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Andy Peterson and Craig Whitney, Published July 12 2012

US sugar program win-win

After reviewing the arguments made by the Sugar Coalition (made up of candy, beverage and cereal manufacturers), we remain unconvinced that ending the sugar program would be good for North Dakota and good for consumers. The sugar program is a no-cost program to U.S. taxpayers and provides valuable benefits to sugar producers in our region and our country.

The makers of sodas, candy bars and other sweetened snacks are once again taking aim at a long-standing federal program, the sugar program. This program is vital: It provides valuable assistance to U.S. sugar farmers and ensures that sugar remains an affordable commodity for American consumers.

The U.S. sugar program helps to level the playing field for U.S. producers and ensures a stable, affordable sugar supply for U.S. consumers. American sugar producers are efficient, producing sugar at a lower cost than 70 other sugar-producing countries and regions. Sugar policy helps support more than 140,000 American jobs and nearly $20 billion in annual economic activity. It is supported by the nation’s two largest agricultural groups, the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union.

The sugar beet industry, which included the growing regions and processing plants located in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota and west-central Minnesota, planted 652,741 acres and processed 15.5 million tons of sugar beets in 2011. Production and processing activities generated

$1.7 billion in direct economic impacts. Gross business volume (direct and secondary effects) from the sugar beet industry was estimated at $4.9 billion. Direct and secondary employment in the industry was 2,473 and 18,830 full-time equivalent jobs, respectively.

The industry paid $15.4 million in property taxes and was estimated to generate another $105 million in sales and use, personal income and corporate income taxes in Minnesota and North Dakota. Total direct impacts in North Dakota were estimated at $592.3 million ($252.5 million from processors and $339.8 million from growers).

The sugar program benefits the makers of sodas, candy and other snacks that are popular in the American marketplace. The program provides the makers of these snacks and beverages access to a stable supply of quality American sugar without wild price swings. Not only are sugar prices stable and predictable in the U.S. market, the U.S. sugar program provides sugar users some of the lowest prices in the developed world. All without adding cost to the American taxpayer.

State chambers of commerce and local chambers of commerce are part of the larger chamber of commerce family, and often agree with the U.S. Chamber, however, that does not mean we always agree. In this instance, the U.S. Chamber is on the other side of this issue. Given the local impacts and the specialized knowledge we have gained from working closely with our members involved in the U.S. sugar program, we are comfortable in our position of support for our region and our sugar producers.

The sugar industry is vital to our farmers in the Red River Valley. It supports jobs and is a key component to our ag-driven economy across our state. The Sugar Coalition (which opposes the U.S. sugar program) fought hard against the sugar program and will likely do the same as the farm bill approaches a vote in the House of Representatives. However, the no-cost value of the sugar program, especially to the Red River Valley and North Dakota, is what makes it crucial that the U.S. sugar program remains intact.

Peterson is president/CEO, North Dakota Chamber of Commerce. Whitney is president/CEO, Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.