Wyoming Senators Urge USDA to Support Sugarbeet Farmers

Published online: Feb 07, 2020 News
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Source: Powell Tribune

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyo., are urging the USDA to take immediate action to support local sugar beet farmers affected by adverse weather.

“The past two years have been devastating for cooperative farmers working in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming due to significant weather events,” the senators wrote in a Jan. 30 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Enzi and Barrasso — along with Democratic and Republican senators from the other affected states — say the USDA needs to act quickly so Western Sugar Cooperative farmers can obtain operating loans for the coming growing season.

Their letter asks the USDA “to take immediate action” to assist Western Sugar by implementing the sugar beet eligibility provisions within the Wildfire, Hurricane, and Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+). Under WHIP+, eligible producers can receive payments from the federal government to help cover losses from natural disasters.

“Since its inception, this program has been essential for farmers during adverse weather growing seasons,” the letter says.

Congress modified the WHIP+ program last year to capture losses to both the quantity and the quality of the sugar beet crop. The senators say the federal payment program “provides the necessary path forward for the cooperative.”

Western Sugar board member Ric Rodriguez has said that aid could come as a mixture of grants and low-interest loans. He said in January that last fall’s harvest “will go down as one of the toughest that growers have been through in the years.”

The senators noted that Western Sugar growers in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming were hit by freezing early October temperatures in both 2018 and 2019 — dealing damage to sugar beets that had yet to be harvested.

“Because farmer shareholders directly cover these costs, they threaten their immediate future to farm and the viability of their cooperative,” said the senators’ letter.

“Given normal conditions, the cooperative farmers are some of the most productive and sustainable across the globe,” the letter adds, but the recent freezes “have forced the farmers to not be able to overcome these devastating circumstances on their own.”

The bipartisan letter was led by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and also signed by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jon Tester, D-Mont.