Specialty crop producers and a contract poultry grower used a farm bill listening session in Texas Wednesday to urge lawmakers to provide them with more insurance options, while groups representing other commodities continued their call for reference price increases consistent with inflation.

House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., was joined at the Waco meeting by Reps. Pete Sessions, R-Texas; Austin Scott, R-Georgia; Jim Baird, R-Ind., Ronny Jackson, R-Texas; Tracey Mann, R-Kan.; and Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas. All but Sessions, who represents the Waco area, are members of the committee. 

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, whom Thompson jokingly referred to as his "stunt double", also sat at a table with the lawmakers during the two-hour meeting. 

Citrus grower Dale Murden, who is president of Texas Citrus Mutual, said specialty crop producers within the state have seen a number of disasters over the years, going from a hurricane in 2020 to a deep freeze in 2021. Sandwiched between those events, he said, the state experienced record droughts and is now facing limited irrigation supplies.

Despite the extreme events, Murden said many specialty crops grown within the state have no real crop insurance products and yet to see relief from the disasters through other programs. He also called for clearer direction and increased flexibilities within the Tree Assistance Program and the Emergency Conservation Program.  

"We need disaster assistance, better crop insurance and we all need stability with our own water resources," Murden said.

Brett Erickson, a produce farmer who represented the Texas International Produce Association, the Texas Vegetable Association and the International Fresh Produce Association, also asked the lawmakers for more specialty crop insurance options. Texas has over 60 specialty crops, but insurance is only available for two, he said.

Meanwhile, Jerry Moody, a poultry producer from Omaha, Texas, urged the committee to consider creating flock insurance to protect revenue for poultry growers. He said a common misconception about the poultry industry is that growers don't have any risk, a notion that he said "cannot be further from the truth."

"There's so many things that are out of our control, whether it be disease [or] no antibiotics anymore," Moody said.

Representatives of other commodity groups echoed previous calls for maintaining crop insurance, raising reference prices, as well as reaffirming the House Agriculture Committee's previous appeal for "adequate resources" for the next farm bill to compensate for the “ineffectiveness” of existing commodity programs. 

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"It's absolutely imperative that we have more money," said Matt Huie, a Texas Cotton and Grain Association board member. 

Celia Cole, CEO of food bank network Feeding Texas, said Texas families and food banks are feeling the "strain" of reduced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits due to pandemic emergency allotments ending. She said improving access to SNAP benefits increases food security, as well as helping food retailers in rural communities.

She also urged the committee to remove work requirements, which she says are not an effective tool for improving employment outcomes. She said most SNAP recipients are kids, seniors or people with disabilities and argued others that are eligible to work are pushed into accepting the first job they find, even if it does not lead to long-term stability.

"In short, our approach to work requirements creates red tape for participants, not good jobs," Cole said.

Brett Erickson, the produce farmer, also said farmers are facing a labor shortage that amounts to a "national food security crisis." He criticized the lack of action from Congress on H-2A reform, which he said has lead to the nation becoming more dependent on foreign-grown fresh produce than it ever has. He called for the agency to at least invest more heavily in mechanization research,

"If you won't give us the people, give us the tools and technology to become more competitive domestically and globally," Erickson said. 

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance last month announced a set of farm bill priorities that includes creating two new programs aimed at speeding the automation of growing and harvesting of fruits, vegetables, and other commodities.

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