All eyes in the sugar industry may be on the International Sweetener Symposium this week, but before producers prepared for the convention, they took the time to address lawmakers during a recent Farm Bill listening session in Minnesota.
“We’ve got the lowest cost food in the world and that benefits our economy and all of our people in America – all of our people,” said lender Howard Olsen. “A strong farm safety net, and a strong crop insurance program, are key components of keeping that low-cost food.”
Olsen works for AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Fargo, North Dakota. He was one of many local farm leaders who addressed the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture during a hearing in Morgan, Minnesota, on Aug. 3, which lasted more than 2 hours.
Brent Davidson, a farmer and chairman of the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, a sugarbeet processing plant owned by 488 families growing beets on 100,000 acres, agreed. He said good trade agreements and maintaining a strong sugar policy are vital for the local community and the rural economy.
Sugar policy is designed to operate without taxpayer cost, but the loans it provides for sugar producers are essential to cash flow for operations and to help insulate domestic growers from the market-distorting subsidies of foreign countries.
Robert Green, who farms sugarbeets, wheat, soybeans and dry beans near St. Thomas, North Dakota, told lawmakers that local producers were nearly devastated after Mexico illegally dumped highly subsidized sugar on the market and depressed prices.
“Our growers cannot survive at this level,” said Green, who also serves as chairman of American Crystal Sugar Company, the largest beet sugar cooperative in the U.S. with around 3,000 farmer shareholders and 2,000 employees.
He praised Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and the Agriculture Committee, for negotiating a deal to bring Mexico into compliance with U.S. trade law and stop the flood of subsidized sugar.
“We ask that this committee continue to express to the administration the importance of monitoring and enforcing those agreements,” he said. “With an annual economic impact of $5 billion, sugarbeet growing and processing is the lifeblood of the Red River Valley. I am a fourth-generation farmer and I am hopeful that with amended suspension agreements, and a strong sugar [policy]…that my children and grandchildren will have a future growing sugarbeets and an opportunity to continue the proud tradition of American Crystal.”
Kyle Petersen of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative used his time to explain to lawmakers the importance of policies like crop insurance that help with farming’s unique risks. The co-op is comprised of more than 500 farm families.
“Farmers borrow more in one year to produce a crop than most Americans do a in lifetime,” he said. “Our growers, and our bankers, need strong risk management tools like crop insurance that are essential in order to secure operating loans to grow our crop.”
Petersen said more frequent and intense weather patterns, rising interest rates and production costs along with lower commodity prices, have increased risks and decreased incomes.
This, he concluded, necessitates a strong Farm Bill and a strong sugar policy.