Farmers Hopping Mad over Farm Bill Delay this Easter

March 25, 2008

Easter candy is big business.

Americans are projected to spend $1.9 billion to fill Easter baskets with sweet treats this year, says the National Retail Federation.

A survey conducted by the group estimates that shoppers will fork over, on average, $18.12 for Easter candy—up from $14.40 just five years earlier.

In other words, shoppers seem undeterred by the current state of the economy when it comes to chocolate bunnies. They appear determined to keep holiday traditions alive no matter how much those cream-filled eggs and marshmallow peeps cost.

And consumers should expect to spend a little more this year. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, candy prices climbed 3.4% from 2006 to 2007. But this boon for candy companies has not trickled down to the farm where the sugar is grown to sweeten the country’s favorite Easter goodies.

Sugar prices were down sharply in 2007 and have remained at low levels during the early months of 2008. A database kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that candy companies paid an average of 25 cents for a pound of sugar in 2007 compared to 33 cents in 2006 and 30 cents in 2005.

“Times are tough on sugar farms, especially when you consider that food manufacturers are paying less for their sugar today than they did in 1980,” said Alan Welp, a Colorado farmer and president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Welp notes that the increased costs associated with growing sugar are only compounding the financial strain on the farm.

By the end of 2008, the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) forecasts that fuel prices will have risen 159 percent since 2002. ERS also notes that fertilizer costs may be an even greater concern for farmers than fuel. Fertilizer costs climbed 20 percent from 2006 to 2007 and are expected to climb even higher this year.

Welp says the farm bill currently pending in Congress would help ease the pressure caused by this combination of low prices and increasing input costs. However, that bill has been stalled for months.

“Hopefully when lawmakers go to the store this week to get candy for children and grandchildren, they will give a little thought to the farmers that made that Easter basket possible,” he said. “And when they return to Washington, hopefully they will get to work immediately to pass a bill to help those farmers.”