It can sometimes feel like what happens in Washington, D.C., is a long way away from my world as a Maine small-business owner. However, outdated federal agricultural policy has led to sugar supply shortages and record-high prices that have long saddled small businesses like my company, Rockland-based Bixby Chocolate, that depend on sugar as an ingredient in our products.

Over the years, our nation’s confectioners have adopted new innovations and technological advancements to optimize our operations and maintain affordable prices for our customers. But the U.S. sugar program is failing to keep pace with the needs of the larger farm and food economy, especially American food manufacturers, which today are paying two to three times more for sugar than their foreign competitors.

Founded in 2011, Bixby Chocolate is an award-winning, women-owned craft confectionery focused on delivering creative chocolate treats with socially responsible and environmentally sustainable operations. We require a reliable supply of sugar to create our products – especially organic sugar. But with stubbornly high prices and alarmingly frequent supply disruptions, our operations are strained and opportunities for growth are limited.

The problem is that we don’t produce enough sugar in America for all the manufacturers who need it. Limited planted acreage, adverse weather events and supply chain snags can leave food makers without access to a domestic source of sugar. And to add to this frustration, when we are forced to turn to alternative suppliers, we face steep tariffs that nearly triple the cost of the sugar from roughly 25 cents to as high as 70 cents per pound.

In short, having such a scarce sugar market is making food more expensive to produce and buy. Let’s make some smart, bipartisan changes to the U.S. sugar program in the 2023 farm bill to alleviate these supply challenges and put the whole sugar supply chain – from the farm to the manufacturer to the dinner table – back into balance.

One top-of-mind change is eliminating unnecessary and time-burning inefficiencies manufacturers face when bringing in new sugar supplies. For instance, under current program rules, some refined sugar imports require further refinement before they are usable by American manufacturers. That’s an extra step for businesses already delayed by supply challenges. What if we tweaked program rules to help ensure that these “specialty sugars” we’re importing are actually ready to use?


That change is fully within Congress’ power to make. I would celebrate this and other practical efforts to boost the sugar supply, enhance the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector and create more flexibility within our 90-year-old sugar program to reflect the needs of today’s economy.

And now’s a great time for change. Updating the U.S. sugar program would help companies like Bixby Chocolate and thousands of others survive and thrive, keeping operations and critical job opportunities here at home. With everyday Mainers contending with high food prices at the grocery store, there’s never been more attention focused on this issue. Agriculture leaders in Washington owe it to their constituents and the businesses they represent to pursue every avenue for relief.

The U.S. sugar program should work for everyone, including food manufacturers, the sugar producers and all Americans. The way we get there is by including common-sense reforms in the 2023 farm bill. I call upon Maine’s congressional delegation to help find “the sweet spot” in the debate so that we can all move forward together.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.