The new president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association has great timing.
John Snyder, 56, ascended to the office one day after President Barack Obama signed the massive five-year farm bill into law. Snyder was elected unanimously by beet growers who gathered from across the nation at the ASGA Annual Meeting on Feb. 9-11 in Tampa, Fla.
“As a total bill, it’s not perfect,” Snyder said. “But the sugar provisions in the farm bill are good. It’s good for the industry. It gives the USDA the tools it needs for the sugar industry to run smoothly.”
Snyder chaired the ASGA’s Legislative Committee as five years of work in Congress on the farm bill finally came to fruition in early February.
“The committee’s prime focus is making sure a farm bill is passed and has good provisions for the sugar industry,” he said. “We tried to have influence on that.”
In fact no changes were made to the sugar provisions as they appeared in the 2008 farm bill.
“The reason is because I think legislators understand that each one of these provisions is important,” Snyder said. “Each part is integral to making sure it all works well and correctly.”
ASGA members were able to successfully convey to legislators that even a slight change or modification to the provisions would hurt, Snyder said.
Part of the credit for that goes to the work of former ASGA President Kelly Erickson, who served the maximum two one-year terms.
Snyder served as ASGA vice president for the last two years under Erickson.
“Kelly is a doer,” Snyder said. “He likes to get things done. He works very hard at getting results. I kid him a little bit about the delay of the farm bill, but he certainly didn’t have any control of that. Kelly has been a very good president. He has led this association in trying times.”
Snyder lives in Worland, Wyo., and is a member of the Wyoming Sugar Growers Board of Managers. He has served on the ASGA Board of Directors for 13 years.
“I’ve been married to my wife Janet for 34 wonderful years,” Snyder said. Janet owns and operates a retail business in Worland and together they raised two sons, Jason and Steven.
Jason is the minister of adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church and lives in Carrolton, Texas, with his wife, Kaylan, and two daughters, Abigail, 3, and Eliza, 4 months old.
Steven is married to Jamie, a first-grade teacher in Worland. He is also a beet grower.
“I am a fourth-generation sugarbeet grower,” Snyder said. “My son is fifth generation. We grow about 835 acres of beets.”
Snyder also farms with his in-laws, Con and Alice Lass and Stan and Joy Lass.
“My great-grandfather John Riley Snyder got started in 1914,” Snyder said. “I didn’t really realize that until the other day that it has been 100 years now. Both my and Janet’s family have really been a building part of the sugar industry here in Worland.”
Snyder knows the challenges that confront the sugar industry.
“This oversupplied market is what we need to deal with,” he said. “It drives prices lower. We’ve got prices we saw in the 1980s. It’s going to be hard to survive on those prices when inputs are at today’s costs.
“The reason the market is oversupplied is because Mexico keeps pushing sugar up here,” Snyder said. “We have a 6-million ton producer sitting on our southern border and the Mexican government has 20 percent ownership in the industry. And they have unrestricted access to our market.
“That’s why it’s important that we have the sugar policy that we do and that it wasn’t changed,” he said. “So we have some way to deal with an oversupplied market that’s caused by other countries and how they subsidize their sugar industry. We can compete against each other or other companies, but we can’t compete against a foreign government.”
Snyder is humbled by his task ahead.
“When you look around the room at the ASGA meeting you have a room full of leaders,” he said. “To be elected as their president is very humbling because it’s a huge responsibility to lead this industry: to make it better for the next generation and the generation after that. We’re passionate about the industry, and we want it to succeed.
“I would also like to thank our ASGA staff,” Snyder said. Luther Markwart, executive vice president, Ruthann Geib, vice president, and Pamela Alther, director of administration, promote the common interests of sugarbeet growers in the United States from ASGA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“They are an extremely efficient three-person office,” Snyder said. “They are very well respected in D.C., and priceless to the sugar industry.”
Snyder has this advice for his fellow growers.
“Become involved,” he said. “Don’t sit back and expect someone else to do it for you. It’s everyone’s business, and everyone has to be involved. Everyone has to be educated on the issues. When somebody attacks sugar we need to tell them the real story. Understand the issues and promote the industry.