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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2007 farm bill proposals released this week prompted applause from specialty crop growers across the country, who signaled appreciation for what they consider important first steps to address the needs of specialty crop producers.
"Overall, specialty crops account for nearly 50 percent of domestic farm gate crop value, but receive very little consideration in the current farm bill," said John Keeling, e.v.p./c.e.o., National Potato Council and co-chair of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA), a national coalition of more than 80 specialty crop grower organizations. "We believe the administration’s farm bill proposals begin to focus the appropriate attention on specialty crops, and emphasize the importance of these crops to the economic well-being of U.S. agriculture."
Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and SCFBA co-chair, said specialty crop growers across the country "are appreciative of USDA for taking important first steps to address the needs of specialty crop producers as they work to improve the competitiveness of our industry.
"USDA both understood and acknowledged the messages that specialty crop growers provided during the farm bill listening sessions about the need for adequate support for research, nutrition, promotion, conservation, market access, and pest and disease management, while at the same time not creating a system of direct payments for our industry," said Stuart.
USDA's proposal includes significant expansion of current initiatives to assist foreign trade in specialty crops through the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) and the Market Access Program (MAP). To further assist in expanding trade opportunities, the agency's proposal calls for improvements to address phytosanitary restrictions on trade, participate in international standards-setting bodies, and provide assistance in trade disputes and legal challenges.
The USDA proposal would take strong steps to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by the public and in federal feeding and school lunch programs.
For its part, the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA) called the proposals for organic agriculture a good step in the right direction, but cautioned that organic farmers need more resources to meet the needs of domestic and worldwide markets.
"While organic farmers and the rest of the organic business community appreciate being mentioned in the proposal, organic farmers need a farm bill that reflects a farm-to-table strategy," said Caren Wilcox, OTA's executive director.
"OTA proposed a comprehensive plan to integrate organic production into USDA's many programs. Organic farmers need access to the same resources that conventional farmers receive from USDA," a few of which Wilcox says it acknowledged.
The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), meanwhile, expressed deep disappointment with the 2007 Farm Bill proposal, which continues to maintain the Dairy Price Support Program and embraces the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program -- the latter of which IDFA describes as a poorly conceived, regionally divisive payment program linked to price and production.
"The administration's proposal keeps dairy policies stuck in the 1930s and '40s," said Chip Kunde, IDFA s.v.p.