Specialty Crops Continue Strong Momentum in House Ag. Committee Farm Bill

DanCitrus, Corn, Field & Row Crops, General, Specialty Crops, Tree, nut & vine crops

Changes to Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program concern industry

WASHINGTON, D.C – The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a national coalition of more than 120 organizations representing growers of fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, nursery plants and other products, commends House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, Ranking Member Collin Peterson and committee members for passing their version of the Farm Bill on Wednesday.

The committee’s approval of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 by a bipartisan 36-10 vote is the second positive step for specialty crops this week, coming after the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill on Tuesday. The full House is expected to take up the bill in June.

The Alliance welcomes the Committee’s continued commitment to policies that enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of specialty crop agriculture. The investments made in the bill reinforce many of the policies that were included in the Senate-passed legislation.

Included in the House version are provisions funding key specialty crop priorities such as:

• Specialty Crop Block Grants funded at $72.5 million in fiscal 2014-2017 and $85 million in FY2018
• Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded at $50 million in FY2014-15; $55 million in FY 2016-2017; and $65 million in FY2018
• Coordinated Plant Management Program funded at $62.5 million in FY2014-2017 and $75 million in FY2018
• Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
• Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
• Section 32 specialty crop purchases at 2008 levels
• DoD Fresh program fully funded at $50 million per year consistent with 2008 Farm Bill levels

These funding commitments underscore recognition by the House of these programs’ value and their tremendous importance to the specialty crop industry.

However, members of the Alliance are disappointed over language in the House bill that signals a significant policy change to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, a landmark program that provides healthful fresh produce to up to 3 million school children. It is critically important that the integrity of the program’s mission of promoting good eating habits in children be preserved. The Alliance will continue to work with industry allies in Congress to ensure the program’s original mission of promoting fresh fruits and vegetables is sustained as the Farm Bill works its way through Congress and to the president’s desk.

“Most of the goals and critical priorities that the specialty crop community has been fighting for over the years have been strengthened or maintained by the House Committee bill, and we thank the Committee for its work,” said Western Growers’ President and CEO Tom Nassif, a co-chair of the Alliance. “We would be remiss, however, in not mentioning that we hope the full House strengthens provisions around crop insurance for our industry as well as the fresh fruit and vegetable program.”
The co-chairs also urged Congress to continue working toward Farm Bill passage.
“The strong, bipartisan vote out of the House Agriculture Committee sends a clear message for the need to enact a Farm Bill without further delay. We look forward to working with the chairman, ranking member and House leadership to schedule floor time for this vital bill so that specialty crop producers can get back to what they do best: growing high-quality fruits and vegetables for America and the world,” said John Keeling, National Potato Council executive vice president and CEO.
Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, added, “The important work this week by the House and Senate agriculture committees puts us that much closer to achieving a Farm Bill this year that will help specialty crop agriculture stay strong and competitive. The investments these bills make will allow American farmers to continue growing fresh produce that promotes health and reduces the risk of chronic obesity-related diseases.”