The industry’s victories on Capitol Hill can be infrequent and are always the result of considerable effort, so United Fresh, the produce industry and our specialty crop allies should take a brief moment to savor the recent passage of the Senate farm bill.
This important measure builds on the historic accomplishments in the 2008 bill, showing continued support for produce industry priorities, an impressive feat when you consider the tone of our nation’s political and budget discussions.
Passage of this vital bill happened because of the leadership and support of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; and the committee members as well as the rest of the Senate.
On the morning of the final vote, the chairwoman invited United’s Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy, to participate on a call with reporters to review key aspects of the bill.
Chairwoman Stabenow thanked Guenther and United Fresh for our efforts to get the bill out of the ag committee and to the Senate floor for a successful vote.
Cooperation in the Senate and within agriculture got the bill done. United Fresh provides leadership as a member of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a national coalition of more than 120 organizations representing growers of fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, nursery plants and other products.
The Alliance Steering Committee, meeting at United’s Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters each week, has joined forces to rally support for critical farm bill provisions.
By working together, we’ve won Senate support for state block grants, research, market promotion, nutrition and a lot more.
When you look at a few of the more noteworthy provisions, you see that this bill makes a very real and meaningful investment for the fruit and vegetable industry.
- Investment of $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program;
- Funding of $150 million annually for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program;
- Annual funding at $50 million per year for DoD Fresh program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions;
- The Specialty Crop Research Initiative was funded at $25 million per year ramping up to $50 million by 2017;
- Increased funding of $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million in 2017 for pest and disease management programs;
- The Market Access Program ($200 million per year) and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops ($9 million per year) were fully funded;
- Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives was funded at $100 million over 5 years;
- Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program was funded at $100 million over 5 years; and
- Section 32 specialty crop purchases were funded at $406 million per year in mandatory purchases.
Addressing another United priority, this bill includes an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which calls for a feasibility study of insurance products that could cover recalls, quarantines and market disruptions.
United has been advocating for USDA to look into the possibility of a specially-crafted insurance solution for produce food safety events.
When a high-profile recall or outbreak causes an entire commodity market to shut down, this can be just as costly as any weather disaster, but insurance for such losses is too costly or unavailable.
This amendment is a small but significant first step toward crafting an insurance option that can help produce industry companies better manage this risk.
Now, our attention focuses on the House Agriculture Committee as it begins its deliberation on its own farm bill.
We’ve already been working hard with House members, so we have some idea that this is going to be a tough road.
Not all of our programs are likely to be funded or receive the same level of support as in the Senate, so we have to work doubly hard to move forward.
Every industry voice, especially in this election year, makes a difference.
Mark your calendars now to attend United’s Washington Public Policy Conference.
Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
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