(Jan. 4) In what is expected to a bridge to more robust funding in the farm bill, the omnibus appropriations bill signed by President Bush Dec. 26 provides nearly $10 million for national expansion of the fresh fruit and vegetable program.

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., credited Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairwoman of agricultural appropriations, for making the program a priority despite administration misgivings.

“She made this happen, she was determined that no matter what national expansion of the fresh fruit and vegetable program would stay in the bill even under very difficult budget conditions Congress had to deal with in finishing the omnibus,” DiSogra said Jan 2.

The appropriation bill provides $9.9 million to continue the fresh fruit and vegetable program “in all currently participating states and expand the program to the contiguous states and Alaska, Hawaii and the District of Columbia not currently served by the program,” according to wording in the bill.

DiSogra said the 25 schools in six states previously funded by fiscal year 2006 appropriations — Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Wisconsin — will be asked to re-start their fresh fruit and vegetable program as soon as possible. DiSogra speculated that could come as early as January.

Meanwhile, the 36 states and the District of Columbia that that have never been funded will be instructed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to select 25 schools to participate, DiSogra said.

“We will have to do a lot of conference calls about how they get started and answer all their questions,” DiSogra said.

The Senate version of the farm bill provides more than $1.1 billion in mandatory funding for the fruit and vegetable program over five years while the House version calls for $305 million in mandatory funding over the same period. Differences between the two farm bills will be worked out in conference committee in coming weeks, and DiSogra said United Fresh would ask the conference committee to keep the Senate funding.