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Did you know that Americans are paying $3 billion a year more for sugar than they really ought to or need to?

That's because of the cost of the federal farm program for sugar, a program that helps keep the prices that American consumers pay for sugar artificially high.But all that could start to change if some members of Congress and the White House have their way.

Scripps Howard News Service reports that Senators Bill Bradley and William Roth are about to introduce an amendment to reduce sugar price supports by 10 percent, or two cents a pound. A similar proposal will be made in the House. The Bush administration supports both amendments. Both deserve to pass. In fact, the reductions ought to go even further.

U.S. sugar policy manipulates the market by imposing quotas on foreign sugar. The object is to set an inflated "market stabilization price" for domestic sugar. This is supposed to help small family farmers. But it doesn't. There are only 11,000 sugar farmers in the United States, and half the sugar produced comes from seven sugar cane growers and 1,000 sugar beet farmers.

This works out, on average, to more than a quarter-million dollars per farmer per year, just from prices propped up by the government.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported one effect of flooding sugar beet farmers with unearned wealth. In southern Minnesota, rich beet farmers are buying and renting all available farmland, driving up land prices and "crowding out" wheat and corn farmers.

Such distortions are inevitable when the government tries to control the marketplace. It's a sweet deal for 11,000 farmers - but a sour one for 245 million Americans.