A difficult growing season for Louisiana cane farmers combined with a disastrous year for sugar beet farmers in the Upper Midwest has prompted federal officials to import more sugar from Mexico to make up for an off-year and keep food prices low.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it plans to take in 100,000 short tons of refined Mexican sugar to ensure the nation’s sugar supply is well-stocked ahead of the holidays and avert other disruptions. The agency signaled to a need in outside sugar last week to offset steep declines in sugar production following adverse weather in the South and Midwest.
Louisiana's sugar harvest is expected to be lower than prior years after farmers grappled with frequent spring rains that washed out fields. Then came an arid late summer right after Hurricane Barry struck, making matters worse. Cane farmers are also still assessing the potential damage brought on from a recent cold snap when temperatures dropped below freezing.
Sugar beet farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota, meanwhile, watched their crops freeze in the ground before the beets could be pulled out, leading to one of the worst harvests there in decades. Sugar beets account for roughly 25% of the nation’s sugar production.
The nation’s sugar crop is expected to be down this year following a difficult growing season in Louisiana that was marred by extreme weather …
It’s yet to be seen whether the added imports from Mexico will have an impact on food and beverage costs. Sugar is relatively cheap on the global commodities market. It's been selling for about 13 cents in recent weeks, but sugar is prone to price swings.
The process of accepting more sugar imports is the same during high- and low-production years for American sugar growers, a USDA spokesperson said.
Since last October, the U.S. imported more than 200,000 tons of refined sugar from other countries, according to federal figures. Mexico exported more than a million tons of product sugar products sin that time but doesn't pay tariffs if it exports under a certain amount to America.
The increase in Mexico’s refined sugar export limit won't change the total amount of sugar product imports from Mexico, "just the mix between refined and other products," the USDA said in a statement.
The agency plans to continue assessing whether sugar supplies are adequate and if more might be needed as "ongoing weather concerns threaten further reductions."
Kenneth Gravois, LSU Center sugarcane specialist, said he’s observed some declines to the amount of sucrose in crop — the main molecule in sugar. But, he said, those impacts vary widely in different fields and aren’t unusual after a freeze.
The USDA estimates sugar made out of Louisiana cane will drop by more than 19,000 tons from last month.
Louisiana's off year, though, isn't expected to be anywhere near as bad the losses beet farmers suffered up north.
Harvesters in Louisiana caught a break from Mother Nature while temperatures have been pleasant and above freezing, which leads to better sugar extractions from mills, Gravois said.
“It just depends on the weather here on out,” he said. "The cooler we stay, the better off we are."