, and lots of people working long hours.”

So, in the early 2000s, Grant dedicated himself to bringing the same GMO technology to sugarbeets that was benefitting corn and soybean farmers.

Numerous field trials testing genetically-modified beets were conducted on Grant’s farm. He was one of the first farmers who agreed to take the leap of faith and commercially plant a GMO sugarbeet crop in 2007. And, he was deeply involved with a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory committee charged with charting a course for the future of biotechnology.

By 2008, other sugarbeet farmers were eager to enjoy GMO’s benefits, and nearly 60 percent of U.S. beet production had shifted. Just one year later, bioengineered seeds accounted for 95 percent of the nation’s sugarbeet crop.

Since the introduction of GMO sugarbeet seed, Grant said per acre productivity has accelerated to the point where growers associated with Amalgamated Sugar get twice as much production from less than half the amount of inputs they did 15 years ago.

This means less spraying of herbicides; less tilling and stripping of the land, which leads to erosion; and less need for costly farm equipment that burns fossil fuels.

“When I was a kid, the valley where we grow used to turn brown from wind-blown soil erosion caused by traditional sugarbeet tillage practices.” Grant said. “That doesn’t happen anymore…we stay green and it’s thanks to the genetically modified seed.”

In fact, scientific studies show that bioengineered sugarbeets have reduced ecotoxicity and environmental risk by 92 percent and 98 percent respectively. And this technology has enabled farmers to utilize better farming practices that have cut soil-derived carbon emissions by 80%.

And with sugar prices low and stagnating, and with production costs climbing, the development of GMO sugarbeet seed also helped alleviate the economic squeeze of weed control that was crippling Grant and his neighbors.

In short, more sugarbeets are being produced on less land, and it’s being done in a more economical and environmental way.

“Best of all, when the natural sugar contained in beets is extracted during the refining process, the resulting table sugar is identical to sugar from non-GMO beet or cane sugar,” Grant said, “which is important to some consumers.”

Grant is astonished when he sits back and thinks about how far his farm and the industry has come in just the past decade.

“It’s fitting to describe the journey as a ‘tough row to hoe,’” he said of the farming metaphor used to describe a challenging task. “But it’s been well worth it. We’ve saved farms, helped families, and improved the environment by making sugar more sustainable.”

Needless to say, his father would be proud.

Sugarbeet Co-Products Fuel Champions and Create Opportunities

And the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby is _____________.

Regardless of the name filling in the blank, chances are good that a race-day food derived from sugarbeets powered them across the finish line. That’s because most Kentucky Derby participants, including Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, feast on sugarbeet pulp before heading to the starting gate.

Pulp is the tissue of the beet left over after sugar is extracted, and it’s prized in equine circles as a dietary additive because it is fiber-rich, full of energy and aids digestion.

Midwest Agri-Commodities is a California-based company that sells beet pulp on behalf of four sugarbeet cooperatives in Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. Each year, they market 1.7 million tons of sugarbeet co-products for U.S. farmers.

“A big percentage of our business is feed, and there’s a lot that goes into it,” explained Andy Ford, the company’s president.

Beet pulp isn’t exclusively used by prized thoroughbreds. Beef cattle, dairy herds, pigs and other livestock all eat it, and you can find the pulp in many pet foods. Pulp is shipped to farms and feedlots in many forms, too, including pellets and shreds – the dried, non-pelleted form of pulp most favored by horses.

“Our entire company is rooted in sustainability – in repurposing leftovers to help sugar farmers use every part of their crop and make a little extra money during the tough times,” Ford explained.

And this U.S. sustainability story stretches to the far corners of the globe.

Japan is the biggest importer, buying 190,000 to 200,000 tons of sugarbeet pulp every year for its dairy industry.

“We are the dominant supplier to Japan, and we are in the process of replicating that success elsewhere,” said Ford, who was born and raised in Japan and has a background in logistics.

Europe and Northern Africa are areas where Midwest Agri-Commodities also has a strong presence. Exploring and expanding into new markets is a big company goal.

A recent collaborative effort, involving many within the U.S. sugar industry, resulted in America becoming the first country to gain import approval for sales into China. Midwest Agri-Commodities sent 70,000 tons to China’s livestock sector in 2018 before ongoing trade disputes stalled further sales.

“I take pride when I market internationally in knowing that America’s beet pulp quality and reputation is unmatched,” Ford said.

The company often sees a premium price for its exports, and Ford said the Made-In-America brand is the reason.

“Our quality and the dependability of our delivery logistics set us apart,” he said, “and it’s why I’m so bullish about the future of these sustainable products.”

There’s good reason to be confident because, in addition to feed, Midwest Agri-Commodities and others in the sugar industry are investing in research and constantly finding new and inventive uses of sugarbeet and sugarcane waste.

Pulp is being used as mulch for mushroom production, de-sugared liquid removed from beets is used in the construction industry to make adhesives and concrete hardener, and beet juice is even being applied to roads throughout the United States, including Washington, D.C., to melt away ice and snow.

Ford thinks that’s just the beginning of what’s possible.

Beet byproducts are in development for things as varied as sports drinks, cosmetics, paint and even a replacement for Styrofoam containers.

“Sugar has an exceptional sustainability story to tell,” he concluded. “We’ve been focused on it a long time, and as long as a strong U.S. sugar policy remains in place, I think we’ll be supplying consumers with world-class sugar and co-products for a long time to come.”

Minnesota Farmers Leading Phosphorous Fight

Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring nutrient that is essential for plant life. But, it can be bad for our waterways by causing algal blooms which results in depleted oxygen in the water, which in turn harms plants and wildlife and can disrupt the ecosystem.

Maintaining clean and healthy waterways is a top priority for the sugar industry, which is why the farmers of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative (SMBSC) have taken action to help stamp out the effects of phosphorus.

And their efforts have garnered praise from conservationists and regulators alike.

In 1999, the SMBSC looked to increase the production capabilities of their factory in Renville, Minnesota, approximately 100 miles west of Minneapolis. Because sugar beets are approximately 75 percent water, processing more than 2 million tons of sugar beets a season requires the successful management of more than a million gallons of water a day. A new wastewater treatment plant was necessary.

In an effort to minimize phosphorus levels in the Minnesota River Basin, SMBSC worked in conjunction with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency during the permitting process to develop a plan to offset potential discharges from their wastewater treatment plant.

For every pound of possible phosphorus released, SMBSC would ensure that 2.6 pounds of nonpoint source pollution does not enter the waterways.

Unlike point source pollution, where contaminants enter the water at an identifiable point such as a factory, nonpoint source pollution occurs when rain runoff or drainage sweeps pollutants into water sources.

This type of pollution is responsible for most of the excess phosphorus found in Minnesota waterways. In fact, a 2004 study prepared for the Minnesota State Legislature found that “nonpoint sources of phosphorus account for 69 percent of the phosphorus entering Minnesota surface waters.” And of that amount, an estimated 25 percent of phosphorus came from cropland runoff.

“As farmers, we have a sincere respect for the resources that have been gifted to us,” says Kyle Petersen, chairman of the board for SMBSC. “We are committed to preserving a sustainable and healthy natural environment and knew that we had to take action to defend our waterways.”

As part of that commitment, SMBSC created incentives for farmers and cattle ranchers to reduce phosphorus pollution from nonpoint sources.

SMBSC worked with their more than 500 farmer shareholders to encourage the use of cover crops to minimize soil erosion caused by wind or rainfall and greatly reduce cropland runoff.

More than 75 percent of SMBSC growers now use a cover crop on their sugar beet fields. Not only are they taking strides to protect the environment, but SMBSC growers have found that cover crops protect the emerging beet plants and improve soil health, leading to an increased yield.

The cooperative has also worked with a local cattle company to stabilize a streambank and put into place measures to restrict cattle from entering the water and reduce pollution.

Not content to simply meet their goals, SMBSC has remained well below the phosphorus release limit established by their permit while exceeding their stated phosphorus reduction commitment.

SMBSC has been credited with preventing more than twice as much phosphorus from entering Minnesota surface waters as required by their permit. In total, that’s a reduction of more than 219,000 pounds of phosphorus.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that between 2000 and 2014, Minnesota reduced phosphorus in the Mississippi River Basin by 33 percent, with 8 percent being attributed to cropland best management practices.

We are proud to be leading the fight against nutrient pollution in the Minnesota River Basin,” says Steven Domm, President and CEO of SMBSC. “We work and live in this community and realize that preserving it for future generations is a shared responsibility.

These efforts have rightly won accolades from environmental groups and have been highlighted as an example of best practices for other facilities to follow.

Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) – a Minnesota non-profit dedicated to protecting the Upper Minnesota River Watershed – awarded SMBSC with CURE’s first “good business award” for their work in reducing pollutants. And the USDA Office of the Chief Economist has highlighted SMBSC’s efforts in a “Farm of the Future” profile.

SMBSC continues to be on the forefront of sustainable nutrient management practices. Through their work to raise awareness of the issues surrounding phosphorus pollution, their efforts to maintain healthy waterways will continue to have big impacts in Minnesota and beyond.

U.S. Sugar Market a Beacon of Hope for Farmers in Developing Countries

America’s no-cost sugar policy ensures that American consumers and manufacturers have a steady supply of high-quality, affordable sugar. But the positive impact extends far beyond our shores.

Sugar farmers from 38 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America rely on the guaranteed market access they have in the United States to sustain their industries. The U.S. market enables them to recoup a fair price – something they cannot find in the subsidy-filled world market, where surpluses continue to build and prices average less than half the cost of producing sugar.

Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean just off Africa’s southeast coast, is a great example.  Sugar is an essential part of the Mauritian economy.

On paper, Mauritius has done everything right. Their industry strived to become more efficient to survive a market dominated by global heavyweights and billions in foreign subsidies.

Mauritian cane farmers invested in sustainable practices. More than 3,000 small-scale growers in Mauritius attained Fairtrade certification. The industry built refineries and diversified into value-added products.

It even began to turn a sugarcane byproduct into energy, accounting for 16 percent of the island’s power generation.

But it wasn’t enough.

As depressed global sugar prices impact their already-thin profit margins, Mauritian farmers are abandoning the crop in droves. The number of growers in Mauritius has decreased from some 26,000 in 2006 to a mere 12,000 farmers today.

These declining numbers represent not only the loss of jobs but also the deterioration of the communities that rely on the socioeconomic benefits brought in by sugar production.

The Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Mahen Seeruttun, addressed the Mauritius National Assembly in June 2019 regarding the tough times faced by the sugar industry.

“The primary cause of this situation is due to continuous decline in the world price of sugar arising from excess supply on the world market, taking into consideration overproduction in EU, India, Brazil, Thailand and other countries,” he said.

Mauritius isn’t alone.

Sugar producers in Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Guyana, Jamaica, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Panama, Philippines, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – collectively represented by the International Sugar Trade Coalition (ISTC) – are huge proponents for a U.S. sugar policy that gives them a fighting chance.

“For some of the world’s poorest economies, U.S. sugar policy is a lifeline that supports the livelihood of thousands of sugar producers,” said Paul Ryberg, President of ISTC.

U.S. sugar policy exists as a direct response to massive subsidization in Brazil, India, Thailand and other large exporting nations. Subsidies in these countries – which include direct payments to growers, loans coupled with debt forgiveness, and government mandated purchases at government set prices – have insulated big exporters from low prices and created a 50-million-metric-ton global surplus.

It’s a system that rewards bad actors. And, in many developing nations where sugar is a keystone of their economy, it’s had a devastating impact.

In Jamaica, it is estimated that nearly 10 percent of the population depends either directly or indirectly on the sugar industry. In some areas of the country, sugar is the only economic driver.

But production has fallen from more than 500,000 tons from the industry’s heyday in 1965 to barely 80,000 tons.

Jamaican Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw has said that this is “perhaps the most challenging period in the industry’s history.”

Sugar factories across the country have ceased operations. The Golden Grove Sugar Factory in eastern Jamaica is likely to be the next casualty, costing 150 workers their jobs.

For many of the farmers who previously supplied these factories, it may be quite literally the end of the road as they face the high transportation costs of selling their crops to another mill.

Sugar producers in Jamaica, however, might consider themselves lucky when compared to their neighbors St. Kitts and Nevis. Low prices, unfair competition and limited markets bankrupted their sugar industries completely.

Unfortunately, the flood of subsidized sugar dumped on the global market will continue to destabilize domestic sugar markets, harm developing nations and push farmers and producers out of work and further into poverty.

And unilaterally eliminating the no-cost U.S. sugar policy would only serve to reward bad actors while harming our most reliable trading partners who are working to innovate and improve.

Ryberg and the members of the ISTC agree: “Ending the U.S. sugar program would benefit a handful of agricultural superpowers, while punishing struggling sugar producers in developing countries around the world.”

That’s why the U.S. sugar industry advocates for an immediate cease-fire of all sugar subsidies.

Until then, we will continue to support our foreign partners who are investing in their communities and striving for sustainability.

OECD Report: Global Subsidies Distort Markets, Hinder Sustainability

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released their Agricultural Policy Monitoring and Evaluation 2019 report. Covering nearly 500 pages, this report shines a spotlight on the agricultural policies of 53 countries across the globe.

Their policy experts came to a conclusion that the American sugar industry has known for a long time: government subsidies drive market distortions.

In fact, Dr. Darren Hudson, director of Texas Tech’s International Center for Agricultural Competitiveness, recently authored a study of global sugar subsidies and found that sugar is one of the world’s most distorted commodity markets.

“Government intervention in the world sugar market remains extreme and widespread with a wide variety of measures to support domestic sugar producers,” read Dr. Hudson’s report.

Unfortunately, the OECD found that not only are these agricultural policies inefficient and harmful to producers, consumers and taxpayers, they also hinder progress towards sustainability.

They wrote:

“A key element to meeting future challenges is to remove most distorting forms of support that undermine efforts to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability…

“The continued reliance of many countries on [distorting forms of] support… prevents producers from responding to market signal and hence from employing natural resources, investments and other production inputs in the most efficient and sustainable way.”

America’s sugar producers have invested in sustainability for decades. With a drive toward conservation while keeping a focus on the community that is the heart of our industry, we continue to make strides to benefit both the workplace and the environment.

This stands in stark contrast to the global sugar subsidies that have created a 50-million-metric-ton global surplus, driven prices below the cost of production, and set into motion a vicious cycle of government intervention that rewards bad actors.

Ultimately, the OECD recommends that governments dismantle trade-distorting policies in order to allow markets to function efficiently.

“Governments need to roll back distortive, inefficient and environmentally harmful support and put emphasis on high-return policy interventions and the enabling environment for a productive, sustainable, and resilient agri-food sector.”

We couldn’t agree more. Only a Zero-for-Zero sugar policy will establish a true free market in sugar – one that encourages innovation and rewards efficient producers.

Union Workers to Congress: America’s Sugar Policy Sustains Local Communities

Cornelius Fowler’s message was simple when he walked the halls of Congress this summer.

“If you kill the root, you kill the tree,” he said, “and the sugar industry is the root of the tree in my community.”

Fowler drives a truck hauling farm equipment for the Florida Crystals Okeelanta Sugar Mill in western Palm Beach County. His father and grandfather worked at the mill.

He was among the group of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) members who traveled to Washington recently to explain why America’s sugar policy is critical to rural communities.

“If there’s no sugar policy, we have no future, no job, no home,” Fowler explained.

The no-cost policy is part of the Farm Bill, which Congress passed last year. It exists due to subsidies and trade-distorting policies around the globe, and it helps U.S. farmers and sugar businesses survive amid price volatility.

The American industry employs 142,000 people in 22 states in mostly rural communities. Direct annual wages and benefits for the industry add up to nearly $1.2 billion – a figure that increases to $4.2 billion when economy-wide impacts are included.

Fowler is raising 5 children with his union job at Florida Crystals. It offered him job training, good pay, a pension and benefits. His son, the oldest, is considering medical school.

Union members met with about 30 lawmakers or their staff representatives during the visit. Most of the lawmakers were freshman and new to sugar policy.

“A lot of people don’t get to visit Congress,” Fowler said. “Being able to sit down with them and tell them your story. Tell them exactly what your community, and your job, means to you.”

Joaquin Almazan, another IAM member and worker at the Okeelanta Sugar Mill, was on the trip with Fowler. He’s a second-generation machinist, joining his father in the business. His son is now working at the mill.

“It has meant a good living for us,” he told the members he met with. “We have been able to put my daughter through college and buy a house. We have good health care and money for vacations. It’s everything to us.”

U.S. sugar policy, Almazan said, creates sustainable communities around Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. The money from sugar jobs is spent locally at other business and funds public infrastructure like schools and hospitals.

His sister works for a local business that might not exist without the good-paying union jobs at the mill.

“If I lose my job, she probably loses hers because most of us in town can’t afford to support local businesses without a sugar paycheck,” he noted.

Similar sentiments were shared by Carol Howard, a union worker with U.S. Sugar’s railroad that hauls sugar from Florida fields to factory. She joined Fowler and Almazan on Capitol Hill.

“I followed in my father’s footsteps when I started at the company more than a decade ago. Now my son now works here, and I have several family members working at U.S. Sugar,” she said. “Sugar has sustained my whole family, and it’s important that I help support the policy that sustains the industry.”

A strong bond with a unionized workforce isn’t isolated to cane companies, either. Half of America’s sugar comes from sugarbeets and 100 percent of beet factories are unionized. In addition to IAM, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Longshore and Warehouse Union; Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union; Service Employees International Union; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; Sugar Workers Union; and International Longshoremen’s Association all represent employees in the sugar industry.

These union workers receive strong salaries, a competitive benefits package, tuition and certification reimbursement, and diversified, safe workplaces.

It’s no wonder then that the international president of IAM – as well as leaders from several of other unions – weighed in so aggressively during Congress’ recent Farm Bill debate.  As IAM explained in a letter to all House members:

U.S. sugar farmers and sugar workers deserve a level playing field and should not be forced to compete with farmers subsidized and supported by foreign governments whether by direct loans, cash incentives or foreign ethanol programs.

U.S. sugar policy supports good union jobs in rural and urban areas of the country. The U.S Congress should not support outsourcing these jobs to countries with low labor and environmental standards.

Simply put, organized labor’s message is crystal clear.  U.S. sugar policy maintains good-paying jobs at home and that’s key to the survival of our communities.

Florida Sugar Producers Give a Hoot About Pest Control

The sugarcane fields of south Florida are home to more than just high-quality sugar.

The tall stalks provide a habitat to countless creatures that call the region home. Birds, reptiles, and small mammals all live in the farm fields, sharing their habitat with humans that grow cane.

It’s been like this since sugarcane was commercially cultivated in the region nearly a century ago.

And farmers in the area, by nature, love the environment and the animals it sustains. The soil, sun and rain in Florida bring to life the crops they raise. Protecting that environment is just as important to sugarcane farmers as the crop that flourishes in Florida.

But some of the critters that live among the stalks can cause problems for sustainable and efficient cane harvesting. Rats and mice chew on the stalks, often damaging a significant percentage of the crop.

That means farmers had to spend time and energy working to protect their crops from the pests. In the past, they’ve used the same methods you might use at home to rid your property of rodents. But those methods were expensive and, in some cases, inefficient. Traditional applications used to combat rodents required multiple treatments and would dissolve and become ineffective with rain.

Enter the barn owl – and a widespread local sustainable farming practice that got its start from a humble high school science fair project back in 1994.

As that project noted, barn owls native to the Florida sugar area love to nest in tight spaces, like the rafters and eves of barns. They also eat mice – by the thousands. And the fact that a pair of owls were shown to eat as many as 5,000 rodents in a year was music to the sugarcane farmers’ ears.

Dr. Richard Raid, of the University of Florida, took that science fair project and expanded it to what has become a great method for controlling rodents in cane fields. His work even won him a special achievement award from the World Owl Hall of Fame in 2019.

Since Dr. Raid expanded upon the local science project, thousands of local students have built barn owl boxes and installed them in sugarcane fields.

The first-generation wooden boxes have been replaced with plastic boxes because bees also found them to be a good home. The bees disturbed the owls and presented a danger for workers. The bees don’t seem to like the plastic boxes, but the owls do.

Florida Crystals Corporation and the independent growers in the area are big believers in the project, using barn owl boxes in most of their fields.

“We basically upgraded from wooden bird houses to sturdier condos,” says Marianne Martinez, the company’s vice president of corporate communications.

Moramay Naranjo, principal scientist, is over the project at Florida Crystals.

The most recent owl census showed of the 126 boxes, 92 of those currently contain nesting owls. Naranjo is measuring the ability of the owls to control rodents and has plans to expand.

Naranjo says using the owls is a win-win for farmers and the environment.

“I’m so excited,” she says. “I am helping those families of owls. They have a cute and unique face. I feel so proud because we are helping everything – the ecosystem, the environment and at the same time we are protecting our farms.”

And that is what sustainability is all about.