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Published December 09, 2011, 06:58 PM

Hoeven: Sugar program must be in farm bill

Senator discusses 2012 Farm Bill talks, Keystone pipeline legislation
The U.S. sugar program seems to be on track to be continued in the 2012 Farm Bill, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Friday. “We need to continue the no-cost sugar program and it needs to be part of the farm bill, and I believe it will be,” he said.

The U.S. sugar program seems to be on track to be continued in the 2012 Farm Bill, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Friday.

“We need to continue the no-cost sugar program and it needs to be part of the farm bill, and I believe it will be,” he said.

During a meeting with the Herald’s editorial board, Hoeven said he and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., along with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., already made suggestions on what should be in the next farm bill earlier this year.

But the so-called congressional supercommittee tasked with drafting a 10-year deficit reduction package failed to reach agreement last month. That leaves the future operation of the nation’s farm programs — and the continuation of the sugar program — up to the House and Senate agriculture committees and, ultimately, the full Congress.

‘Support’s there’

Under the terms of the 2008 Farm Bill, the U.S. sugar program operates at no cost to taxpayers. It gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the ability to limit foreign imports of sugar, controls how much sugar American farmers are allowed to sell and shifts surplus imports to ethanol production in an attempt to stabilize prices.

“People in Congress are looking at the sugar program based on the program and its merits and recognize that it should be continued,” he said. “I think the support’s there to do it.”

But Hoeven said he believes continuing the program — and maintaining other agriculture programs when Congress is so focused on cutting budget deficits and the national debt — will be a “tougher” fight in the House.

He said the House is “population-driven,” meaning a large percentage of representatives are elected from the nation’s urban areas. The Senate, meanwhile, has two members from each state who represent their entire home state, not just one district.

“That’s why it’s so important that we talk to them about how good farm policy really benefits every American,” he said. “There are so many good things about agriculture that we have to continue that message and why it truly benefits people in the urban areas.”

Still, Hoeven said, he believes “it’s an argument we will make successfully” when it comes to the sugar program. He said agricultural programs needs to be part of the federal effort to slash deficits, and the supercommittee already had discussed about $23 billion in agriculture-related savings over the next decade.

“But ag needs to be treated proportionally to everybody else and we have to prioritize and make sure that we have the right elements in the farm bill to have a good, strong farm program,” he said.

Hoeven said the top priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill needs to be crop insurance, followed by the counter-cyclical program, research, the sugar program, the livestock indemnity program and water retention and management assistance.

Keystone bill

Hoeven also discussed efforts with several Republican senators to push for passage of legislation that would begin construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which could carry 700,000 or more barrels a day of petroleum from Canada, western North Dakota and Montana to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.

The North American Energy Security Act, authored by Hoeven, is advancing in the Senate and has been added to House legislation to extend the payroll tax cut.

Hoeven said his bill “solves the problem” that prompted President Barack Obama to put the pipeline on hold for 18 months this fall — concerns about the proposed route that would run through the environmentally sensitive Nebraska Sandhills.

The legislation would allow Nebraska officials to decide the route the pipeline would take through the state. It also would require the Secretary of State to issue a permit within 60 days of its passage so work could begin.

Hoeven said a 2010 study estimates the pipeline would create at least 20,000 construction jobs and an additional 250,000 permanent jobs once completed. It also would reduce the nation’s dependence on Middle East oil and prevent local oil from being shipped to refineries in China.

But Obama has threatened to veto the House’s tax cut extension if the Keystone legislation is included.

“This is a solutions-oriented piece of legislation,” Hoeven said. “So to come out now and say, ‘Well, no, we’re still going to wait 18 months,’ what’s going on?”

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to