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Published January 24, 2012, 06:59 PM

Gingrich remarks on sugar have area beet farmers taking notice

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Hours after Newt Gingrich took the sugar beet industry to the woodshed there is chatter in small town cafes where sugar beet farmers are today a little proud and a little miffed.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Hours after Newt Gingrich took the sugar beet industry to the woodshed there is chatter in small town cafes where sugar beet farmers are today a little proud and a little miffed.

During the Florida Republican Presidential Debate, Gingrich was asked about farm subsidies, specifically the Sugar Program. What Gingrich said came out as a shot heard around the valley.

As American Crystal quietly cooked its beets today, the truck loads of profit rolled in, but the industry is still reeling from the comments on sugar from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during Monday's debate.

Newt Gingrich – Republican Presidential Candidate: “Early in my career, I tried to figure how to get away from the sugar subsidy.”

Newt Gingrich: “Cane sugar hides behind beet sugar and there are too many beet sugar districts in the US.”

And he wasn't done yet, in some ways, patting the back of Crystal Sugar for its successful lobbying and political maneuvering on Capitol Hill.

Newt Gingrich: “An amazing story how interest groups operate. The capacity of the ag groups to defend themselves is amazing.”

When the smoke clears and the dust settles, it comes down to dollars. Millions of dollars Crystal Sugar has spent recently to help elect and lobby sugar friendly candidates and incumbents to Congress. Since 1990, more than $10 million dollars from sugar beet farmers to insure Crystal is King.

Kevin Price – American Crystal Sugar: “We have nothing to hide behind. Everything we do is publicly reported.”

Kevin Price is a seasoned lobbyist for Crystal. A longtime Washington player who is not ashamed of what the farmer owned coop spends in Washington.

Kevin Price: “We are proud of the fact we have a political operation that equals the value of this industry provides to the region.”

According to just released government numbers, American Crystal spent just over a million dollars in 2011 to elect candidates friendly to sugar. When it comes to lobbying, Crystal spends from $1-2 million a year. That’s about the same at Cargill, a company 100 times bigger.

Kevin Price: “We want to make sure we get our message across to lawmakers in Washington about the growers raising sugar beets.”

Indeed, Crystal's PAC contributions hit the $2 million mark during the 2008 election cycle; a dramatic increase in previous years to House and Senate Races. At stake, a desire by some to open up the sugar market, allowing the dumping of foreign sugar in US markets.

Kevin Price: “The impact here the prices would collapse the coop does not make money the growers stop raising sugar beets and the jobs are lost.”

A former speaker and Presidential candidate, who tried one more time to take on sugar, and today has 3,000 farmers from the valley who are ready for the match.

OpenSecrets.org also says American Crystal Sugar's PAC is one of the largest in the whole country, ranking in the top 20 and number one for agriculture PACS.

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