As part of the 2007 NPC Public Policy Conference, over 100 growers and representatives from state potato organizations met with members of Congress, USDA, EPA, and USTR in Washington, DC. The potato industry's need for federal agricultural policy that promotes increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and increases the domestic and international competitiveness and efficiency of specialty crop producers, and one that maintains the current planting flexibility restrictions were some of the topics that were discussed.
Growers also asked Congress for quick action on comprehensive immigration reform and for help in restoring ARS and CSFEES funding for research critical to potato production and breeding.
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns spoke to the group and provided details of the specialty crop specific programs included in the USDA farm bill proposal. The Secretary has been an outspoken leaser in the effort to increase specialty crop benefits in the farm bill. The Secretary also indicated he would raise potato trade issues with his counterpart in Mexico when he visits that country this week.
Growers reported that during their meetings with members of Congress they received strong support for including specialty crops in the farm bill. Members of Congress clearly understand that to be more equitable the new farm bill needs to address the needs of all of agriculture, not just program crops. The single biggest constraint to expanding programs for specialty crops will be the severe budget limitations for the 2007 farm bill resulting from the current high levels of programs crop prices.
Meetings were also held on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and key Committee staff. Growers benefited by lengthy discussion with the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Meetings were also held with Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) on the congressional trade agenda and with USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives on their initiatives to open foreign markets for potatoes and potato products globally. In addition, growers participated in meetings with representatives from EPA where discussions were held on biopesticides, resistance management and the registration review process for potato use products.