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They Don’t Call it the “Sugar Bowl” for Nothing

College football’s Sugar Bowl, played in the New Orleans Superdome, is the second oldest bowl game in the country.  It – along with the Orange, Peach and Cotton Bowls – reminds us of just how important agriculture is and always has been to the U.S. economy, especially in the south.

Indeed, a recent story by Ronnie Olivier in highlights the role sugar has played in our nation’s history since well before the Declaration of Independence…

“Sugarcane was introduced to Louisiana when French Jesuit priests brought the first stalks to New Orleans in 1751. Forty-four years later, plantation owner Etienne de Boré succeeded in producing granulated sugar from sugarcane, and the Louisiana sugarcane industry was born in earnest in the Crescent City in the winter of 1795.

“From that point on, sugarcane plantations – many of them complete with their own small, primitive sugar mills powered by farm animals – began popping up along the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area. Then they began to appear along other major south Louisiana waterways, including the Red River, Bayou Teche and Bayou Lafourche.

“For well more than two centuries now, sugarcane has been the livelihood of generation after generation of cane farmers and millers and those they employ.”

Olivier goes on to point out that over the years “technological advances made many aspects of cane farming more efficient and much less labor-intensive.”

Indeed, on a level playing field American sugar farmers and millers can compete with anyone around the world.  The problem is, too many of our competitors are subsidizing the inefficiencies of their own sugar industries, putting American sugar producers at a decided disadvantage.

In esoteric free-market policy debates in Congress over the U.S. sugar program – which provides minimal protection for America’s sugar industry from heavily subsidized global imports – some forget that all parties should be playing the game under the same rules.

Unlike other countries, the U.S. sugar program does not give direct financial aid to American sugar farmers.  No tax dollars are used to prop up their operations.  Instead, the U.S. simply limits the amount of sugar allowed to be imported from countries that subsidize their sugar industries and imposes duties/taxes on those imports.

Ideally, as proposed by Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, even our minimal protections would be lifted in exchange for foreign nations simultaneously eliminating their market-distorting subsidies.  It’s too late to implement such a zero-for-zero program in time for this year’s Sugar Bowl…but what a sweet reform it could be before next year’s.