Earlier this week Representative David Price, D-N.C., hosted his annual farmers' briefing. Doug O'Brien, Deputy Undersecretary of USDA's Rural Development, was also there to speak with farmers and agribusiness leaders on the Washington perspective of agriculture.
"In terms of what farmers where interested in from the Washington perspective was not surprisingly wondering what ag policy will do in the future to help them deal with the inherent risks in agriculture," O'Brien said.
There were some pointed questions about specialty crops remaining in the next farm bill. O'Brien told them that if the farm bill process goes forward in regular order he thinks there will be a lot of focus on specialty crops for a couple of reasons.
"One is that more and more a lot of the new farmers that are out there in this country are raising specialty crops and they are raising specialty crops for local and regional food systems," O'Brien said. "You know those producers, those farmers that are raising for that local and regional market, something that the USDA Economic Research Service recently reported on. It's not just small farmers, but medium and some large farms that are participating in these new markets – there's interest in specialty crops, there's increased participation."
In addition, O'Brien sees a highly positioned specialty crop ally, in Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. He says Michigan is a state with diverse agriculture and a lot of specialty crops and she was very active in that in the last farm bill and there is every reason to believe that she would be active on that front based on her recent statements.