Spotlight:The Hand That Feeds U.S.

A platform that gives voice to opposing ag critiques

Published in the August 2009 Issue Published online: Aug 03, 2009
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Sugar is part of the Hand That Feeds U.S., and one of American Sugar Alliance’s big pushes is to broaden coalitions of supporters, therefore spotlighting the efforts this new organization/project is doing is appropriate.

The biggest legislative effort has to do with TRQ increases, but the USDA’s supply numbers are changing pretty rapidly so it makes it difficult to do an accurate job in a long-lead publication.

The Hand that Feeds U.S. is a project aimed at educating urban media about the importance of U.S. agriculture. It has received an enthusiastic welcome from the agriculture community.

Support for the organization and its mission include helpful letters from family farms to small businesses and agricultural groups nationwide. The positive response is a good indication that The Hand that Feeds U.S. is fulfilling its intended purpose in creating a platform for U.S. farmers and ranchers. It allows them to tell their stories, discuss the need for U.S. agriculture and counter those who have been critical of U.S. agriculture in the past.

The following article is an example of the online information provided to enlighten the urban media and its readership.

 

Sour Profits Lead to Farmer Ownership in Sugar Business

During the late 1800s, a wealthy investor named Henry Oxnard was busy cultivating America into an agricultural powerhouse.

He’s best known for his namesake, Oxnard, Calif.—a city of nearly 200,000 people that boasts two Naval bases and is widely considered to be the world’s strawberry and lima bean capital.

But he made most of his money jumpstarting America’s sugarbeet industry, which now spans 11 states. The modern-day industry is far different than it was in Oxnard’s time when rich investors lined up to pool money into sugar production.

In fact, the current scene is a polar opposite. Private investors skipped out on the beet business decades ago and left it for dead.

If the moneymen fled, why are we still enjoying delicious homegrown beet sugar in our morning coffee? Because farmers stepped up in a big way and bought the teetering companies.

The country’s biggest beet processor is Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal Sugar Company, an offshoot of Oxnard’s original sugar venture.

 

American Crystal

American Crystal became the first farmer-owned sugar cooperative in 1973 after area growers banded together and purchased it from investors looking to exit the business for lack of profitability.

“Beets are absolutely worthless unless they are processed into edible sugar,” explained Pat Benedict, one of the original members of the farmer cooperative. “We had to buy the factories or our farms would have gone under too.”

No one is more thankful for this decision than the local communities along the Red River Valley.

American Crystal employs 1,800 people, and combined with the other two sugar companies in Minn. and N.D, is the region’s top employer next to health care. All told, sugar pumps more than $3 billion into local economies along the states’ border.

But Benedict notes the returns still aren’t that great. In fact, they’ve gotten worse.

“Big food companies pay us less for sugar today than they did when Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office,” he explained. “But the cost of farming, and the cost of keeping the factories running, has become much more expensive.”

Other beet companies followed American Crystal’s lead as financial pressures forced all remaining investors out of sugar. Today, 100 percent of beet sugar processors are farmer-owned.

1978 TIME Magazine

Although wealthy financiers might not care much about the sugar business any longer, growers like Benedict are glad they took the plunge and are literally betting the farm on the industry’s future.

“We can’t afford to fail,” he concluded, “a lot of people are counting on us.”

Considering the Dept. of Commerce estimates that 70 percent of processed foods in America contain sugar, Benedict is right—we’re all counting on them.

Pat Benedict of American Crystal was profiled in a 1978 TIME magazine cover story titled “The New U.S. Farmer.” It is about the men and women “who make U.S. agriculture the nation’s most efficient and productive industry and by far the biggest force holding down the trade deficit.” The article discusses high input costs, low profit margins, the need for farmers to grow in order to survive, the importance of farm policy and many other issues still facing growers today.