Sugar growers confident in farm bill victory

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Last June, the full Senate voted 50-46 to preserve the current sugar program when it considered the 2012 farm bill. The bill died when the House failed to take up its own version of the farm bill. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee will mark up its new bill on Tuesday, and the House Agriculture Committee will hold its markup on Wednesday. Neither draft dismantles the sugar program. 

The U.S. sugar program makes nonrecourse loans available to growers from the government, with growers using their crop as collateral. If prices fall, growers forfeit their crops instead of paying off the loan. The program also limits imports of sugar.

Leading conservative groups are urging lawmakers to end the program, calling it an "outdated relic" that creates "hidden taxes" for consumers. The candy industry is fighting the program as well, on the grounds that it distorts the market and drives up prices. 

The American Sugar Alliance countered on Monday with a study from a University of Maryland professor that argues sugar-buying industries are doing well under the current program.

The study argues that sales of sugar-consuming industry products have increased 40 percent over the last 15 years and profits of the 10 largest publicly traded sugar users have increased 300 percent since the start of the century. 

Roney argued that due to an influx of sugar from Mexico, raw sugar prices are at historic lows, and 2013 is no time to tinker with the program.

Sugar users on Monday dismissed the study as "flawed and misleading.”

“By looking at a small subset of sugar-using industries and publicly traded companies, the report ignores those that the federal sugar program hurts the most — smaller companies and consumers,” said Larry Graham, President of the National Confectioners Association and Chairman of the Coalition for Sugar Reform.

The group said that 127,000 jobs were lost in the sugar industry over the last five years and blamed inflated sugar prices. 

— This story was updated at 5:04 p.m.