FRESNO, Calif. — The U.S. sugar program will not need changes in the 2012 farm bill, except for a provision to help growers enter the renewable-fuels market, according to House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson.
The sugar program "is working exactly as it is supposed to," he told CongressDaily Monday after the third in his series of field hearings on the 2012 farm bill. "I don’t foresee big changes in sugar." Peterson’s Minnesota seat is one of the biggest sugar-producing districts in the country.
At a hearing Saturday in Nampa, Idaho, a key sugar beet leader testified in favor of continuing the sugar program in the 2008 farm bill.
"American sugar farmers remain grateful to the Congress for crafting a sugar policy that is balancing supply and demand, ensures consumers of dependable, high-quality supplies, and is improving market prospects for sugar producers," said Galen Lee, an Idaho grower speaking for the Snake River Sugar Company, a cooperative owned by 1,100 sugar growers that produces 13 percent of U.S. sugar. "We strongly urge the continuation of this successful, no-cost policy in the next farm bill."
Most U.S. crop subsidy programs are based on government expenditures. But the sugar program seeks to stabilize prices above world levels by forcing sugar users to pay higher prices because farmers can forfeit sugar to the government if prices fall to certain levels. The program also restricts sugar imports.
Candy companies and other industrial sugar users have complained bitterly that the Obama administration has restricted imports as much as possible.
John Diener, a California sugar-beet producer, testified in Fresno that a local sugar refinery had closed in 2008 and that the sugar farmers in the area have banded together to form a co-operative to produce low-carbon ethanol for cars and farm vehicles from sugar. Diener asked for money in the next farm bill to help start the project, and Peterson said afterward he was sympathetic to the idea.
Peterson said he has experienced few surprises in his field hearings so far, except that dairy interests are less unified than he expected. Jamie Bledsoe, a California dairy producer, testified a new dairy safety net "must be herd-size and region-neutral and must not send signals that more production is welcome when farm milk prices are low." The milk income loss contract program, whose benefits are limited by herd size, "is not working," Bledsoe said.
House Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas said Californians must realize that farmers in other parts of the country object to their state’s set-asides in the environmental quality incentives program, which is used for cleanups, because the state of California establishes stricter standards than other states.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., countered that the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts set the basic environmental standards, adding that his state’s environmental problems are a national issue because it produces so much of the nation’s food.
Californian farmers at the hearing also addressed the average crop revenue election program and the permanent disaster program, arguing that both are not working well. Peterson said he agreed those programs are too complicated at present but they still hold potential.
Peterson has scheduled further hearings this month in Alabama, Georgia, South Dakota and Texas.
# # #