Gary Gravois, 51, a third-generation sugarcane farmer in Louisiana’s Assumption Parish, cultivates nearly 2100-acres along with his older brother, Laurent. They are efficient family farmers and believe they can compete with any cane farmer in the world.
"Louisiana’s total sugarcane production is worth about $3 billion to our state economy but it can be drastically affected by Brazil’s huge subsidized industry if they dump sugar into the market,” Gravois said. "We can compete with Brazilian farmers but we can’t compete with the subsidies the Brazilian, Mexican, Thai, Indian and other governments offer their sugar farmers. The market is not fair or free and that’s why we support current sugar policy in the farm bill and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a dime.”
But Gravois said he would scrap the sugar policy in favor of Florida Congressman Ted Yoho’s "Zero-for Zero” sugar policy plan in the farm bill.
"I’d be in favor of giving up our sugar policy if I knew foreign countries were going to give up their sugar subsidy programs too,” Gravois said. "If there was truly a free market, American farmers like me would have no problems competing with Mexican, Brazilian or Indian farmers.”
Jim Simon, manager of the American Sugar Cane League which represents Louisiana’s sugarcane industry, said low sugar prices forced Hawaii out of the sugarcane business last year after a century of production. Simon said Louisiana, Texas and Florida sugarcane growers and the Midwestern sugar beet growers are struggling to stay afloat because current sugar prices are as low as they were in the 1980s. However, U.S. farmers are ready to compete in a subsidy-free international environment.
"American sugar policy ensures a safe and adequate supply of sugar at reasonable prices because it prevents foreign subsidized sugar from flooding and collapsing the U.S. market,” Simon said. "We’re all for free trade but as long as foreign subsidies distort world prices, we’ll fight any effort to unilaterally dismantle our no-cost, successful current policy.”
Simon said Yoho’s plan levels the market playing field but the big candy companies’ plan would gut the sugarcane farmers’ safety net and leave them at the mercy of the huge Brazilian, Indian and Mexican government-subsidized industries. By contrast, U.S. policy historically cost taxpayers nothing because American producers don’t receive subsidy checks.
"Congressman Yoho’s plan is the only proposal out there that offers real free-market reform that doesn’t punish American markets and jobs,” Simon said.
Co-sponsors of the Zero-for-Zero policy includes Reps. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Garret Graves (R-LA), Ralph Abraham (R-LA), Clay Higgins (R-LA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Walter Jones (R-NC), Daniel Kildee (D-MI), Paul Mitchell (R-MI), Alex Mooney (R-WV), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Kurt Schrader (D-OR).
Gravois is pronounced grahvv- wah.