U.S. Sugar Provides Backpacks and School Supplies to Thousands of South Florida Schoolchildren

Pencils. Glue. Scissors. Notebooks. Each item packed carefully into a backpack by a volunteer.

Thanks in part to U.S. Sugar, thousands of students in Florida started school in August 2019 with brand-new backpacks filled with the supplies they would need for a successful year.

U.S. Sugar partnered with several community organizations, including the Clewiston Library, the City of South Bay, the Palm Beach and Hendry County Education Foundations and the Palm Beach and Hendry County Sheriff’s Departments to provide more than $110,000 in backpacks and school supplies to elementary school students in the Glades farming communities.

Approximately 70 percent of schools in Palm Beach and Hendry Counties are designated as Title 1 schools, meaning they serve a high percentage of students from low-income families.

These Glades communities are vitally important to U.S. Sugar. The Glades communities in western Palm Beach County are agricultural towns that many sugarcane farmers and workers call home, while U.S. Sugar is headquartered in Clewiston, in Hendry County.

Investments in education through projects like U.S. Sugar’s backpack initiative to provide school supplies to help the next generation be successful will help sustain their local communities.

Brannan Thomas, U.S. Sugar’s Community Relations Manager and a native of Belle Glade, helped lead this project and was proud to give back to the community where he went to school.

“U.S. Sugar is proud to donate filled backpacks to our students and help support the important work our teachers are doing to educate the next generation of Floridians,” Thomas said. “Our families live, work, and play in these communities, which means that our success is intrinsically tied to their prosperity.”

Thomas and other U.S. Sugar employees were able to deliver hundreds of backpacks to children at the Clewiston Library and South Bay City Hall as well as to school leaders at Eastside and Westside Elementary Schools in Clewiston.

According to the Florida Department of Education, during the 2018-2019 school year, 100 percent of students at each of these schools qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

National surveys place the cost of buying school supplies at an average cost of more than $100.

“Notebooks and pencils are necessities for any back to school list, and every student deserves to have access to the supplies they need to succeed in the classroom,” Thomas said.

Pencils. Glue. Scissors. Notebooks. These are more than just supplies checked off a list.

They’re tools that will help secure valuable education opportunities for thousands of children in South Florida.

Texas Sugar Producers Tip Their Hat to Sugar Policy

Deep in the heart of Texas, approximately 112 farmers grow sugar cane across 41,000 acres along the banks of the Rio Grande river.

These farmers and their farmer-owned cooperative, Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, are important members of the Rio Grande Valley community and a critical part of the Texan economy. Unfortunately, they are all that is left of the once-booming sugar industry in south Texas.

Sugar production in the Lone Star State has a rich legacy spanning more than 200 years. However, economic and political hardships in the early 20th century forced the closure of the last of the sugar mills. In 1973, a group of farmers worked together to re-establish a sustainable sugar industry in the Rio Grande Valley.

Today, the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers are not only keeping this historic industry alive but also working to sustain the local economy. And America’s sugar policy has played a critical role in allowing sugar production to once again take root in Texas.

During the 2017/2018 growing season, their mill in Santa Rosa, Texas processed almost 1.7 million tons of sugar cane, producing more than 165,000 tons of raw sugar and nearly 60,000 tons of molasses. In fact, the mill produces enough sugar to provide an entire year’s worth of refined sugar to more than 7.7 million consumers.

And all of the hard work that goes into harvesting and processing that sugar certainly has a sweet effect on the economy.

According to Sean Brashear, President and CEO of Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, the sugar cane industry in Texas contributes $140.3 million annually to the state’s economy and supports an estimated 801 jobs statewide.

From the fields to the mill and everywhere in between, more than 300 people are directly employed by the sugar industry in the Rio Grande Valley. And hundreds more have jobs thanks to the economic impact generated by the mill and the farmers who supply it.

“We are proud to contribute to the rural economies that rely on the sugar industry,” Brashear said. “America’s sugar policy allows our farmers and workers to withstand a global market that is defined by foreign subsidies and depressed prices. Continued support of this policy will ensure that the legacy of sugar farming in Texas can survive.”

Just like sugar farmers and workers across the country, the Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers are continually striving to become more efficient producers.

Farmers utilize GPS technology to minimize the use of diesel, fertilizer and pesticides and the Rio Grande Valley mill uses leftover cane from the milling process, called bagasse, as fuel to generate steam and electricity. When operating at peak efficiency, the mill creates enough electricity to power the nearby town of Santa Rosa.

The positive effects of the Texan sugar industry extend far beyond the state. Raw sugar is sold to a refinery in Louisiana and shipped by barge via the intracoastal waterway, bringing economic benefits to communities along the Gulf Coast on the way.

Many of the Rio Grande Valley farmers share a deep connection to this land. Board Chairman Leonard Simmons’ family has farmed in the Rio Grande Valley for 100 years.

“It’s important for us to share the story of sugar in the Rio Grande Valley,” Simmons said. “Producing sugar means supporting our families, contributing to our communities, being responsible stewards of the land, and continuing this heritage for the next generation.”

And Simmons credits Congress for supporting the sugar industry in Texas by approving a 2018 Farm Bill that maintains a strong sugar policy.

“Congress firmly rejected cutting our families, farms and livelihood out of the Farm Bill. We hope they will continue to stand up for sugar producers in Texas and beyond.”

Thankfully, the sugar industry in Texas is no longer simply a part of history.

Idaho Grower Trailblazes Industry-Changing Technology

Duane Grant never set out to be an agricultural pioneer. He just wanted to continue the family farm and make his dad proud.

Grant grew up on his father Douglas’s farm in Southern Idaho and contributed from an early age, eventually joining the operation full-time after high school.

Since he joined the operation in 1980, he has become the CEO of Grant 4-D Farms and guided a more than 50-fold increase in the farm’s size and production. Grant 4-D Farms grows sugarbeets, potatoes, seed potatoes, wheat, malt barley, corn, and hay on its farms in Southern Idaho and Eastern Oregon.

“Hard work and technology fueled the growth,” said Grant, who is also the chairman of Amalgamated Sugar Company.

And no technology has been as revolutionary as sugarbeet seeds that are bioengineered to resist weed-killing herbicides – a process commonly called GMO. Grant credits the invention with reducing the industry’s environmental footprint as well as saving countless farms from ruin.

“My family has been involved in agriculture since migrating from Scotland more than 100 years ago,” Grant said. “We are now seeing the next generation working on our family farms, and it is an incredible feeling to know that thanks to advancements like biotechnology our operations can continue to contribute to the local economy and the nation’s food supply.”

Like many farms in his area, sugarbeets are at the heart of Grant’s operation. But the crop was becoming harder and harder for families like his to produce.

“Beets are a nightmare to grow because of weeds,” he explained. “Sugar farmers can go bankrupt if they can’t successfully control weeds. That used to mean a rigorous regimen that required lots of money, lots of chemicals, and lots of people working long hours.”

So, in the early 2000s, Grant dedicated himself to bringing the same GMO technology to sugarbeets that was benefitting corn and soybean farmers.

Numerous field trials testing genetically-modified beets were conducted on Grant’s farm. He was one of the first farmers who agreed to take the leap of faith and commercially plant a GMO sugarbeet crop in 2007. And, he was deeply involved with a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory committee charged with charting a course for the future of biotechnology.

By 2008, other sugarbeet farmers were eager to enjoy GMO’s benefits, and nearly 60 percent of U.S. beet production had shifted. Just one year later, bioengineered seeds accounted for 95 percent of the nation’s sugarbeet crop.

Since the introduction of GMO sugarbeet seed, Grant said per acre productivity has accelerated to the point where growers associated with Amalgamated Sugar get twice as much production from less than half the amount of inputs they did 15 years ago.

This means less spraying of herbicides; less tilling and stripping of the land, which leads to erosion; and less need for costly farm equipment that burns fossil fuels.

“When I was a kid, the valley where we grow used to turn brown from wind-blown soil erosion caused by traditional sugarbeet tillage practices.” Grant said. “That doesn’t happen anymore…we stay green and it’s thanks to the genetically modified seed.”

In fact, scientific studies show that bioengineered sugarbeets have reduced ecotoxicity and environmental risk by 92 percent and 98 percent respectively. And this technology has enabled farmers to utilize better farming practices that have cut soil-derived carbon emissions by 80%.

And with sugar prices low and stagnating, and with production costs climbing, the development of GMO sugarbeet seed also helped alleviate the economic squeeze of weed control that was crippling Grant and his neighbors.

In short, more sugarbeets are being produced on less land, and it’s being done in a more economical and environmental way.

“Best of all, when the natural sugar contained in beets is extracted during the refining process, the resulting table sugar is identical to sugar from non-GMO beet or cane sugar,” Grant said, “which is important to some consumers.”

Grant is astonished when he sits back and thinks about how far his farm and the industry has come in just the past decade.

“It’s fitting to describe the journey as a ‘tough row to hoe,’” he said of the farming metaphor used to describe a challenging task. “But it’s been well worth it. We’ve saved farms, helped families, and improved the environment by making sugar more sustainable.”

Needless to say, his father would be proud.

Sugarbeet Co-Products Fuel Champions and Create Opportunities

And the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby is _____________.

Regardless of the name filling in the blank, chances are good that a race-day food derived from sugarbeets powered them across the finish line. That’s because most Kentucky Derby participants, including Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, feast on sugarbeet pulp before heading to the starting gate.

Pulp is the tissue of the beet left over after sugar is extracted, and it’s prized in equine circles as a dietary additive because it is fiber-rich, full of energy and aids digestion.

Midwest Agri-Commodities is a California-based company that sells beet pulp on behalf of four sugarbeet cooperatives in Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. Each year, they market 1.7 million tons of sugarbeet co-products for U.S. farmers.

“A big percentage of our business is feed, and there’s a lot that goes into it,” explained Andy Ford, the company’s president.

Beet pulp isn’t exclusively used by prized thoroughbreds. Beef cattle, dairy herds, pigs and other livestock all eat it, and you can find the pulp in many pet foods. Pulp is shipped to farms and feedlots in many forms, too, including pellets and shreds – the dried, non-pelleted form of pulp most favored by horses.

“Our entire company is rooted in sustainability – in repurposing leftovers to help sugar farmers use every part of their crop and make a little extra money during the tough times,” Ford explained.

And this U.S. sustainability story stretches to the far corners of the globe.

Japan is the biggest importer, buying 190,000 to 200,000 tons of sugarbeet pulp every year for its dairy industry.

“We are the dominant supplier to Japan, and we are in the process of replicating that success elsewhere,” said Ford, who was born and raised in Japan and has a background in logistics.

Europe and Northern Africa are areas where Midwest Agri-Commodities also has a strong presence. Exploring and expanding into new markets is a big company goal.

A recent collaborative effort, involving many within the U.S. sugar industry, resulted in America becoming the first country to gain import approval for sales into China. Midwest Agri-Commodities sent 70,000 tons to China’s livestock sector in 2018 before ongoing trade disputes stalled further sales.

“I take pride when I market internationally in knowing that America’s beet pulp quality and reputation is unmatched,” Ford said.

The company often sees a premium price for its exports, and Ford said the Made-In-America brand is the reason.

“Our quality and the dependability of our delivery logistics set us apart,” he said, “and it’s why I’m so bullish about the future of these sustainable products.”

There’s good reason to be confident because, in addition to feed, Midwest Agri-Commodities and others in the sugar industry are investing in research and constantly finding new and inventive uses of sugarbeet and sugarcane waste.

Pulp is being used as mulch for mushroom production, de-sugared liquid removed from beets is used in the construction industry to make adhesives and concrete hardener, and beet juice is even being applied to roads throughout the United States, including Washington, D.C., to melt away ice and snow.

Ford thinks that’s just the beginning of what’s possible.

Beet byproducts are in development for things as varied as sports drinks, cosmetics, paint and even a replacement for Styrofoam containers.

“Sugar has an exceptional sustainability story to tell,” he concluded. “We’ve been focused on it a long time, and as long as a strong U.S. sugar policy remains in place, I think we’ll be supplying consumers with world-class sugar and co-products for a long time to come.”

U.S. Sugar Market a Beacon of Hope for Farmers in Developing Countries

America’s no-cost sugar policy ensures that American consumers and manufacturers have a steady supply of high-quality, affordable sugar. But the positive impact extends far beyond our shores.

Sugar farmers from 38 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America rely on the guaranteed market access they have in the United States to sustain their industries. The U.S. market enables them to recoup a fair price – something they cannot find in the subsidy-filled world market, where surpluses continue to build and prices average less than half the cost of producing sugar.

Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean just off Africa’s southeast coast, is a great example.  Sugar is an essential part of the Mauritian economy.

On paper, Mauritius has done everything right. Their industry strived to become more efficient to survive a market dominated by global heavyweights and billions in foreign subsidies.

Mauritian cane farmers invested in sustainable practices. More than 3,000 small-scale growers in Mauritius attained Fairtrade certification. The industry built refineries and diversified into value-added products.

It even began to turn a sugarcane byproduct into energy, accounting for 16 percent of the island’s power generation.

But it wasn’t enough.

As depressed global sugar prices impact their already-thin profit margins, Mauritian farmers are abandoning the crop in droves. The number of growers in Mauritius has decreased from some 26,000 in 2006 to a mere 12,000 farmers today.

These declining numbers represent not only the loss of jobs but also the deterioration of the communities that rely on the socioeconomic benefits brought in by sugar production.

The Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Mahen Seeruttun, addressed the Mauritius National Assembly in June 2019 regarding the tough times faced by the sugar industry.

“The primary cause of this situation is due to continuous decline in the world price of sugar arising from excess supply on the world market, taking into consideration overproduction in EU, India, Brazil, Thailand and other countries,” he said.

Mauritius isn’t alone.

Sugar producers in Barbados, Belize, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Guyana, Jamaica, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Panama, Philippines, Eswatini and Zimbabwe – collectively represented by the International Sugar Trade Coalition (ISTC) – are huge proponents for a U.S. sugar policy that gives them a fighting chance.

“For some of the world’s poorest economies, U.S. sugar policy is a lifeline that supports the livelihood of thousands of sugar producers,” said Paul Ryberg, President of ISTC.

U.S. sugar policy exists as a direct response to massive subsidization in Brazil, India, Thailand and other large exporting nations. Subsidies in these countries – which include direct payments to growers, loans coupled with debt forgiveness, and government mandated purchases at government set prices – have insulated big exporters from low prices and created a 50-million-metric-ton global surplus.

It’s a system that rewards bad actors. And, in many developing nations where sugar is a keystone of their economy, it’s had a devastating impact.

In Jamaica, it is estimated that nearly 10 percent of the population depends either directly or indirectly on the sugar industry. In some areas of the country, sugar is the only economic driver.

But production has fallen from more than 500,000 tons from the industry’s heyday in 1965 to barely 80,000 tons.

Jamaican Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw has said that this is “perhaps the most challenging period in the industry’s history.”

Sugar factories across the country have ceased operations. The Golden Grove Sugar Factory in eastern Jamaica is likely to be the next casualty, costing 150 workers their jobs.

For many of the farmers who previously supplied these factories, it may be quite literally the end of the road as they face the high transportation costs of selling their crops to another mill.

Sugar producers in Jamaica, however, might consider themselves lucky when compared to their neighbors St. Kitts and Nevis. Low prices, unfair competition and limited markets bankrupted their sugar industries completely.

Unfortunately, the flood of subsidized sugar dumped on the global market will continue to destabilize domestic sugar markets, harm developing nations and push farmers and producers out of work and further into poverty.

And unilaterally eliminating the no-cost U.S. sugar policy would only serve to reward bad actors while harming our most reliable trading partners who are working to innovate and improve.

Ryberg and the members of the ISTC agree: “Ending the U.S. sugar program would benefit a handful of agricultural superpowers, while punishing struggling sugar producers in developing countries around the world.”

That’s why the U.S. sugar industry advocates for an immediate cease-fire of all sugar subsidies.

Until then, we will continue to support our foreign partners who are investing in their communities and striving for sustainability.

Union Workers to Congress: America’s Sugar Policy Sustains Local Communities

Cornelius Fowler’s message was simple when he walked the halls of Congress this summer.

“If you kill the root, you kill the tree,” he said, “and the sugar industry is the root of the tree in my community.”

Fowler drives a truck hauling farm equipment for the Florida Crystals Okeelanta Sugar Mill in western Palm Beach County. His father and grandfather worked at the mill.

He was among the group of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) members who traveled to Washington recently to explain why America’s sugar policy is critical to rural communities.

“If there’s no sugar policy, we have no future, no job, no home,” Fowler explained.

The no-cost policy is part of the Farm Bill, which Congress passed last year. It exists due to subsidies and trade-distorting policies around the globe, and it helps U.S. farmers and sugar businesses survive amid price volatility.

The American industry employs 142,000 people in 22 states in mostly rural communities. Direct annual wages and benefits for the industry add up to nearly $1.2 billion – a figure that increases to $4.2 billion when economy-wide impacts are included.

Fowler is raising 5 children with his union job at Florida Crystals. It offered him job training, good pay, a pension and benefits. His son, the oldest, is considering medical school.

Union members met with about 30 lawmakers or their staff representatives during the visit. Most of the lawmakers were freshman and new to sugar policy.

“A lot of people don’t get to visit Congress,” Fowler said. “Being able to sit down with them and tell them your story. Tell them exactly what your community, and your job, means to you.”

Joaquin Almazan, another IAM member and worker at the Okeelanta Sugar Mill, was on the trip with Fowler. He’s a second-generation machinist, joining his father in the business. His son is now working at the mill.

“It has meant a good living for us,” he told the members he met with. “We have been able to put my daughter through college and buy a house. We have good health care and money for vacations. It’s everything to us.”

U.S. sugar policy, Almazan said, creates sustainable communities around Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. The money from sugar jobs is spent locally at other business and funds public infrastructure like schools and hospitals.

His sister works for a local business that might not exist without the good-paying union jobs at the mill.

“If I lose my job, she probably loses hers because most of us in town can’t afford to support local businesses without a sugar paycheck,” he noted.

Similar sentiments were shared by Carol Howard, a union worker with U.S. Sugar’s railroad that hauls sugar from Florida fields to factory. She joined Fowler and Almazan on Capitol Hill.

“I followed in my father’s footsteps when I started at the company more than a decade ago. Now my son now works here, and I have several family members working at U.S. Sugar,” she said. “Sugar has sustained my whole family, and it’s important that I help support the policy that sustains the industry.”

A strong bond with a unionized workforce isn’t isolated to cane companies, either. Half of America’s sugar comes from sugarbeets and 100 percent of beet factories are unionized. In addition to IAM, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Longshore and Warehouse Union; Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union; Service Employees International Union; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; Sugar Workers Union; and International Longshoremen’s Association all represent employees in the sugar industry.

These union workers receive strong salaries, a competitive benefits package, tuition and certification reimbursement, and diversified, safe workplaces.

It’s no wonder then that the international president of IAM – as well as leaders from several of other unions – weighed in so aggressively during Congress’ recent Farm Bill debate.  As IAM explained in a letter to all House members:

U.S. sugar farmers and sugar workers deserve a level playing field and should not be forced to compete with farmers subsidized and supported by foreign governments whether by direct loans, cash incentives or foreign ethanol programs.

U.S. sugar policy supports good union jobs in rural and urban areas of the country. The U.S Congress should not support outsourcing these jobs to countries with low labor and environmental standards.

Simply put, organized labor’s message is crystal clear.  U.S. sugar policy maintains good-paying jobs at home and that’s key to the survival of our communities.

Florida Sugar Producers Give a Hoot About Pest Control

The sugarcane fields of south Florida are home to more than just high-quality sugar.

The tall stalks provide a habitat to countless creatures that call the region home. Birds, reptiles, and small mammals all live in the farm fields, sharing their habitat with humans that grow cane.

It’s been like this since sugarcane was commercially cultivated in the region nearly a century ago.

And farmers in the area, by nature, love the environment and the animals it sustains. The soil, sun and rain in Florida bring to life the crops they raise. Protecting that environment is just as important to sugarcane farmers as the crop that flourishes in Florida.

But some of the critters that live among the stalks can cause problems for sustainable and efficient cane harvesting. Rats and mice chew on the stalks, often damaging a significant percentage of the crop.

That means farmers had to spend time and energy working to protect their crops from the pests. In the past, they’ve used the same methods you might use at home to rid your property of rodents. But those methods were expensive and, in some cases, inefficient. Traditional applications used to combat rodents required multiple treatments and would dissolve and become ineffective with rain.

Enter the barn owl – and a widespread local sustainable farming practice that got its start from a humble high school science fair project back in 1994.

As that project noted, barn owls native to the Florida sugar area love to nest in tight spaces, like the rafters and eves of barns. They also eat mice – by the thousands. And the fact that a pair of owls were shown to eat as many as 5,000 rodents in a year was music to the sugarcane farmers’ ears.

Dr. Richard Raid, of the University of Florida, took that science fair project and expanded it to what has become a great method for controlling rodents in cane fields. His work even won him a special achievement award from the World Owl Hall of Fame in 2019.

Since Dr. Raid expanded upon the local science project, thousands of local students have built barn owl boxes and installed them in sugarcane fields.

The first-generation wooden boxes have been replaced with plastic boxes because bees also found them to be a good home. The bees disturbed the owls and presented a danger for workers. The bees don’t seem to like the plastic boxes, but the owls do.

Florida Crystals Corporation and the independent growers in the area are big believers in the project, using barn owl boxes in most of their fields.

“We basically upgraded from wooden bird houses to sturdier condos,” says Marianne Martinez, the company’s vice president of corporate communications.

Moramay Naranjo, principal scientist, is over the project at Florida Crystals.

The most recent owl census showed of the 126 boxes, 92 of those currently contain nesting owls. Naranjo is measuring the ability of the owls to control rodents and has plans to expand.

Naranjo says using the owls is a win-win for farmers and the environment.

“I’m so excited,” she says. “I am helping those families of owls. They have a cute and unique face. I feel so proud because we are helping everything – the ecosystem, the environment and at the same time we are protecting our farms.”

And that is what sustainability is all about.

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