Washington Congressional Delegation Endorses Farm Bill Approach

Published online: Oct 05, 2006 WSPC
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What used to be a parade of the big horses lining up at the government subsidy trough has taken on new life as a festival of options for a consumer and an all ag-centered Farm Bill. As alternatives to extending the 2002 Farm Bill, two bills are continuing to build the buzz that has had the Hill considering specialty crops, nutrition and renewable energy.

House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) and 49 co-sponsors, including Reps. Rick Larsen, Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, introduced the Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America (EAT Healthy America) bill September 26. The bill (H.R. 6193) would provide more benefits for specialty growers by expanding the use of fruits and vegetables in school breakfast, lunch and snack programs, as well as providing more money for conservation and overseas promotion programs.

"I am committed to incorporating initiatives that keep our local family farmers competitive in the global market while providing a healthy food supply to our familes," Pombo said at a news conference. The Pombo bill would allow an expansion of the school fresh fruit and vegetable snack program from 14 states to all 50 states, while increasing its budget from $15 million per year to $300 million per year.

"We had approached memebers of our delegation about signing on to the bill," said Chris Voigt, Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission. "We are also part of the United Fresh Coalition that is supporting the Pombo bill. The momentum is building for giving specialty crops a more prominent place in the Farm Bill."

The National Potato Council joined other representatives from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) in publicly endorsing the bill at a press conference on Capitol Hill. NPC Past President Keith Masser, a Pennsylvania grower/packer/shipper, presented remarks at the press conference highlighting the specialty crop industry's need for increased research, invasive pest control, specialty block grants and nutrition programs. SCFBA is a national coalition of more than 75 specialty crop grower organization, who joined together to develop a series of Farm Bill priorities in the Pombo bill.

Two weeks ago, H.R. 6064, the Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act of 2006, was introduced by Rep. Ron Kind, D-WI. Currently, Rep Adam Smith is the only Washington member cosponsoring the bill, which would increase funding for farm land conservation programs, and also expand programs for renewable fuels and programs to help farmers sell fruits and vegetables to school lunch programs and to needy elderly people.

"The next farm bill should provide economic and environmental incentives for all farmers, ranchers and small private forest landowners and should address our nation's energy, health and environmental needs for the 21st century," Kind said in introducing the bill.

Pombo, who represents a California district that produces fruits and vegetables, and Kind, who co-authored a conservation amendment that failed to make it into the 2002 farm bill, say that encouraging better nutrition, conservation and renewable fuels is a better approach to writing a Farm Bill than providing big subsidies to growers of crops such as cotton and corn. The Farm Bill debate continues to heat up, but won't likely gain any traction until after the elections. Both bills will have to be reintroduced when the new session begins in January.

According to USDA, specialty crops represent more than $50 billion in farmgate value and account for more than 45 percent of farmgate crop receipts.