Letters From the West

Amalgamated defends sugar loan program that keeps jobs in Idaho

Sugar beets are unloaded on to a beet piler at Amalgamated Sugar Co. in Twin Falls. (Idaho Statesman file photo)

Sugar beets are unloaded on to a beet piler at Amalgamated Sugar Co. in Twin Falls.
(Idaho Statesman file photo)

Amalgamated Sugar responded to a Wall Street Journal story that criticized the loan program that has provided a safety net during periods of low prices for sugar farmers.

“The purpose of the Farm Bill is to deliver a safe, reliable, domestically produced food supply,” said John McCreedy, a spokesman for Amalgamated in a statement. “Loans backed by the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation have been a part this program for decades.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Amalgamated, based in Boise, borrowed $274 million this fiscal year. The loans are part of a 50-year old sugar program that includes price supports and import limits so the domestic industry can compete with overseas’ producers.

Amalgamated has sugar beet processing plants in Nampa, Nyssa, Ore. Twin Falls and Paul. It is cooperatively owned by sugar beet farmers throughout the region.

Sugar prices have dropped in part because the North American Free Trade Agreement allowed Mexican sugar farmers to export sugar to the U.S. with paying a duty. Other free trade agreements are also increasing imports.

The Journal said if prices, now at about 19 cents a pound, stay below 21 cents, some processors may not be able to repay their loans. The loss of the sugar beet industry would be hard on some parts of Idaho, including Canyon County.

Idaho produced 6.1 tons of sugar beets in 2012. The 5.6 million tons produced in 2009 was worth $252 million.

“Instead of attacking Idaho’s sugar beet farmers and the loan structure that gives them a fighting chance against foreign subsidies, let’s focus on getting the Farm Bill passed so Amalgamated can get back to making safe, reliable sugar for America’s consumers,” McCreedy said.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West