(Oct. 19) The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition program that distributes free fruits and vegetables to school children is set for nationwide expansion and $1 billion in funding in five years in the Senate’s emerging farm bill language.

“(The nutrition title) provides $1 billion to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program nationwide to reach nearly 4.5 million low-income children across the country,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, during an Oct.17 teleconference.

Harkin said he has been able to reach “basic agreement” with key members of the Senate Agriculture Committee on the elements of the new farm bill. The Senate Agriculture Committee hopes to report out the bill the week of Oct. 22, and Harkin said he was confident the bill would get solid bipartisan support.

“In nutrition, we, like the House, provide $4.2 billion in new funding over five years,” he said, noting the title would update outdated nutrition program rules, increase benefit levels.

Harkin said the conservation title has an estimated $4 billion in new budget authority.

“This will allow CSP – now renamed the Conservation Stewardship Program – to grow vigorously at over 13 million acres a year,” he said.