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Vilsack announces specialty crop grants, notes programs lost with farm bill expiration

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $101 million in grants to support specialty crops producers today, but noted that the grants were from fiscal 2012 budget authority and that the USDA can no longer make similar grants or administer some other farm programs because Congress allowed the 2008 farm bill to expire.

In a telephone call to reporters from Madison, Wis., Vilsack said he was on a day of official business touring a Catholic center that prepares food and a forestry research center, and planning to speak at a dairy expo tomorrow.

But he also noted that dairy farmers in Wisconsin are concerned about the expiration of the Milk Income Loss Contract program and put the blame squarely on the House Republican leadership for not bringing up the farm bill before Congress left Washington to campaign.

“These are some of the casualties of congressional inaction,” Vilsack said.

While commodity programs are not immediately affected, farmers may find it harder to get their bankers to give them loans, he said, because “there is no safety net outside of crop insurance.”

The House leadership, he added, had plenty of time to bring up the farm bill this year but did not because there are some members who want “deeper cuts in farm programs as well as food stamps.”

Vilsack said that approximately $55 million of the total funding will be in 56 specialty crop block grants to states that fund 748 initiatives across the country to strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers of fruits, vegetables and nuts.

An additional $46 million will go to support new and continuing research and extension activities to address challenges and opportunities for growers and businesses that rely on a sustainable, profitable specialty crops industry.