Sugar Growers Reap Sweeter Results Than Dairy Farmers in Lobbying Fights

** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, NOV. 16 ** A front-end loader dumps raw sugar into a sugar cane slinger at U.S. Sugar's Clewiston, Fla., mill Monday, Nov. 10, 2003. In Clewiston, almost 7,500 residents depend on the sugar industry, which along with citrus growers and labor unions has staged some of the strongest opposition ahead of the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami that starts Sunday.
National Journal
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Elahe Izad
Sept. 18, 2013, 4:30 p.m.

Two ma­jor lob­by­ing fights over ag­ri­cul­ture have taken place between grow­ers and users, with vastly dif­fer­ent res­ults.

In the sug­ar in­dustry, grow­ers have been suc­cess­ful hold­ing the line against calls from bakers and candy makers to scrap the dec­ades-old sug­ar pro­gram, in which the gov­ern­ment in­flu­ences the amount of sug­ar avail­able in the U.S. and keeps prices “above com­par­able levels in the world mar­ket,” ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture. That’s achieved through mech­an­isms such as price sup­ports and tar­iff-rate quotas.

But in dairy, farm­ers haven’t been as suc­cess­ful push­ing through a mar­ket-sta­bil­iz­a­tion pro­vi­sion in the dairy title that has been op­posed by dairy pro­cessors.

So why have grow­ers pre­vailed in one fight and not the oth­er? For one, dairy farm­ers have been ad­voc­at­ing for a new pro­gram, where­as the sug­ar pro­gram is well-es­tab­lished.

“You have to play of­fense as op­posed to play­ing de­fense,” said Chris Ga­len, seni­or vice pres­id­ent of com­mu­nic­a­tions for the Na­tion­al Milk Pro­du­cers Fed­er­a­tion, which rep­res­ents dairy farm­ers. “We’re try­ing to ac­tu­ally play of­fense and pass something that hasn’t been cre­ated be­fore, and that be­comes dif­fi­cult polit­ic­ally, par­tic­u­larly in this cli­mate of a di­vided gov­ern­ment.”

Cory Mar­tin, dir­ect­or of gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Amer­ic­an Bakers As­so­ci­ation, agreed, adding that the sug­ar pro­gram is the main is­sue for the sug­ar grow­ers, where­as bakers and candy makers lobby on many is­sues. “It’s more dif­fi­cult to ad­opt a new pro­gram than to scale back a pro­gram that’s been in place for dec­ades,” Mar­tin said. “The grow­ers have been around for dec­ades, build­ing up their cof­fers on this is­sue.”

In 2012, the sug­ar-cane and beet in­dustry, via PACs and in­di­vidu­als, con­trib­uted about $3.5 mil­lion to House mem­bers, al­most evenly split among 290 Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

But while much at­ten­tion has been paid to sug­ar’s money in­flu­ence, Phil­lip Hayes, spokes­man for the Amer­ic­an Sug­ar Al­li­ance, which rep­res­ents sug­ar grow­ers, says it’s “largely been a draw,” and that food pro­cessors have been ex­pand­ing their PAC con­tri­bu­tions and lob­by­ing ex­pendit­ures since the 2008 farm bill.

The ar­gu­ment from sug­ar grow­ers that the pro­gram op­er­ates at no cost to the gov­ern­ment has helped de­fend the pro­gram from re­peal — al­though sug­ar users ar­gue that costs are passed on to con­sumers.

“What this came down to is mem­bers of Con­gress re­cog­niz­ing that the policy has worked and is by far the cheapest policy we have in ag­ri­cul­ture,” Hayes said. “The feel­ing is, if it isn’t broke, then why do we need to fix it?”

The sug­ar pro­gram has op­er­ated at no or little cost to tax­pay­ers, but un­der the North Amer­ic­an Free Trade Agree­ment, Mex­ico can send an un­lim­ited amount of sug­ar to the United States. This year, Mex­ic­an sug­ar has over­whelmed the U.S. mar­ket, res­ult­ing in low prices and mil­lions in gov­ern­ment ex­pendit­ures to help grow­ers.

Sug­ar and dairy also gain dif­fer­ent trac­tion in the full House versus the House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee. Ga­len notes that the dairy mar­ket-sta­bil­iz­a­tion pro­vi­sion was in­cluded in the com­mit­tee-ap­proved ver­sion of the farm bill, where­as the full House voted 291-135 to re­place the pro­vi­sion with an amend­ment from Reps. Bob Good­latte, R-Va., and Dav­id Scott, D-Ga., to elim­in­ate pro­duc­tion lim­its. That amend­ment had pre­vi­ously been de­feated in the com­mit­tee.

“The people at the com­mit­tee level were with us, and those are the ones that are most fa­mil­i­ar with the farm policy,” Ga­len said.

The In­ter­na­tion­al Dairy Foods As­so­ci­ation, which rep­res­ents dairy pro­cessors, is also a mem­ber of the Co­ali­tion for Sug­ar Re­form, which in­cludes candy makers.

“One of our goals, and one of the goals of the sug­ar pro­cessors, is to gen­er­ate a vote out­side of the Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee, be­cause the Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee is biased to the farm­ers,” said Jerry Slo­m­in­ski, DFA seni­or vice pres­id­ent for le­gis­lat­ive af­fairs.

Even with a floor vote, the House de­feated an amend­ment to re­form the sug­ar pro­gram. But the 206-221 vote was much closer than the House vote that re­moved the farm­er-backed pro­vi­sion in the dairy title.

House lead­er­ship was also very vo­cal in its dis­ap­prov­al of the dairy pro­vi­sion; House Speak­er John Boehner, who typ­ic­ally doesn’t cast floor votes, has de­scribed the dairy pro­gram as “So­viet-style” and voted for the Good­latte-Scott amend­ment.

In­deed, the rhet­or­ic­al ar­gu­ment against the dairy title that it causes in­ter­fer­ence in the mar­ket has trac­tion in the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled House. “On the Re­pub­lic­an side, you’re be­ing a little disin­genu­ous to preach free mar­ket and then sup­port something like sup­ply man­age­ment,” Slo­m­in­ski said.

But Slo­m­in­ski said they also re­ceived sup­port from Demo­crats, and heav­ily lob­bied Demo­crats on how the pro­gram could af­fect milk prices and hurt middle-in­come fam­il­ies.

And al­though some have drawn com­par­is­ons between the sug­ar pro­gram and pro­posed dairy title, the ac­tu­al products can carry a dif­fer­ent weight. “It’s one thing for the gov­ern­ment to de­lib­er­ately make the price of sug­ar high be­cause it’s sug­ar; it’s quite an­oth­er to make the price of dairy high, [when] the gov­ern­ment re­com­mends three low- and non­fat dairy servings a day,” Slo­m­in­ski said.

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