Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump made a bold promise to farmers at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting – pledging to produce an on-time Farm Bill to help rural America rebuild its struggling economy.
Yesterday, his Department of Agriculture (USDA) took the next step and introduced a list of legislative principles to guide the upcoming debate.
While there will likely be disagreement on some of the principles, it’s hard to argue with the USDA that Congress should “provide a farm safety net that helps American farmers weather times of economic stress… .”
Talk of a strong domestic farm policy is music to sugar farmers’ ears as they deal with Mother Nature’s wrath and a low-price market.
“It’s getting harder to make a living in sugar. Production costs keep going up, but sugar prices have barely budged in decades,” explained Leonard Simmons, a cane farmer from San Benito, Texas. “Hawaii recently stopped growing sugar because of this economic squeeze, and I fear Texas won’t be far behind if U.S. sugar policy is weakened.”
Farm policy critics have already set their sights on numerous essential farm policies, and are lobbying hard to gut agriculture’s safety net. That includes sugar, which operates without taxpayer cost because it is based on loans repaid with interest instead of subsidy checks.
Attacks on sugar producers emanate from large food manufacturers that are hoping to use legislation to mandate oversupplies of sugar and further depress farmers’ prices.
Such efforts would carry major ramifications, says Galen Lee, a sugarbeet farmer from New Plymouth, Idaho.
“If sugar is not profitable, farmers lose more than our farms. We lose our businesses, our investments, and our local economies,” said Lee, who is the president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.
“This Farm Bill will carry real consequences for our families and our communities,” he said. “Congress must recognize that sugar policy is working for big international food companies and small U.S. farmers alike.”
Lee and Simmons are hopeful that lawmakers will resist calls to essentially cut sugar farmers out of the Farm Bill. After all, a strong domestic sugar industry will be important to rebuilding the rural economy, as President Trump has promised, and to achieving Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s overarching goal to “do right and feed everyone.”