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The United States Sugar Industry
How many sodas and candy bars are drunk and eaten in the United States each day? This report will focus on one of the main ingredients in those sweet treats and the related industry here in the United States that produces it. "Sucrose -- what we call 'sugar' -- is an organic chemical of the carbohydrate family. It can be extracted from a great variety of plant sources, for it occurs in all green plants." (Mintz, 19) Sugar falls under the classification of an 'edible crystalline substance' that we taste as sweet. The world produces approximately 160 thousand metric tons of sugar annually with Brazil, India and the European Union consistently listed as the largest producers.
The bulk of commercial sugar production comes from the two sources of sugar beets and sugarcane; other sources include sorghum, date palms, and sugar maple. As a heavily traded international commodity, sugar and the associated prices' rise and fall are mostly based on individual government's regulations which also entail that these governments are often guilty of heavily subsidizing their own sugar manufacturers.
The big three have been known to regularly 'dump' excess reduced priced sugar into the global markets and the United States government regularly attempts to raise prices within the national borders by high tariffs and import restrictions. However, ever since there has been a realization that the byproducts from the sugar growing process can serve as excellent resources in ethanol production, global oil prices are now also influencing both the international price of sugar and overall global demand. "The first half of 2008, sugar prices increased by more than 20% in response to rising gasoline prices. (Goodboy)
The United States sugar industry has a long history that originated even before the official founding of the country. "In the early days the planters relied mostly on their own meager savings for financing." (Adler) The first successful sugar cultivation occurred in what is now Louisiana and those plants where thought to have been originally brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus. Early in the nation's history, sugar was a major influence on the nation's development because of issues like slavery and its effect on the economy in the New World.
The 'triangle trade' for example shipped Caribbean and American sugar to England where they would refine it so that the output yield could be sent to Africa to purchase slaves who were sent back to America and the Caribbean who then raised more sugar. To date, historians suggest that plantation work raising sugar was extremely hazardous because of the extreme heat, marshy swamp lands and the associated level of danger in using the agricultural cutting tools. The sugar plantation owners are considered to have been the most vicious to the slaves of any agricultural industry.
Historians have discovered that even though Abraham Lincoln ended slavery after the Civil War, sugar producers forced their slave workforce to still labor in a harsh slave atmosphere and the producers were also being supported by the same government that had freed them. The farms of Louisiana eventually migrated east into Alabama and Florida so by the 1790's, sugar cane was successfully cultivated. The output of these early farms was only in smaller quantities that were incorporated into the manufacturing process of rum and then later syrup.
By the time of the Louisiana Purchase around 1803, a fledgling industry was beginning to thrive so after the United States new acquisitions of Puerto Rico and Hawaii; national production output yield grew dramatically because there was an established sugar culture on both islands. The United States could not really compete on that early global production market. "Certain facts stand out in the history of sugar between the early decades of the seventeenth century, when the British, Dutch and the French established Caribbean plantations, and the middle of the nineteenth century, by which time the Cuba and Brazil were the major centers of New World production." (Mintz, 36)
Sugar Cane & Sugar Beets
There is one major problem from the agricultural perspective that the United States sugar industry faces. The fact is that the climate throughout the majority of the United States is not considered to be suitable for growing sugar cane. As mentioned, Hawaii and Puerto Rico are the exceptions because of their tropical climates, but overall size and available land on these small islands cannot compare to other global competitors. This first successful sugar plantation company marked the beginning of the sugar industry.
Sugar Beets were the logical solution to solve the sugar cane climate problem in the United States. Early in the twentieth century, beets became the new logical source for producing sugar even though the process for beet sugar was hundreds of years old. "Sugar beets are one of the world's main sugar sources and an important source of sugar for the United States -- more than 1.3 million acres of sugar beets are grown in 12 states." (Answer.com) The first successful factory was in Alvarado, California in 1870 and managed to stay fully operational until 1967.
Suddenly near the turn of the century, new successful plants began to spring up all around the country in areas such as Watsonville, California, Grand Island, Nebraska and Lehi, Utah. Other new hot spots included normally cold weather states such as Maine and Delaware. In 1910, there was more beet sugar than cane sugar in the continental United States for the first time. "Eventually, beet farmers themselves upset the balance "by bringing refined sugar directly to market through huge 'beet factories' that are often owned by nonprofit cooperatives. The government spent $468 million last year trying to keep prices at a target of 22.5 cents a pound, but the flood of beet sugar has driven prices as low as 21 cents," stated a May 2001 issue of Forbes. As a result, cane sugar companies like Imperial Sugar, which are not allowed to import less expensive raw sugar from foreign companies and thus must pay the government supported price of 22.5 cents per pound, were left struggling to make a profit. Beet sugar refiners themselves also faced unprecedented competition as beet sugar continued to flood the market." (Answer.com)
The modern industry has been founded on beets more than on sugar cane. Sugar cane is processed into raw sugar while beets are processed directly into refined sugar. Beet sugar production uses the root of the sugar beet plant. This root is shipped to factories and refineries where it is then cut into thin slices. Those thin slices, named cossettes, are then soaked in order to remove the sugar and any remaining pulp is next dried, then added to molasses which becomes an ingredient in cattle feed. Then the liquid that was extracted is reheated in order to create an evaporation chamber which leaves behind the crystallized sugar. There are many products made from sugar beets: dried beet pulp, beet sugar, molasses, granulated sugar, liquid sugar, invert sugar, powdered sugar, and syrup.
By the 1970's there were more than fifty plants producing beet sugar in more than fifteen states with a third of those operating in either California or Colorado. This was the result of the complete mechanization of the growing and harvesting process for the beet plant. The process incorporated various mechanical devices to plant, cultivate, and harvest beets. Throughout the 1960's, the industry also made dramatic adjustments as they became more consolidated. Beet refineries became controlled by larger corporations and the plants moved to more coastal zones like that of New York, New Orleans, Savannah, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco.
Refiners expanded their operations with the intention of processing the large amounts of raw sugar from the agricultural belts of Louisiana, Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and any imported supplies. The capabilities of refiners increased greatly because of new technology. These advances in technology and manufacturing helped to create new varieties and grades of sugar while also creating many new packaging options in order to meet the ever growing demand for this commodity. "Reduced raw cane sugar imports hurt U.S. refiners in the 1980s, and the sugar industry turned to sugar beets to make up the difference. The United States processes more sugar from domestically-grown sugar beets than from domestically-grown sugar cane. Many cane refiners also invested in sugar beet processing firms in the 1980s as the sugar beet market share (including imports) climbed from 30% in the 1970s to 40% in 1988." (Answer.com)
Like the rest of the world, the United States consumption of sugar continues to increase annually. Near the beginning of World War II, the United States government backed the sugar industry that had very powerful lobbies. "Sugar growers and refiners responded to this criticism by arguing that American domestic sugar production simply could not survive without government protection." (Mahler, 163) The labor force during this time and well into twenty first century was low paid, non-unionized, immigrant workers who arrived though federally sponsored programs throughout the industry.…[continue]
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