This holiday season, America’s farmers and ranchers are at the top of our nice list for growing and raising the crops and livestock that keep us all fed. The family farmers who grow sugarbeets and sugarcane – and the workers who transform these plants into the sugar in our holiday desserts – are an essential part of this food supply chain.
Dr. Rob Johansson, Director of Economics and Policy Analysis at the American Sugar Alliance (ASA) and the former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), joined us on the latest episode of the Groundwork podcast to discuss the importance of America’s robust sugar industry and what we can expect during the Farm Bill debate in 2024.
Sugar policy is one component of a strong Farm Bill. As Dr. Johansson explained: “The Farm Bill has a no-cost sugar policy that ensures that domestic production and foreign imports meet the right balance so we always have an adequate amount of sugar while ensuring family farmers can survive against unfair trade practices.”
But sugar policy is not the only component that Congress needs to look at in the next Farm Bill. Since the last Farm Bill was passed and signed into law in 2018, farmers and ranchers have faced a trade war, a global pandemic, supply chain challenges, and numerous weather and natural disasters. Inflation and the high cost of production inputs continue to be key issues for producers, Dr. Johansson said.
“We’re coming off of record prices, but we still have near-record costs. So that means some producers have been doing well, but others have had a difficult time with the current inflation-ridden environment.”
Thankfully, key champions in Congress have continued work to ensure that the next Farm Bill meets the needs of producers and remains an efficient and effective piece of legislation. “The truth is that American agriculture is incredibly modern and forward thinking – so the Farm Bill has to be modern and forward thinking, too,” Dr. Johansson said.
While America’s farmers and ranchers are firmly on the Farm Policy Facts NICE list, farm policy critics are on the NAUGHTY list. Farm policy critics, yet again, relied on old, played-out misconceptions and falsehoods this year in an effort to undermine strong farm policy. America’s sugar farmers are, unfortunately, a common victim.
“Farm policy critics tend to use falsehoods in order to invoke scary images of candy and sugar rationing for America’s families, especially around this time of year, when everyone is baking such good things for the Christmas table or the holidays. But what the public should really be looking at are the profit levels some of these companies are achieving and whether or not they are actually passing any savings back to households,” Dr. Johansson said.
Dr. Johansson explained that if you look at the cost of one chocolate bar, less than two cents of that chocolate bar goes back to the farmer who raised the crops and the skilled workers who turned the sugarbeet or sugarcane into sugar for the candy manufacturer. That’s the bitter reality of food economics.
Supporting a strong Farm Bill and strong U.S. sugar policy can keep American farmers and ranchers in business and protect our national food security. Talk about sweet.