During a hearing called by the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, legislators heard from specialty farmers and ag groups about the way forward for specialty crops in the 2013 Farm Bill.
Participants in the hearing, including specialty growers William Brim and Sarah Frey-Talley, addressed several key issues – specialty crop block grants, research, nutrition programs, food safety and disease management.
American Farm Bureau Vice President Barry Bushue also addressed the committee, focusing on extension of Farm Bill 'safety net' programs, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program.
Both Frey-Talley and Brim began their testimony explaining the importance of the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, which promotes the competitiveness of specialty crops. Brim said the program addresses grower needs at the state level, and supports funding for 2,500 projects that cover all aspects of growing and marketing specialty crops.
Though the funding was passed out of committee for the House's 2012 Farm Bill, Brim urged the subcommittee to retain the funding provisions at at least the current level.
Frey-Talley urged also for research through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, another hot topic.
"The work that is done in SCRI will yield benefits for producers across the country as projects address challenging issues such as improving production efficiency, improving crop characteristics, addressing pest and plant disease, response to food safety hazards and innovation and technology," she noted in her testimony.
Frey-Talley suggested retaining the $50 million authorized in last year's committee-passed farm bill, and adjusting the review process for grants.
Among other issues, Frey-Talley and Brim said pest and disease programs, marketing assistance programs, and attention to food safety issues was paramount. Brim urged the subcommittee to consider improved conservation programs that encourage producers to invest in natural resource protection measures that might be otherwise unaffordable.
Though not under the jurisdiction of the farm bill, both Brim and Frey-Talley noted that action on proposed immigration legislation be immediate.
Bushue focused largely on extending some programs normally available only to growers of crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat to farmers who grow specialty crops.
The value of specialty crop production in the U.S. is significant, accounting for approximately 17 percent of the $391 billion in agriculture cash receipts collected in 2012, Bushue noted.
Bushue also urged support for stacked income protection plan coverage of five specialty crops – apples, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes and sweet corn.
"The program would be administered by USDA's Risk Management Agency in a manner consistent with the current crop insurance delivery system," said Bushue. "It is designed to complement existing crop insurance programs. It does not change any features of existing insurance policies," he explained.
Bushue also pushed for continuation of the Farmers Market Promotion Program and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program.