The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance is waiting on details of fast-track farm bill House and Senate agriculture committee negotiations, but alliance co-chair Mike Stuart said the group was prepared for quick action by Congress.

“We got together last year in earnest to try, as a coalition, to work on a set of recommendations we could present to the Senate and House agriculture committee in the ramp up to the next farm bill,” said Stuart, president of the Maitland, Fla.-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

“As it turns out, that was fortuitous, because obviously the process has been accelerated considerably,” he said.

Under pressure to provide budget-cutting recommendations to the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, House and Senate agriculture committee leaders were expected to release details of their plan sometime in mid-November — providied they are able to agree.

Committee leaders said earlier they were aiming to cut $23 billion from U.S. Department of Agriculture spending over 10 years.

Stuart said the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance recommendations to House and Senate agriculture committee leaders were provided about two months ago. Those recommendations were recently posted to the group’s website.

The document covers a wide array of policy points in the 2012 farm bill, he said.

“We did a pretty good job of outlining what our interests were and what are concerns were moving into the next farm bill, and I think that has been helpful to the committee as they work through the debt reduction discussions,” Stuart said.

He believes the alliance recommendations are friendly to consumers and to the industry.

“It works well from a policy standpoint.”

Considering budget pressures, Stuart said the alliance was pushing for status quo for funding for industry priorities compared with the 2008 farm bill. He said the alliance is working to preserve funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which in the last farm bill received no baseline funding.

 Selected recommendations from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance:

  • Maintain Market Access Program mandatory funding at $200 million per year;
  • Mandatory funding at no less than $9 billion per year for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops;
  • Maintain current minimum purchases for Section 32 commodity purchases of fruits and vegetables at $406 million per year;
  • Continue Department of Defense Fresh Program at no less than $50 million per year;
  • Initiate a pilot program like the Department of Defense model (with $15 million in mandatory spending), using private-sector distribution;
  • Maintain current mandatory funding of $150 million per year for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program;
  • Include dried fruit in the program;
  • Continue to fund Value Added Producer grant programs at $15 million per year and authorize $40 million per year in discretionary funding
  • Through Congress, establish a waiver system to allow modification to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative’s 100% matching requirement;
  • Fund the Specialty Crop Block Grant program at $60 million for fiscal year 2013, $65 million for fiscal year 2014, $70 million for fiscal year 2015, $75 million for fiscal year 2016 and $80 million for fiscal year 2017; and
  • Increase mandatory funding for the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention program to $75 million per year.