Specialty crop growers looking for more from farm bill

Providing new farm bill programs for fruit and vegetable farmers would help ensure a strong agricultural economy and benefit the health of the entire nation, American Farm Bureau Federation Vice President Barry Bushue told Congress.

“The farm bill helps farmers and ranchers deal with the risks that threaten their ability to produce the food, fiber and fuel we all need,” Bushue testified to the House’s Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture.

Farm Bureau urged lawmakers to extend some programs normally available only to growers of crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat, to farmers who grow specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture/nursery crops and floriculture.

The value of specialty crop production in the U.S. is significant, accounting for approximately 17% of the $391 billion in agriculture cash receipts collected in 2012, Bushue said.

Starting with the next farm bill, Farm Bureau has proposed the extension of a new program — Stacked Income Protection Plan or STAX for short — for growers of the so-called program crops including field corn for livestock, soybeans and wheat, as well as apples, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes and sweet corn.

“The program would be administered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency in a manner consistent with the current crop insurance delivery system,” Bushue said. “It is designed to complement existing crop insurance programs. It does not change any features of existing insurance policies.”

The five specialty crops Farm Bureau proposed for STAX coverage each rank in the top 13 in value of production for the country; represent at least 2% of the nation’s value of production; and are grown in at least 13 states. In addition, insurance is currently available for each of the crops. If STAX is used to cover these five specialty crops, fruit and vegetable farmers in 44 states would benefit.

Farm Bureau also urged Congress to continue some programs for fruit and vegetable growers that were first included in the farm bill in 2008. Those programs include the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program in elementary schools and initiatives that help bring fruits and vegetables produced within a state to local schools.

Other programs for specialty crop farmers Farm Bureau would like to see continued in the next farm bill include outreach and training on Good Agriculture Practices aimed at improving food safety, traceability and productivity; initiatives for pest and plant disease control; and improving direct-to-consumer retail opportunities.

“We encourage the House Agriculture Committee to continue to invest in our specialty crop producers,” concluded Bushue.

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