New Bill Seeks More Support for Specialty Crops

Bill introduced yesterday in Congress focuses on promoting specialty crops on farms and in stores, suggests similar shift in Farm Bill.

Published on: Sep 28, 2006

A bipartisan group of representatives introduced new legislation Wednesday aimed at ensuring the vitality of America's local producers of specialty crops and ensuring an abundant supply of specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts for American consumers and foreign markets.

The Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America Act, introduced by Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., John Salazar , D-Colo., and Adam Putnam, R-Fla., would balance federal support given to specialty crops and program crops. Currently, specialty crops account for about 47% of all crop cash receipts in the U.S., yet receive only a fraction of the federal support given to program crops. The EAT Healthy America Act's attempt to reverse this trend holds clear implications for the reauthorization of the farm bill.

Perhaps the most important of the act's focal points is that of increased competitiveness for U.S. specialty crops. In the past decade, specialty crop imports have overtaken exports and created a significant trade deficit in that area. The act would increase access to export markets by raising the profile of specialty crops within federal agencies and assisting growers with specific investments.

"The combination of cheap labor, weak environmental standards, and huge government subsidies have given many foreign nations an unfair market advantage over America's specialty crop industry," says Cardoza. "It is time for Congress to acknowledge this reality and rectify the inequities in federal farm programs."

The act also addresses national nutrition, expanding the fruit and vegetable snack program in schools and helping producers enhance their markets through nutrition promotion programs. A Chicago Council report earlier this week suggested a dramatic rewriting of the food-stamp program, calling for more fruits and vegetables.

Days after specialty crop producers spoke before the House Subcommittee on Livestock and Horticulture to ask for more money towards research and development for specialty crops, a call for significant investments in specialty crop research priorities also appears in the EAT Healthy America Act.

The act also would increase specialty crop producers' access to conservation programs.

Organizations such as American Farmland Trust, Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, and United Fresh Produce Association have already expressed their support for the bill.

"With this legislative proposal you can see the win-win benefits to agriculture and consumers if we move ahead and transform U.S. farm policy," says AFT President Ralph Grossi.

The act's potential effects on the reauthorization of the farm bill have not gone unnoticed.

"As the debate on the 2007 Farm Bill takes shape we will work with the Agriculture Committees and the other members of Congress to ensure that the components of this legislation become a part of U.S. farm policy," says Mike Stuart, president of Florida Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.