(Oct. 29) Approving higher overall levels of mandatory funding for fruit and vegetables than the House-passed farm bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously passed its version of 2007 farm bill out of committee.

Estimates from the offices of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, put the committee’s funding for fruit and vegetable priorities at $2.2 billion over five years, compared with $1.6 billion in the House-passed version.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he expects the full Senate to take up the committee’s bill either the week of Oct. 29 or the week of Nov. 5. Harkin’s committee passed the legislation Oct. 25.

In a teleconference with reporters that day, Harkin said he was opposed to using the farm bill as a vehicle for immigration reform. AgJobs supporters such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have considered the farm bill as a logical home for AgJobs.

Harkin noted the inclusion of $1 billion in mandatory funding over five years for the fruit and vegetable program, up from the $305 million provided over the same period in the House bill. Harkin first introduced the fruit and vegetable program in the 2002 farm bill in pilot for for just four states.

Harkin’s office said the Senate bill expands the program to reach nearly 4.5 million children in elementary schools nationwide.

Although the Senate’s farm bill provides greater funds for the fruit and vegetable program, the bill emerging from committee isn’t as generous to the specialty crop block grant program, providing $270 million over five years. That compares with $365 million in the House bill.

Given the ever-dwindling legislative calendar, Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said it was important the bill move out of committee.

He noted that industry priorities in the House bill — block grants, the snack program, research funds and international trade funds — also are represented in the Senate bill, he said. Country-of-origin labeling also was treated with similar language that was in the House bill, he said.