Specialty Crop and Organic Producers Look for Stronger Presence in 2012 Farm Bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, July 28-After securing a strong presence in the 2008 Farm Bill, organic and specialty crop producers hope the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will continue to support a growing organic, fruit and vegetable industry in the next farm bill.


Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) assured producers that funding under Title X of the 2008 Farm Bill will not face drastic cuts. She recognized the industry as one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the nation, with sales of U.S. specialty crops topping $60 billion annually and organic sales reaching nearly $29 billion in 2010.

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“It is amazing to think that until 2008, fruits, vegetables, nursery products and floriculture had almost no role in the farm bill,” she said. “But today, I am proud to say these important crops are a part of our farm bill discussions, and their place in the farm bill is here to stay.”


 The 2008 Farm Bill initiated Title X, Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) as primary implementing agencies.   While the producers at today's hearing commended Chairwomen Stabenow and the committee members for their support, they referenced several challenges they face, including the scarcity of legal immigrant labor, heavy federal regulations by the Food Safety and Modernization Act and untimely deadlines in the grant proposal process.


Committee ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) insisted that specialty and crop producers are given the tools they need to succeed in the next farm bill, and that federal regulations from outside USDA do not continue to pose a threat to these producers. 


“I know that this industry is devoted to supplying our families with safe, healthy and nutritious foods, and doing this under some of the most stringent government regulations with very tight profit margins,” said Roberts.


Plant pests and diseases are a significant threat to specialty and organic crop producers, making Section 10202 of Title X especially valuable to producers, as well as the overarching disaster relief and crop insurance programs. 


Paul Bencal, chairman of Lake Erie Regional Grape Extension, also testified, saying that it is vital to re-fund the SURE Program or incorporate a different disaster program in the next farm bill.


“Crop insurance indemnity payments have more than once helped me cover the next year's operating expenses when I've suffered severe weather-related crop loss,” he said. “Many farmers I know, including me, are in business today because of crop insurance and disaster relief.”


Dennis Engelhard, Owner, Engelhard Family Farms in Unionville, MI and past Chairman of the Michigan Bean Commission, testified in support of the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, and PL 480 for Food Aid.


He explained how dry beans were originally sent to Angola for food aid, but using FMD funds, Angola has developed into a quality dry bean market for exports.


Indiana grower Glenn Abbett, testifying on behalf of the American Fruit and Vegetable Processors and Growers Coalition (AFVPGC), asked lawmakers to modify Federal law that restricts Midwestern farmers from growing fruits and vegetables on program acres. Since 1996, farm policy generally has prohibited the production of fruits and vegetables on base acreage, with a few exceptions and a pilot program created in the 2008 Farm Bill.


Abbett said his ability to expand and his future profitability was threatened by current restrictions. He applauded a measure introduced by Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and previously co-sponsored by Chairwoman Stabenow: The Farming Flexibility Act of 2011,


The Farming Flexibility Act of 2011 would amend Title I of the Farm Bill to allow acreforacre opt out from the farm programs for production of fruits or vegetables under contract for processing.


The hearing, conducted by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is part of the ongoing House and Senate audits of farm bill programs designed to assist the committees on the development of the 2012 Farm Bill.




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