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Specialty crop members push programs in House bill

As the House Agriculture Committee approaches a markup of a farm bill, coalitions of House members from specialty crop-producing districts are urging Congress to be fair to those programs.

Many of the programs supporting fruits and vegetables do not have baseline budget authority after Sept. 30. The Senate version of the farm bill contains provisions to continue those programs and expand them slightly, but fruit and vegetable growers and healthy eating advocates fear that House members will be less likely than the Senate to be as generous to those programs.

A coalition of 83 House members representing key specialty crop interests sent a letter Friday to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., urging them to give “full and fair consideration to the research, pest management and trade assistance programs” for specialty crops in the farm bill, according to a news release from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.


Robert Guenther, Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance
The letter also notes that members from specialty crop districts want the new farm bill passed before the 2008 bill expires on Sept. 30, noted Robert Guenther, a United Fresh lobbyist who serves as secretary of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.

“The signatories recognize the value of specialty crops in their districts and for the entire country, and we appreciate their willingness to work towards a stronger specialty crop industry,” Guenther said in the news release.

On May 15, 32 Democratic members of the California delegation sent Lucas and Peterson a letter urging them to expand support for local and regional food, organic agriculture, beginning and disadvantaged farmers, and research and marketing for fruits and vegetable growers.

The Environmental Working Group also posted a chart contending that the 2008 farm bill has not provided California with an appropriate amount of spending compared to its size and population.

The chart shows that despite being home to 12 percent of the nation’s population and generating 12 percent of the country’s agricultural output, California receives less than 5 percent of federal farm bill expenditures.

This argument has come up in the past, but Midwestern and Southern members of Congress have often noted that California gets a large share of other forms of federal spending and that fruit and vegetable growers have not asked for the kind of direct subsidies that commodity crop growers have asked for.