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U.S. Sugar Production

The United States is among the world's largest sugar producers. Unlike most other producing countries, the United States has both large and well-developed sugarcane and sugar beet industries. Since the mid-1990s, sugarcane has accounted for about 45 percent of the total sugar produced domestically, and sugar beets for about 55 percent of production. U.S. sugar production expanded from an early 1980s' average of 6.0 million short tons, raw value (STRV) to an average 8.1 million STRV in the 2000s. The production increases are due to a substantial investment in new processing equipment, the adoption of new technologies, the use of improved crop varieties, and acreage expansion (because of higher prices for sugar relative to alternative crops).

Sugarcane and sugar beet yields can vary widely from year to year because of weather, but both have tended to grow over time. The growth of sugarcane yields has been particularly impressive in Florida and Louisiana because of varietal improvements, investments in improved harvesting technologies, and other technological changes. Sugar beet yields have ranged from a low of 18.6 short tons per acre in fiscal year (FY) 1993 to an average of 26 tons per acre in FYs 2007-09.

The number of farms growing sugarcane and sugar beets declined from 2002 to 2007, but the average area harvested per farm increased. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of farms growing sugar beets and sugarcane decreased from 5,980 in 2002 to 4,714 in 2007. The number of farms growing sugar beets declined from 5,027 to 4,022, while average area harvested per farm rose from 272 to 312 acres. The number of sugarcane farms dropped from 953 to 692, while average area harvested grew from 1,027 to 1,224 acres per farm. (See 2007 Census maps, Sugarbeets for Sugar, Harvested Acres PDF icon (16x16) and Sugarcane for Sugar, Harvested Acres PDF icon (16x16)).

Sugarcane production. Sugarcane is one of the essential raw material sources of manufactured sugar in the United States. Sugarcane, a tall perennial grass, is grown in tropical and semitropical climates. After the planting of cane stalk cuttings, the plant matures in 1-2 years. Two to four crops are harvested from the original plantings, unless the plants are impaired or destroyed by frost, disease, or other causes. Once harvested, sugarcane must be processed quickly before its sucrose deteriorates.

In the United States, sugarcane is produced in Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, and Texas. Acreage of sugarcane for sugar rose from an average 704,000 acres in the first half of the 1980s to 898,000 acres in the 2000s. Over the same period, sugar produced from sugarcane grew from 2.910 million STRV to 3.609 million STRV.

Florida's sugarcane production has expanded significantly since the United States ceased importing sugar from Cuba in 1960. Florida is the largest cane-producing region in the United States. Most of the sugarcane is produced in organic soils along the southern and southeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee in Southern Florida, where the growing season is long and winters are generally warm. Florida produced an average 1.80 million STRV of sugar in the 2000s.

In Louisiana, the northernmost cane-growing State, sugarcane production has been largely confined to the Delta, where soils are fertile and the climate is warm. However, the sugar industry in Louisiana has expanded northward and westward into nontraditional sugarcane growing areas. Most of the expansion in sugarcane acreage in recent years has occurred as returns for competing crops, such as rice and soybeans, have decreased. Louisiana production has also expanded because of the adoption of high-yielding sugarcane varieties, along with investments in new harvesting combines. Louisiana produced an average 1.38 million STRV of sugar in the 2000s.

Texas sugarcane is produced in the lower Rio Grande Valley in the southern tip of the State. The area has a subtropical climate--long, hot summers and short, mild winters. Killing freezes are a recurrent threat, and hurricane and drought have significantly reduced production in some years. Production of sugarcane in Texas resumed with the 1973 crop after years of inactivity. During the 1980s, total harvested area averaged about 35,000 acres and varied little. Sugarcane production averaged about 100,000 tons per year for the same period, but varied from year to year because of changes in yields. FY 2001 saw a 50-percent expansion in sugarcane acreage from the previous year. Area harvested averaged about 42,000 acres in the 2000s, and sugar produced averaged 174,000 STRV.

Hawaii's sugarcane production until recently was spread across the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu, but closures of processing plants and competing uses for sugar land have reduced sugar production to two mills on Maui and Kauai. Sugarcane area harvested in Hawaii decreased from close to 100,000 acres in FY 1981 to an average 20,700 acres in the 2000s. The State's sugar production declined from over 1.0 million tons in the first half of the 1980s to 238,000 tons in the 2000s.

Sugar beet production. Sugar beets are the other leading raw material for manufactured sugar in the United States. Sugar beets, a sturdy crop grown in a wide variety of temperate climatic conditions, are planted annually. Sugar beets can be stored for a short while after harvest, but must soon be processed before sucrose deterioration occurs. A recent development has been the introduction of genetically modified (GM) seed varieties. In the 2009/10 crop year, GM varieties accounted for about 95 percent of planted area, up from about 60 percent in 2008/09.

Basically, sugar beets are grown in five regions encompassing 11 States, and tend to be grown in rotation with other crops. Two of the regions are east of the Mississippi River, while the three other areas are in the Great Plains and Far West. The western regions represent dryland farming that depends on irrigation as a primary water source. The eastern regions depend on rainfall. Historically, sugar beet yields in the western areas have tended to be higher than in the east. However, with the adoption of new disease-resistant and GM seed varieties, yields in the eastern areas are much closer to those in western areas. In all areas, sugar production is enhanced by technologies that allow the desugaring of molasses that, otherwise, would be a relatively low-value byproduct.

The largest and most dynamic region for sugar beet production is in or close to the Red River Valley of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. Area planted in the Red River region grew consistently through the 1990s and averaged 731,000 acres in the 2000s, or about 55 percent of total planted U.S. sugar beet acreage. Long, cold winters aid the storage of sugar beets harvested in October and allow the slicing of sugar beets well into the following spring, thereby making more efficient use of slicing capacity at the factories. A second area of sugar beet production is in Michigan. Area planted in this region in the 2000s averaged 163,000 acres, or about 12 percent of total U.S. acreage.

Sugar beet production occurs in the Upper Great Plains (north central Wyoming, Montana, and western North Dakota) and Central Grain Plains (southeastern Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska). Area planted in the Great Plains has averaged 183,000 acres, or about 14 percent of national area planted.

Sugar beet production in the Northwest occurs in Idaho, Washington State, and portions of Oregon. Area planted for the 2000s has averaged about 202,000 acres, or about 15 percent of the total area planted. California comprises the Far Western region with an average area planted of only 25,000 acres in recent years. Area planted in the Far Western region has contracted from about 100,000 acres in the 2000 crop year to about a quarter of that total in following years because of the closure of three out of four processing plants in California.

Annual cash receipts. Cash receipts for U.S. sugar growers vary with sugar yields and prices. Cash receipts for sugar beets were $1.507 billion in the 2006/07 crop year and $1.335 billion in the 2007/08 crop year. Sugarcane cash receipts were $849 million in the 2006/07 crop year and $837 million in the 2007/08 crop year. On average, the sugar crops account for 1 percent of the cash receipts received by U.S. farmers for all agricultural commodities.

U.S. and World Sugar Prices

The two key sugar prices in the United States are the raw cane sugar price and the refined beet sugar price. The raw cane sugar price is based on the price of sugar delivered to New York and is quoted at the New York Board of Trade as the Sugar Number 16 (domestic) Contract. There is no futures market for U.S. refined sugar, but a price range for wholesale Midwest refined beet sugar, free on board (FOB) factory, is quoted each week in Milling and Baking News. During the 2000s, the raw sugar price has ranged between a low average of 19.09 cents a pound in 2000 and a high average of 22.14 cents a pound in 2006. The wholesale beet price has, likewise, ranged from an average of 20.80 cents a pound in 2000 to an average of 33.10 cents a pound in 2006.

U.S. sugar prices have been well above world prices since 1982 because the U.S. Government supports domestic sugar prices through loans to sugar processors and a marketing allotment program. (For further discussion, see the Policy chapter). The raw cane sugar price, which is based on a bulk spot price for sugar stowed in Caribbean ports, including Brazil, is quoted at the New York Board of Trade as the Sugar Number 11 (world) Contract. The raw cane sugar price has averaged about 10.43 cents a pound during the 2000s.

A world refined sugar price, the Number 5 Contract on the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, is based on the London daily spot market price for refined sugar FOB ship in European ports. The refined beet sugar price has averaged about 12.71 cents a pound during the 2000s.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup Production and Prices

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of several products--along with glucose, dextrose, corn starch, ethanol, and other products--derived from the wet milling of corn. U.S. corn refiners produce high fructose corn syrup by first converting corn starch to a syrup that is nearly all dextrose. Enzymes isomerize the dextrose to produce a 42-percent fructose syrup called HFCS-42. By passing HFCS-42 through an ion-exchange column that retains fructose, corn refiners draw off 90-percent HFCS and blend it with HFCS-42 to make a third syrup, HFCS-55.

Demand for HFCS is driven by demand for products that use the syrups as inputs. For HFCS-55, the major use is in the beverage industry, which demands over 90 percent of total domestic deliveries. Major food users of HFCS-42 include the beverage industry (41 percent), processed food manufacturers (22 percent), cereal and bakery producers (14 percent), multiple-use food manufacturers (12 percent), the dairy industry (9 percent), and the confectionery industry (1 percent). Growth in these sectors has typically accounted for growing sales of HFCS-55 and HFCS-42. Supersweet HFCS-90 is used in natural and "light" foods where very little is needed to provide sweetness.

Domestic production of HFCS increased from 2.2 million short tons in 1980 to an average of 9.2 million tons, dry weight, during the 2000s as HFCS replaced more expensively priced sugar in a variety of uses. In 1997, corn used to produce HFCS broke through the 500-million bushel level. It is estimated that, in the 2000s, about 511 million bushels of corn, or about 4.7 percent of the total U.S. corn crop, has been be used to produce HFCS.

U.S. Sweetener Deliveries

Deliveries of sugar and other sweeteners have averaged about 21 million tons during the 2000s. Other sweetener deliveries include corn sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, and dextrose), honey, maple syrup, and other edible syrups but exclude the deliveries of noncaloric sweeteners.

Per capita deliveries of caloric sweeteners increased by 32 pounds, or 27 percent, from 1970 to 151.4 pounds in 1999. Since 1999, per capita sweetener deliveries decreased by 14.3 pounds to 137.1 pounds in 2008. Sugar and sweeteners have maintained a 36- to 40-percent share of the steadily growing U.S. per capita consumption of carbohydrates.

Last updated: Wednesday, June 03, 2015

For more information contact: Michael J. McConnell