WASHINGTON, July 13, 2017 – Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee are being urged to maintain funding for two key USDA export assistance programs that the Trump administration has targeted for elimination as well as other programs that help U.S. farmers sell everything from apples to popcorn overseas.
Congress created the Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Market Development (FMD) and other similar programs to help American farmers create and widen markets in foreign countries. Thursday's Agriculture Committee hearing showed there is still plenty of support on Capitol Hill and in rural America for the assistance that witnesses and lawmakers hailed.
“Whether you are an apple grower in Washington, a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, or a cattle rancher in Texas, you need a strong and reliable market to sell what you produce,” said Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “That is the benefit of farm bill trade programs. With an excellent return on investment, these public-private partnerships help the full range of producers, from commodities to specialty crops. Programs like the Market Access Program … allow producers to partner with USDA to market and promote their products to all corners of the globe.”
The support in Congress and rural America for MAP and FMD is not shared by the White House. Groups like the U.S. Wheat Associates were angered when the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget sought to take away all funding for the programs.
“There would be no funds to bring trade teams to Washington (state), Oregon and other places to show them the wheat being grown, how it’s being grown, handled and tested,” Steve Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Wheat Associates, said in May. “It would literally gut our ability to promote wheat in a competitive way overseas.”
Dean Meyer, who runs a cattle-feeding and swine-processing facility and sits on the executive committee of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), told the committee in testimony that it was MAP that helped the beef industry regain market share in countries that suspended imports after a case of mad cow disease was discovered in the U.S. nearly 14 years ago.
The program, which is funded equally by producer groups and federal dollars, makes it affordable for groups like USMEF to maintain offices and staff around the globe and work with local importers and governments to promote U.S. farm goods.
Eric Halverson, CEO of potato giant Black Gold Farms and a witness at the hearing, gave MAP some of the credit for helping to regain Asian clients after the recent shutdown of West Coast ports that prevented U.S. exporters of potatoes, hay, beef, pork, apples and other goods from shipping their products.
“In many cases restaurants, food manufacturers and retailers switched back to U.S. product this year after being forced to switch to alternative sources due to the West Coast port issues the previous year,” Halverson said. “Given the higher price of the U.S. product, this is a real testament to the marketing and promotion programs being conducted and to the high quality of U.S. potatoes and potato products.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, was one of several committee members who agreed that MAP, FMD and the other programs need to be maintained and even strengthened in the next farm bill.
MAP was funded with about $174 million for fiscal year 2017. The money was split between 70 organizations, such as the Florida Tomato Committee, California Fresh Fruit Association, American Soybean Association, U.S. Apple Export Council, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Wine Institute and others, according to a USDA document. FMD got about $27 million.
The California Walnut Commission received some $4 million to spend this year under MAP and Roberts highlighted the group’s accomplishments. He noted that in 2015, the California Walnut Commission "used MAP funds to support efforts in India to promote the health benefits of walnuts. In that year, shipments to India increased ten-fold.”
MAP and FMD were the two largest farm bill programs discussed at Thursday's hearing, but Halverson also highlighted the successes that potato farmers have had with the Quality Samples Program. QSP essentially funds the giveaway of samples to potential foreign buyers and it has been a huge assistance to the potato industry, said Halverson, who testified on behalf of the National Potato Council and the United Fresh Produce Association.
QSP funds, he said, were used to “ship U.S. dehydrated potato samples to utilize in an educational campaign in the Philippines that resulted in eight companies launching a new product using U.S. dehydrated potatoes within six months after the campaign.”