America is facing a sugar shortage

Dec 19, 2019 by


sugar packets
© Ray Goodwin (used with permission)

But is that a bad thing?

America is facing an impending sugar shortage. Unusually high rainfalls, excessive snowstorms, and frigid cold have wreaked havoc with sugar beet crops in the middle of the country – specifically, Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado, and Montana, where much of the country’s sugar is grown.

Half of U.S. sugar comes from sugar beets, and the Department of Agriculture estimates that the 2019 harvest is down by 10 percent. This may not seem like a huge amount, but it’s enough to have a serious impact on the U.S. food industry. Some suppliers are having to renege on contracts to supply bakers and candy-makers with sugar.

NPR explains that these sugar-reliant businesses are hoping the federal government will loosen restrictions on sugar imports from other places in order to meet demand. Usually these imports are tightly controlled to keep sugar prices high for domestic farmers, while also maintaining a stable market for both sellers and buyers. So changing the rules temporarily would be a complicated process.

“Economists at the Agriculture Department estimate that it will take 3.86 million tons of imported sugar to satisfy the domestic demand for sugar during the current fiscal year, which began in October and runs through September, 2020. Most of the sugar will come from Mexico, because trade agreements give Mexico first dibs on the American market. The U.S. hasn’t imported so much sugar since 1981, back when Americans consumed more sugar and less high-fructose corn syrup.”

sugar beet fields

Much of the Mexican sugar would be cane sugar, still needing to be refined on U.S. soil. There are refineries in Savannah, Baltimore, and New York City, but these aren’t used to handling the extra volume. NPR cites Frank Jenkins of JSG Commodities:

“The refiners won’t expand their facilities, he says. They’ll just have to run their equipment all-out, continuously, and hope it doesn’t break. Then they’ll have to line up trucks to carry all that sugar across the country.”

But is a sugar shortage really all that bad? Perhaps it’s exactly what Americans need – to make this disease-inducing, weight-gaining substance a rare and expensive treat, rather than one of the cheapest things we can buy in the grocery store. A shortage could enforce the self-control and rationing that we all should be doing in our own lives, but often fail to do because sugar is addictive, delicious, and all around us.

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