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Montana sugar farmer outlines industry’s Farm Bill priorities

Montana sugar farmer outlines industry’s Farm Bill priorities
Montana sugar beet grower Ervin Schlemmer testifies at Senate Agricultural Committee. Courtesy Photo

With depressed sugar prices, an uptick in foreign subsidization, and Mexico’s history of unfair trade practices, maintaining a strong no-cost U.S. sugar policy in the next Farm Bill will be essential. According to Ervin Schlemmer, a sugarbeet farmer from Montana, who appeared before the Senate Agricultural Committee on July 25.

“American sugar farmers are facing a very difficult time,” Schlemmer said during testimony on behalf of the American Sugar Alliance. “For the past five years, refined sugar prices have been depressed as a result of Mexico dumping subsidized sugar into the U.S. market.”

Mexico was found guilty of violating U.S. trade law, and its actions cost U.S. producers more than $4 billion in lost revenues and many workers their jobs, he said. In June, the U.S. and Mexican and governments reached an agreement to bring Mexico’s subsidized sugar industry into compliance with U.S. trade law and stop the injury caused by its trade abuses.

“We thank Commerce Secretary (Wilbur) Ross and Agriculture Secretary (Sonny) Perdue for negotiating recent amendments to the suspension agreements,” Schlemmer said. “And we thank members of this Committee who supported that difficult process.”

He also urged lawmakers to keep in place the current U.S. sugar policy, which is based on loans repaid with interest. “We must have full access to [government-backed] loans on the sugar we store for our customers throughout the year,” he said.

Schlemmer noted that sugar producer’s safety net is designed to operate without taxpayer cost and helps shield farmers from market distortions caused by foreign subsidies.

“American sugar farmers are among the most efficient in the world,” he said. “We would gladly compete against foreign producers if their governments did not intervene in their markets. We can compete against foreign farmers, but not foreign treasuries.”

Unlike foreign producers, “U.S. sugar farmers derive all of our revenue from the marketplace,” Schlemmer said. “There are no government checks, payments, or revenue insurance products to manage market risk.”

In addition to maintaining U.S. sugar policy, he also asked the Committee to make research funding a priority in the next Farm Bill to help farmers cope with climatic and economic challenges.

“We must reduce costs and improve yields and do so in sustainable ways,” he said. “We need research to achieve that goal.”

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