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Senate group supports continued specialty crop funding

Thirty-two senators wrote Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., this week that they should keep the 2008 farm bill level of programming and funding for specialty crops in the 2012 bill and if possible “build” on those programs.

In a letter dated April 2, the senators, led by Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, noted that the 2008 farm bill contained provisions to help producers of fruits, vegetables and tree nuts with “research, invasive pest and disease mitigation, foreign market development, nutrition and targeted state-level funding for local initiatives.”

“This translated into job creation, trade expansion, infrastructure investment for capacity building, targeted research for new innovations and technology, and increased access for fruits and vegetables in federal nutrition programs,” the senators noted.

“Specialty crops represent approximately one-half of U.S. cash crop receipts and are of great significance to both farmers and consumers,” the senators wrote. “It seems clear that the 2012 farm bill is likely to dramatically restructure federal agriculture spending. During consideration of these significant changes to spending we hope that you will actively consider both the needs of specialty crop producers and the market oriented structure of the programs that were a part of the 2008 farm bill.”

The senators also said that they believe “specialty crops are a critical and growing component of U.S. agriculture, deserving of full and equal consideration as other agricultural sectors in the farm bill.”

The senators who signed the letter were mostly from states that have high levels of specialty crop production and relatively low levels of the program crops such as corn and cotton that get most of the agriculture subsidies. The list of signers is also remarkable for the absence of senators from major program crop states.

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance praised the senators for their letter, and also said in a news release that Congress should pass the next farm bill this year.

Stabenow, whose home state of Michigan is a major specialty crop producer, has already said she wants to continue the same level of funding for specialty crops, and the farm bill draft that was sent to the failed supercommittee on deficit reduction contained specialty crop programs.