American Sugar Alliance: Support of sugar policy benefits more than farmers

Ada, Minnesota, sugarbeet farmer Neil Rockstad testified before a U.S. Senate agriculture subcommittee on behalf of the American Sugar Alliance, which is made up of a total of 11,000 sugar producers.

Neil Rockstad, Red River Valley Sugarbeet Grower's Association vice president, raises sugarbeets on his farm near Ada, Minnesota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

WASHINGTON — The new farm bill must maintain provisions that support the sugar industry because its vitality is essential to the U.S. economy and to national food security, Minnesota farmer Neil Rockstad told members of the Senate Agriculture subcommittee on commodities, risk management and trade during a May 2, 2023, hearing.

“Due to existing trade agreements, the United States is already the third largest importer of sugar, accounting for about 30% of the United States’ needs,” said Rockstad, vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association and the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. The supply chain interruption that occurred during the global pandemic and the war in Ukraine demonstrates why the United States should not become increasingly dependent on foreign suppliers.

“That is why an effective sugar policy, which maintains a strong domestic industry is essential for food security for our nation,” Rockstad said.

Rockstad, a fourth-generation Ada, Minnesota, sugarbeet farmer, was a member of a panel made up of commodity organizations that represented other northern Plain-grown crops including edible beans, wheat and corn, and southern -grown crops such as cotton, rice and peanuts.

The subcommittee is made up of Democratic Sens. Tina Smith, Minnesota; who is chair; Cory Booker, New Jersey; Richard Durbin, Illinois; Kristin Gillibrand, New York; John Fetterman, Pennsylvania; Ben Ray, Lujan, New Mexico; and Raphael Warnock, Georgia; and Republican Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi; Mitch McConnell, Kentucky; Tommy Tuberville, Alabama; Chuck Grassley, Iowa; and Joni Ernst, Iowa.


Rockstad testified before the subcommittee on behalf of the American Sugar Alliance, which is made up of 11,000 U.S. sugarbeet and sugarcane farmers.

U.S. sugarbeet and sugar cane farmers produce sugar that meets some of the highest flavor and environmental standards in the world, and through the use of proven best management practices have made significant strides in efficiency and sustainability, Rockstad said.

That’s in contrast to the sugar that is imported into the United States, he said.

“American farmers are threatened by less efficient, subsidized, dumped foreign sugar that usually sells well below the cost of production. This makes the world sugar market the most distorted commodity market in the world,” Rockstad said.

Increasing the loan rate for sugar also is an important policy issue that the farm bill should address, Rockstad testified.

“We would support examining how the safety net could be updated to match actual operating costs for producers,” he said.

As it is, operating margins for farmers have become tighter because input costs are rising.

Farmers in 2023 are paying 87% more for diesel fuel and 141% more for fertilizer than they did five years ago.


“The bottom line is that the current loan rate values no longer provide a realistic safety net for our producers,” Rockstad said.

The closure of 58 processing companies, most recently Sidney Sugars in eastern Montana , illustrates the need to support the industry, he said.

“Once a factory closes down, it does not re-open. Those communities, those regions and those people face drastic changes," Rockstad said.

The closure of the sugarbeet factories not only hurts the farmers who grew the commodity but also the communities where the companies are located, he said.

Besides maintaining the sugar program and increasing loan rates, Rockstad encouraged the Senate Agriculture subcommittee on commodities, risk management and trade members to improve crop insurance coverage options for sugarbeet farmers. Sugarbeet farmers, like farmers who grow other commodities, are exposed to production risks but don’t have as many crop insurance options available, he said.

Sugarbeet farmers also would benefit from a “standing” disaster aid policy that does not undermine crop insurance, Rockstad said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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