(VIDEO UPDATE, April 26) The American Farm Bureau Federation wants growers of apples, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes and sweet corn to use a program typically available only to program crops such as cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans.
Oregon grower Farm Bureau vice President Barry Bushue was part of a panel of specialty crop producers that testified April 24 before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture.
Starting with the next farm bill, Bushue said Farm Bureau wants the Stacked Income Protection Plan — STAX — for growers of program crops to cover apples, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes and sweet corn. The 2012 farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee had the STAX program in place for only for cotton. The program, paid for by premiums from growers and government subsidy, compensates growers if the county average revenue or yield fell by a certain percentage from the historical average for a particular commodity.
“The program would be administered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency in a manner consistent with the current crop insurance delivery system,” Bushue said.
The program doesn’t change existing insurance policies, he said.
Bushue said the five specialty crops Farm Bureau singled out rank in the top 13 in value of production for the entire U.S. and represent at least 2% of the nation’s value of production. All of the commodities are grown in at least 13 states, he said, and crop insurance is currently available for all of the commodities. Bushue said including those commodities could benefit fruit and vegetable growers in 44 states.
Nancy Foster, president of the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association, said her group has not yet had a chance to review the proposal. The cost of the program and its usefulness to fresh and processed apple growers will be evaluated, she said.
Bushue said April 24 that Farm Bureau believes the STAX program could be a good risk management tool for specialty crop growers.
“It is an opportunity to provide some tools for the loss of crop,” he said.
William Brim, president of Lewis & Taylor Farms Inc., Tifton, Ga., and a member of the United Fresh Prduce Association’s government relations council — told lawmakers he hopes they can finish the work they started last year on the farm bill. Brim highlighted the importance of state block grants, funding for research, and programs for nutrition, plant and diseases, international market access and conservation.
He said the Specialty Crop Research Initiative needs mandatory funding in the next farm bill, because the current extension of the 2008 farm bill left it unfunded.
Although labor issues are not addressed in the farm bill, Brim said the importance of immigration reform can’t be overstated.
“If Congress does not solve our immigration and farm labor situation you won’t have to worry about a Specialty Crop title in the farm bill in the future,” he said.
Sarah Frey-Talley, president and chief executive officer of Frey Farms, Keenes, Ill. — also a member of the United Fresh government relations council and its grower shipper board — echoed remarks on the special crop industry’s farm bill priorities. She also said labor is a dominant issue.
“At a time when 47 million Americans rely on government support for nutrition, it is incomprehensible that in several states growers have been forced to walk away from abundant fields and destroy millions of dollars worth of fresh fruits and vegetables simply because they could not gain access to an adequate workforce,” she said.