“Fresh Christmas Trees” reads a snow-covered sign leading into Rodney Adams’ farm.
He doesn’t need the sign.
Nearly everyone in the Scottsbluff, Nebraska, community comes to the Adams family farm for their trees. And they know the way, because local families bring their children there in the Fall to pick pumpkins, explore corn mazes and take hay rides.
“Everybody gets to pick their own pumpkins and we have craft fairs and bounce houses,” he said. “Families can be out here for two or three hours doing everything… It started out just to help our kids go through college and it grew from there. Now the community expects it and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun.”
The fact that Adams has time to entertain the town is amazing.
Fall is harvest season. Adams, 64, and his son, who farms with him, are working around the clock to dig sugarbeets out of the ground before the freeze sets in. If they’re delayed, there won’t be enough to feed the Western Sugar Cooperative factory located less than a mile away.
And that affects the whole community. Western is the area’s second biggest employer, next to the hospital, employing between 300 and 400 people depending on the time of year.
“It would be hard for me to imagine what this community would be like without sugar, without the industry,” said Tracey Bentley, the factory’s processing manager. “The number of jobs that people would no longer have…and then how that trickles down to everyone else. The people in the restaurants. The stores. The hospitals. The schools.”
The factory is really humming this time of year as workers prepare for a busy Easter sales season.
Machines load frozen beets from an enormous outdoor pile onto 18-wheelers, where they are whisked to a conveyor belt that takes them to be cleaned, sliced, and cooked to extract pure sugar. The pulp that’s left over is then taken to local ranches to feed cattle wandering snowy pastures.
Nothing goes to waste, Bentley explains.
Things are a little slower on Rodney’s farm. His beets are harvested, his fields are too frozen to tend and he has time to mend machinery that will help with the next crop. He also has time to think and plan for the future.
Unfortunately, that brings him some trepidation. Sugar prices tanked when Mexico broke U.S. trade law and flooded the market with subsidized imports years ago. While that problem has been addressed, he says the aftereffects are still lingering.
“Sugar is at break-even or less right now so it’s made it difficult,” he said.
Adams, a fourth-generation farmer, said he’s hanging on by his fingernails. Meanwhile, some of his neighbors are leaving the sugar business altogether. Because the area’s farmers cooperatively own the local sugar factory, the pain of one sugar farm is felt by all.
Adams and his colleagues from hours away discussed the economic stress at a recent meeting of Nebraska sugarbeet farmers, which was held at the Gering Civic Center. Though folks were happy to reconnect with neighbors, few were in high spirits.
The mood turned even more sour as farmers learned of legislative attempts by large food manufacturers to flood the U.S. market with more subsidized imports to drive prices lower.
“We’ve got families right now that are going out of business. And we’ve got farmers who are having to sell assets to continue to grow sugarbeets,” Adams explained. “But we can only do this for so long. We’re as efficient as we can be. We’ve cut to the barebones now. And we do need help to keep this sugar business alive.”
Two area farmers recently flew to Washington, D .C., to deliver that exact message to lawmakers who may be unaware of the gravity their Farm Bill vote carries.
Folks in Scottsbluff are hopeful these beet emissaries will be successful. The future of the town literally depends on it.
“Beets are the community, basically,” Adams said. “If we took beets out of this community, it would be devastating.”
Author: Phillip Hayes
Phillip Hayes is the Director of Media Relations for the American Sugar Alliance. He can be reached on cell at 202-271-5734 and on email at Phillip@sugaralliance.org.
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March 20, 2018 at 11:21AM
We had quite a few visitors to the Scottsbluff area last week.
Nebraska sugar beet farmers convened for our annual meeting; researchers shared their latest work; legislative aides for our elected officials discussed the upcoming Farm Bill and reiterated their support; and staff from our national coalition – the American Sugar Alliance (ASA) – flew from the East Coast to tour the sugar factory and get to know our community.
One comment made during their visit has stuck with me. An ASA representative observed: “If every lawmaker could just come to Scottsbluff and meet these families and see this community, then no one would ever try to weaken sugar policy.”
He saw what we’ve all known for generations. Western Nebraska is a special place made up of special people. Our little community humbly and proudly produces a reliable supply of premium sugar for grocery shoppers and food manufactures across the country.
No one here wants a handout. We just want the chance to tend our farms, work our businesses, raise our families and contribute to the community.
We want to be treated fairly, but unfortunately we are not being treated fairly right now. It’s been four years since Mexico broke U.S. trade law and wrecked our market with a flood of subsidized sugar.
While the trade problem was finally fixed last summer, we don’t get any compensation from Mexico for being injured. Much of our sugar had already been sold at depressed prices, and we will not see any benefits from a recovering market until the 2018 crop we harvest this Fall is sold. So, while the future looks brighter, we are still reeling.
Sugar makes Scottsbluff’s economy hum, but it’s been whimpering lately. Now, a handful of multi-national candy companies are lobbying Congress to make things worse.
Of course, these lobbyists have never set foot on a sugar farm or sugar factory. Yet, they are trying to rewrite the laws that will determine the future of our farms, our factories, our friends and our families.
These opponents of agriculture are looking to make it impossible for sugar producers to get the loans needed to support our operations while we store sugar for customers and await payment. And they want to force the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to oversupply the U.S. market with more subsidized imports.
The result of this plan, if adopted by Congress, would mean even lower prices and likely the end of a lot of sugar farms and factories. Obviously, this kind of low-priced environment would devastate Scottsbluff.
It’s a scary thought, but it got me thinking: “If every lawmaker could just come to Scottsbluff and meet these families and see this community, then no one would ever try to weaken sugar policy.”
That will never happen, but we can take Scottsbluff to Washington, D.C.
Another local grower, Mario Pitts, and I will travel to Washington this week where we will join dozens of sugar beet and sugarcane farmers nationwide to share our stories. At the end of two weeks, sugar farmers will have visited more than 320 congressional offices.
Our message is simple: “Don’t cut our families out of the Farm Bill.”
This will be one of the most important trips we’ve ever taken, and we are honored to represent the whole community there. Failure is not an option because if our sugar policy is weakened, things will look a lot different for future visitors to Scottsbluff.
About the author: Kendall Busch is a fourth-generation sugar beet farmer and current president of the Nebraska Sugarbeet Growers Association.
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March 7, 2018 at 03:17PM