VIDEO: Vigilance on trade agreement violations key to sugar’s future
CHAFFEE, N.D. -- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the U.S. sugar program faces vocal opposition moving forward into the next farm bill, but that development of new safety net policies for sugar and other commodities will depend on who is preside...
CHAFFEE, N.D. - Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the U.S. sugar program faces vocal opposition moving forward into the next farm bill, but that development of new safety net policies for sugar and other commodities will depend on who is president and who controls Congress.
During the congressional break Aug. 22, Heitkamp talked about the future of the sugar program at a farm shop meeting in Chaffee, N.D., at the farm of Andy and Julie Levos, who farm with their son, Brett.
Brett, 24, said he’s anxious to know that sugar policy can be developed that allows his business to thrive through his career. His biggest concern? “Right now, it’s Mexico, and how much sugar they’re importing,” Levos said. “That they’re bringing in sugar that’s over their quota, and it’s affecting the pricing.”
Levos, who grows 750 acres of beets, says with the loss of genetically-modified organism sugar beets - Roundup Ready beets - his farm would probably cut its beet acres, perhaps in half.
Heitkamp said the U.S. must be vigilant in enforcing trade agreements with Mexico on sugar. “They’re looking for ways to sneak stuff in,” she said. “There’s no better way to say it. We caught them. We took it to an independent tribunal and they said, guess what, you’re right. We think they’re finding another way to cheat.”
A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Heitkamp said there have been indications for the past month that the Mexicans now may be moving in some liquid sugar in violation of that agreement. The Obama administration is pushing back and trying to get more information and is trying to plug the holes.
She said there has been talk of beginning discussion on a new farm bill to replace the 2014 farm bill, which would expire in 2018. Members of the House Agriculture Committee have recently made indications that they’re thinking about opening up the discussions on a new farm bill in 2017, a year early, because of concerns about whether the current bill will provide a safety net in a time of extended commodity price declines.
She expects a ramping up of sugar program opposition - by the sugar users. Many of the candy and other confection manufactures want more access to sugar at the so-called world price, which right now is cheaper than the U.S. price, but Heitkamp thinks the price would rise if the U.S. sugar program went away. Sugar users would temporarily get their sugar cheaper.
“Does it mean they’re going to reduce the cost of a candy bar? Absolutely not,” Heitkamp said. “We’ve proved that time and time again. But having domestically produced sugar is absolutely necessary to the food security of this country.”
Nov. 8 effect
North Dakota’s junior senator said she has questions about whether a Donald Trump presidency would bring foundational economic safety nets for farmers in a difficult economy. But she adds that her real concern is agriculture - as per normal - is not much discussed in the campaign.
Heitkamp says she disagrees with Clinton critics who say her administration would be “exactly like the Obama administration.” She thinks a Clinton administration might realize how “devastating” the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. rules could be for the Prairie Pothole region. WOTUS would allow the federal government to exert unprecedented control over on-farm wetlands.
The rule has been temporarily stayed by the courts, but Heitkamp said there is an opportunity to reopen the dialogue for compromise on jurisdictional waters. She said she’d work to get it reversed in a Clinton administration. She praised U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack - one of Clinton’s confidantes - for his commitment to make regulations practical for farming.
The House will look again at separating SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funding from the farm bill. It’s likely the House majority leadership won’t change, but it’s also likely the Senate could switch back to Democrat control. That likely would make Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee again.
Tom Astrup, president of American Crystal Sugar Co. who will add the role of CEO on Sept. 1, said Clinton has a track record on sugar and farm programs, in general, and Trump is also trying to reach out, by naming an ag group, including North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Astrup said sugar farmers have been concerned about the WOTUS rules, but will be “with us in any administration.”