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Our Opinion: A sweet addition

February 14, 2002

Sugar cane could mean a sweeter future for the Imperial Valley, so we applaud our congressman, Duncan Hunter, other members of Congress and those involved in local sugar cane development for working hard to get the pending Farm Bill to allow sugar cane to be grown for sugar production in California.

Test fields have shown sugar cane in our valley will prosper, that sugar cane tonnage here will be 50 percent higher per acre than Louisiana, the nation's current sugar capital.

With our Valley suffering from low farm prices in recent years, sugar cane has triple promise for our area because it could be used for three purposes: sugar, ethanol and as an energy source. A couple groups have plans that could mean thousands of jobs for locals and more sources of profits for local farmers who would grow sugar cane.

The Valley's sugar beet crop already allows the Holly Sugar plant near Brawley to operate a few months a year, but if sugar cane were added to our local crop mix the plant could operate year-round.

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Those associated with the groups have credibility locally and beyond. These are not fly-by-night groups, and they have the Valley's future prosperity in mind.

Sugar cane really seems like a no-lose idea for the Imperial Valley.

One roadblock will be getting enough growers to invest their time and money in the crop. Another one is regulations only allowing states already in the sugar market to grow sugar cane for processing into sugar. Growers in California now can only grow sugar cane to produce ethanol.

What Hunter and others did was get language into the Farm Bill that would allow growers from other states, including California, to grow sugar cane for sugar processing. The language that will allow that to happen was included in an amendment written by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the Farm Bill's floor manager in the Senate, which increased the amendment's chance of passage.

The Farm Bill was passed by the Senate on Thursday. The bill has to be rectified with the House version and then signed by the president. Things could happen along the way, but right now the chances look good for the amendment to get through the process and signed into law as part of the Farm Bill.

Once that happens, those involved with the sugar cane projects will have a wide open path to do something monumentally sweet for the Imperial Valley.

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