COMMENTARY: Sugar farmers don’t have a sweet deal, we need help


There is a saying that “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” While that isn’t exactly the case with farming — we certainly put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears — the sentiment is some-thing I deeply understand.

Farming is what I have always wanted to do. I grew up on my family’s sugarcane farm in the Rio Grande Valley and there was just something about the idea of growing a crop from start to finish that I found exciting and rewarding.

I left the family farm to study agricultural systems management at Texas A&M University and returned to the farm after graduation, full of ideas on how to make the operation more efficient.

Now, as one of the youngest growers in South Texas operating a farm in Lyford, I think the future is bright for the next generation.

Better equipment, GPS-guided tractors, improved crop planning and new varieties of sugar cane and re-search are all contributing to making American sugar farmers the most efficient in the world.

But we can’t do it alone. Like any crop, we have to manage input costs, pray for good weather and hope for a good price when it comes time to harvest to get a return on our investment.

I remember my first couple of months back after college; I had my fair share of run-ins with my dad on how we should run the operation.

I am all about the numbers, but the real world of farming involves so many more factors than just numbers.

The fact is, no year is ever a guarantee, and no year can be neatly plotted out in a spreadsheet. We deal with unique risks that are far different than other businesses. A disastrous freeze in 1989, for example, wiped out much of the Valley’s crop, and taught us a hard lesson on just how risky sugarcane can be.

World market prices have also long been a challenge for farmers. Foreign nations subsidize sugar to the point that it usually sells on the world market for less than the cost to make it.

America’s no-cost sugar policy helps alleviate some of the risk and provides a safety net. It ensures that subsidized imports don’t flood the market and drive us out of business. It also gives sugar producers access to loans that help us market sugar — loans that are repaid with interest. The policy is included in the Farm Bill, which Congress is currently debating.

It is critical we call on our lawmakers to keep this policy intact. We don’t want them to cut our families out of the Farm Bill. Until other nations drop their price-distorting subsidies, American farmers need a strong sugar policy to compete. It’s just that simple.

Unfortunately, some agricultural critics have a different idea. They are pushing a plan to exclude sugar producers from the loans that are available to other crops. And they want to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture to import unneeded subsidized sugar from abroad.

That plan is not “modest reform,” as they contend, but would instead eliminate my safety net.

We have the tools, and the motivation, and with a sound sugar policy intact, I am confident we will be able to continue farming for generations to come.