Farm bill progress leaves produce interests hungry

07/09/2007 12:00:00 AM
Tom Karst

(July 9) Even with promises of more than $680 million in mandatory baseline funding for specialty crop industry priorities from the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, the 110 member organizations of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance were far from satisfied in early July.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a June 29 press conference that his chairman’s markup of the farm bill would include $685 million in mandatory baseline funding for specialty crops over five years.

However, he did not specify how those funds were defined or allocated. What’s more, Peterson also said the committee would have two versions of the farm bill during the markup process — one bill that is entirely paid for and another that relies on about $17 billion in reserve or contingency funds. The reserve bill includes about $1 billion for specialty crop industry priorities, Peterson said in the teleconference June 29.

Peterson indicated full committee markup of the farm bill will be July 17 and the legislation is scheduled to be on the House floor by July 26.

Produce and specialty crop industry leaders were not pleased with the prospects of two bills and not certain if the $685 million in mandatory funds over five years was a big step forward.

“We’re told we are going to get $685 million over five years, but we don’t know how it could be divided,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, Washington, D.C., and a co-chair of the alliance.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but not as far as we would like,” he said.

Keeling said including funds from existing programs like export promotion in Peterson’s number would make that baseline funding less significant.

Peterson’s farm bill annual funding of $137 million per year for specialty crops doesn’t come close to matching the $1.6 billion per year requested in the Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America Act introduced earlier this year by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.; Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla.; and others.

Keeling said the House Agriculture Committee was expected to unveil both versions of the bill on July 6, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a delay in the timetable.



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