USDA ADVANCES ROLE OF SPECIALTY CROP INDUSTRY

Published online: Feb 01, 2007
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WASHINGTON, DC--Responding to USDA Secretary Johann's comprehensive farm bill proposal, the United Fresh Produce Association acknowledged the positive direction that Secretary Johanns took by recognizing the need for specialty crop producers to have a seat at the table during the upcoming debate over national agriculture policy. "From our perspective the Administration's Farm Bill proposals are very good for us and are pointed in the right direction," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh.

Specifically, the USDA proposal would take steps to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by the public and in federal feeding and school lunch programs. The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and Section 32 purchases would all be enhanced to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. "Our agricultural policy should be more closely aligned to our nutrition policy. We believe increasing fruit and vegetable consumption will achieve this goal, and will provide the necessary framework to enhance the competitiveness of the specialty crop industry while addressing some of our nation's critical health issues." Guenther noted.

Unfortunately, the USDA proposal also called fro the elimination of the planting flexibility provision, which prohibits program crop growers from planting fruits and vegetables on base acres. "We are disappointed that the Department felt compelled to remove the primary safety for U.S. fruit and vegetable producers by eliminating the planting flexibility law that has been in effect since 1985," said Guenther. "We feel it is premature to make this type of broad policy decision in light of the fact that WTO has not required the U.S. Government to do anything at this time. To many, it looks like they have raised the white flag before the fight has ever begun. Most concerning, is that they have thrown open the ability to have subsidized growers compete against unsubsidized fruit and vegetable producers across the country," Guenther concluded.

Secretary Johann's other proposals that address the specialty crop industry's specific needs include:

-The inclusion of specific provisions in the proposed energy title to encourage the development of a national agriculture energy policy that will allow evaluation and utilization of specialty crop waste and other biomass feedstock in the production of cellulosic ethanol.

-Significant expansion of specialty crop research.

-Increased funding for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crop Program.

-Increased funding for the Market Access Program, with an emphasis on funds that target non-program crop commodities.

-Improvements to address phytosanitary restrictions on trade, to participate in international standards setting bodies, and to provide assistance in trade disputes and legal challenges.

"United Fresh looks forward to working with USDA and with Congress to build upon today's proposal and address areas where we believe the Department fell short, such as the planting flexibility provision and the specialty crop block grant program," Guenther concluded.

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