There is a saying that “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” While that isn’t exactly the case with farming — we certainly put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears — the sentiment is some-thing I deeply understand.
Farming is what I have always wanted to do. I grew up on my family’s sugarcane farm in the Rio Grande Valley and there was just something about the idea of growing a crop from start to finish that I found exciting and rewarding.
I left the family farm to study agricultural systems management at Texas A&M University and returned to the farm after graduation, full of ideas on how to make the operation more efficient.
Now, as one of the youngest growers in South Texas operating a farm in Lyford, I think the future is bright for the next generation.
Better equipment, GPS-guided tractors, improved crop planning and new varieties of sugar cane and re-search are all contributing to making American sugar farmers the most efficient in the world.
But we can’t do it alone. Like any crop, we have to manage input costs, pray for good weather and hope for a good price when it comes time to harvest to get a return on our investment.
I remember my first couple of months back after college; I had my fair share of run-ins with my dad on how we should run the operation.
I am all about the numbers, but the real world of farming involves so many more factors than just numbers.
The fact is, no year is ever a guarantee, and no year can be neatly plotted out in a spreadsheet. We deal with unique risks that are far different than other businesses. A disastrous freeze in 1989, for example, wiped out much of the Valley’s crop, and taught us a hard lesson on just how risky sugarcane can be.
World market prices have also long been a challenge for farmers. Foreign nations subsidize sugar to the point that it usually sells on the world market for less than the cost to make it.
America’s no-cost sugar policy helps alleviate some of the risk and provides a safety net. It ensures that subsidized imports don’t flood the market and drive us out of business. It also gives sugar producers access to loans that help us market sugar — loans that are repaid with interest. The policy is included in the Farm Bill, which Congress is currently debating.
It is critical we call on our lawmakers to keep this policy intact. We don’t want them to cut our families out of the Farm Bill. Until other nations drop their price-distorting subsidies, American farmers need a strong sugar policy to compete. It’s just that simple.
Unfortunately, some agricultural critics have a different idea. They are pushing a plan to exclude sugar producers from the loans that are available to other crops. And they want to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to import unneeded subsidized sugar from abroad.
That plan is not “modest reform,” as they contend, but would instead eliminate my safety net.
We have the tools, and the motivation, and with a sound sugar policy intact, I am confident we will be able to continue farming for generations to come.
Bryce Wilde is 26-years-old and runs Anaqua Farms with his brother in Lyford. In addition to sugar cane, they also grow dryland cotton, grain sorghum, some corn and other specialty crops.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Farm Bill debate in Washington, you might have noticed some lawmakers are pushing an amendment they say is a “modest reform” of the nation’s sugar policy.
It’s titled the Sugar Policy Modernization Act and it’ll likely be offered as an amendment to the Farm Bill currently pending in Congress. I’m a sugar beet farmer so I am laser focused on the amendment.
When farmers showed the Foxx-Davis plan to the bankers who loan us money to grow our crops, and to the accountants who do our taxes, they were shocked. The people who have the deepest insight into farmers’ financials instantly realized that these “modest reforms” would put many farmers out of business.
We’ve since renamed the proposal the “Sugar Farmer Bankruptcy Bill” because it effectively cuts us out of the Farm Bill.
The bill sponsors shouldn’t surprise anyone. U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, and Danny Davis, D-Ill., in the House and Senators Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Pat Toomey, R-Penn., in the Senate.
It’s a group that has opposed past Farm Bills and championed anti-agriculture measures before. And it’s a group that has never stepped foot on a sugar farm or taken the time to meet the families they’re trying to put out of business.
Multinational food manufacturers clearly designed this terrible scheme, even bankrolling a lobbying effort behind it.
This special interest bill is supposed to give candy companies more profits by mandating that the U.S. Department of Agriculture flood the market with imported sugar. That sugar would come from nations such as Mexico, Brazil and Thailand, where industries get government handouts and use appallingly low labor and environmental conditions to push export prices below their own cost of production.
This bill isn’t good for businesses, consumers, workers, families or taxpayers. It won’t mean cheaper food — sugar today already costs less than it did in 1980. It will only reward foreign cheaters and help a handful of big food companies further boost their profits.
More than 140,000 Americans work in the sugar industry, either as farmers or in factories. If this reform goes through, they’ll lose their jobs, including many people right here in Michigan.
In Washington, D.C., folks who want to put you out of business use terms like “modernization” and “reform.” But here on the farm, we know what that really means. We see through the slick DC talk.
At least we have champions like Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. And U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, Paul Mitchell and John Moolenaar. I know they won’t let this amendment through. They will fight to keep our no-cost sugar policy intact.
Darrin Siemen is a fourth-generation sugar beet grower who farms with his family in Harbor Beach, Michigan.
You may not be aware of it, but a battle is brewing in our nation’s capital that pits farmers like me against big food companies that want to drive down farmers’ prices by flooding our market with subsidized imports.
If you live in Imperial County, or anywhere in California – our nation’s top producing agriculture state – this should concern you.
Agriculture accounts for $4.5 billion or nearly 26 percent of Imperial County’s total economic output. Almost 25,000 jobs are directly or indirectly related to agriculture. California produced over $46 billion in farm receipts in 2016. And, we are a key contributor to our county and state economy.
I’m a third generation Imperial County farmer and second-generation sugar farmer. My family has been farming in this valley for almost 90 years and has been growing sugar beets for the past 50 years. More than half of the 500 plus acres I farm are dedicated to sugar beets. I grow Durum wheat, alfalfa and orchard grass on the rest of my land, but growing sugar beets is what feeds my family and sustains my business.
As Congress debates the Farm Bill, multinational food manufacturers – the ones that use the sugar I produce to make sweets – are bankrolling a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign in D.C. targeting sugar producers and are disguising their true intentions under the guise of “modest reform.”
These companies want Congress to mandate that America bring in unneeded supplies of subsidized sugar so they can drive down U.S. farmers’ prices and buy sugar for even less than they are paying now.
It’s important to note that U.S. consumers are already paying about 20% less for sugar than consumers in other developed countries, and the price I get for my crop is lower today than it was in 1980.
Farm policy opponents also are trying to prohibit sugar producers from accessing loans that are available to other crops. In effect, this plan would cut sugar farmers out of the Farm Bill currently before Congress, leaving us without any safety net to face the world’s most distorted commodity market.
The special interests pushing this sour scheme say they support farmers and that their “reforms” to America’s existing zero-cost sugar policy are “modest.” But there is nothing “pro-farmer” or “modest” about their proposal, which we call the “Sugar Farmer Bankruptcy Bill.”
You should oppose it if you support local jobs, too. The Spreckels Sugar processing facility in Brawley is the last remaining facility of its type in the state. It produces beet sugar as well as beet derivative products and provides hundreds of jobs to our friends and neighbors. Yet this anti-farmer legislation threatens its very existence.
If we want to continue to provide the country and the world with the best food products in the market, we all need to stick together to beat back this anti-farm, anti-worker bill.
Von Medearis is a third generation Imperial County farmer and a second generation sugar beet farmer. His family has been farming in Imperial County since the 1930’s.
Before visitors put on hardhats and headsets for a behind-the-scenes tour at Michigan Sugar, they’re introduced to the industry with a short film featuring local growers.
Rita Herford and her family are among the voices in the film that tell Michigan’s proud history of growing sugar beets.
The industry started here at the dawn of the 20th Century and has helped generations of farm families make a living.
Today, Michigan Sugar pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy each year. The cooperative is owned by farmers like Herford and her family. It’s a point of pride when she walks into the local grocery store.
“I love being able to go to the grocery store and look on the shelf and say ‘Hey, that could have come straight from my farm,’” she said. “It’s just awesome to know I had a part in that.”
Herford’s family has grown sugar beets for generations. Her father died when she was five years old and her mother stepped in to take over the family farm. She later remarried and teamed with her new husband in a move that has allowed Herford and her brothers to continue the family tradition at Gentner-Bischer Farms.
“Sugar beets have always been around,” she said. “It’s our staple crop. It’s just part of who you are.”
When pursuing a college degree, there was never a question about what I would be studying. Four generations of Perrys have farmed the Glades before me. I’ll be the first of the fifth generation when I return with a degree in agriculture after graduating from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in May.
Like my father and the three generations before him, I plan to work on our farm and continue contributing to our domestic food supply for American families.
My plans following college could drastically change should anti-American farming forces in Washington prevail. Led by Big Candy and confectioner companies and armed with a host of misinformation and misleading statistics, these groups are seeking to upend decades of our country’s longstanding and successful sugar policy.
They support what basically amounts to pro-Mexican sugar policy that will cost American families in sugarcane farming dearly.
The price of sugar today is lower than it was before I was born in the 1980s. Yet the price of farming has increased dramatically with fuel, labor and crop-input costs soaring. Think about it: When was the last time anyone really worried about the price of sugar Have you ever paid for extra sugar for your coffee at a restaurant or coffee shop? You haven’t — because sugar remains as inexpensive an ingredient today as it’s been for decades.
It’s hardly surprising that large sugar-using companies are trying to manipulate consumers into changing farm policy to better suit global food manufacturing interests so they can get cheaper foreign ingredients and make more profits. What is surprising is that anyone with half an ounce of common sense would believe these big food companies are looking out for the consumer.
Read the full op-ed on TCPalm.
We had quite a few visitors to the Scottsbluff area last week.
Nebraska sugar beet farmers convened for our annual meeting; researchers shared their latest work; legislative aides for our elected officials discussed the upcoming Farm Bill and reiterated their support; and staff from our national coalition – the American Sugar Alliance (ASA) – flew from the East Coast to tour the sugar factory and get to know our community.
One comment made during their visit has stuck with me. An ASA representative observed: “If every lawmaker could just come to Scottsbluff and meet these families and see this community, then no one would ever try to weaken sugar policy.”
He saw what we’ve all known for generations. Western Nebraska is a special place made up of special people. Our little community humbly and proudly produces a reliable supply of premium sugar for grocery shoppers and food manufactures across the country.
No one here wants a handout. We just want the chance to tend our farms, work our businesses, raise our families and contribute to the community.
We want to be treated fairly, but unfortunately we are not being treated fairly right now. It’s been four years since Mexico broke U.S. trade law and wrecked our market with a flood of subsidized sugar.
While the trade problem was finally fixed last summer, we don’t get any compensation from Mexico for being injured. Much of our sugar had already been sold at depressed prices, and we will not see any benefits from a recovering market until the 2018 crop we harvest this Fall is sold. So, while the future looks brighter, we are still reeling.
Sugar makes Scottsbluff’s economy hum, but it’s been whimpering lately. Now, a handful of multi-national candy companies are lobbying Congress to make things worse.
Of course, these lobbyists have never set foot on a sugar farm or sugar factory. Yet, they are trying to rewrite the laws that will determine the future of our farms, our factories, our friends and our families.
These opponents of agriculture are looking to make it impossible for sugar producers to get the loans needed to support our operations while we store sugar for customers and await payment. And they want to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to oversupply the U.S. market with more subsidized imports.
It’s a great time to be in business in America, right?
The economy is humming, with record highs in the stock market, unemployment at a 17 year low, wages rising, and Amazon promising to bring 50,000 new jobs to a lucky city. What’s not to love?
If you’re a farmer, like we are, the outlook is horrible. Farm incomes are down, commodity prices are low, and the weather is increasingly unpredictable.
We grow sugar, where prices are lower today than they were in 1980. Unfortunately for beet and cane farmers, the cost of fuel, seed, fertilizer, and other inputs has risen dramatically during that time, creating an economic squeeze.
We’ve also faced hurricanes, freezes, diseases, pests, and a host of other challenges – and that’s just here at home. Subsidized foreign sugar has been the biggest industry and job killer of all.
Sounds extreme? Well, when Mexico broke U.S. trade law a few years ago and flooded the U.S. market with subsidized sugar, it drove Hawaii’s century-old sugarcane industry out of business. We think we have that fixed, but every grower across the country is still struggling with the aftereffects.
Go farther south to Brazil and billions in government subsidies have helped the “OPEC of sugar” gain a stranglehold on the global sugar market. In fact, Brazil controls 50 percent of exports and is able to manipulate prices worldwide, applying even more pressure to U.S. farmers.
A hard lesson learned is that when a sugarcane farm, mill, or refinery closes, it never reopens – as evidenced by the closure of 54 sugar factories and the loss of 100,000 jobs since 1985.
When we close a plant, we essentially hand over that part of our domestic market to subsidized imports. And that puts Americans out of work.
But the story isn’t all doom-and-gloom. We’re looking to the future, and we’ve got a domestic sugar policy that gives us a fighting chance.
This policy has enabled us to invest in research to improve yields and mill processing efficiencies. Many of us have cooperative ownership in local factories and some have also vertically integrated by jointly co-owning refineries in order to avoid further closures.
We make these investments and push through the hard times because we love sugar, because sugar is woven into our culture and because we can’t grow much else. It provides 142,000 jobs across the nation and pumps more than $20 billion into the economy.
It’s how we’ve become a global leader in efficiency and technology. We’ll go head-to-head with any farmer in the world because we know that our American colleagues will come out on top. But, it doesn’t come without some risk and commitment.
Sugar farmers take out huge operating loans each year, and frankly, we wouldn’t get a dime unless our bankers have the certainty of a strong no-cost sugar policy.
It’s why we need to maintain a strong sugar program in the upcoming farm bill. It’s not about subsidy checks, because we don’t receive any. It’s about our survival.
We’re proud to continue a way of life in America that dates back to 1751, when sugarcane was first planted in Louisiana. We’ve literally built our lives around providing Americans with a reliable and safe supply of an important product.
Despite our work, there are those who want to weaken farmers’ risk management tools and drive our prices even lower. If these agricultural opponents are successful, we’ll lose more than just a few farms. Communities will lose their biggest economic driver. And thousands of hardworking Americans will be sent to the unemployment line.
The situation leaves us with an important question: Will our children and grandchildren be able to follow our lead? Or will our family’s sugar-growing heritage stop with this generation?
The decisions that Congress makes on sugar policy in the coming weeks and months will answer those questions, and, in turn, determine our fate.
We need lawmakers continue to support a strong sugar policy. Communities, and families like ours, are counting on them.
Please, Congress, don’t cut us out of the farm bill.
Catherine LaCour is a sugarcane grower from Pointe Coupee, La. Joel Gasper is a sugarbeet grower from Crookston, Minn.
Read the article in Washington Examiner…
Not a Subsidy
I read with interest Jessica Angeles’ article about the upcoming Farm Bill debate.
I too am a small-business owner in California. But unlike Ms. Angeles, I didn’t “recently learn about the U.S. sugar program.” My husband and I run a third-generation sugarbeet farm in Brawley and have first-hand knowledge of how the policy works.
Sugar is not a “subsidy program” as Ms. Angeles alleges. We get no government checks. Instead, producers receive government loans so we can pay our bills while storing inventory until buyers need it. Once sugar is delivered and payment is received, loans are repaid with interest, which is why U.S. sugar policy runs at no taxpayer cost.
Ms. Angeles also wrongly describes U.S. sugar prices as expensive. U.S. food makers pay less for sugar today than they did in 1980. Their counterparts in Mexico and many other countries pay more.
Finally, America is not shut off from sugar imports, as she states. We are the world’s third largest sugar importer, and many imports are refined at California’s C&H Sugar refinery.
We do agree on one thing: this debate will hold ramifications for our state. If sugar policy is weakened and we are cut out of the Farm Bill, California is certain to lose farms like mine and sugar factories that provide a lot of good-paying jobs.
If Ms. Angeles is up for the trip, I’d welcome her to my farm to get the facts.