Keep your head in the game as farm bill nears

07/22/2011 08:41:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

But when I asked the group, which includes some people aligned with the produce industry, for details of their plans, I was basically told, we got nothin’.

In an e-mail, AGree’s executive director, Deborah Atwood, said the group “wants to remove the soapboxes and create a safe discussion space for stakeholders,” whatever that means.

I know, it’s still early in this game.

But it’s only early until it gets late, and the produce industry will need more than platitudes and marketing buzzwords when the time comes for serious debate on who gets what at Uncle Sam’s trough. Staying on top and ahead of the discussions is crucial.

In some respects, this seems like it should be a slam-dunk for produce, as far as keeping or increasing funds.

On one side you have the grower with a truckload of carrots, tomatoes and other nutritious foods to underprivileged inner-city grade-schoolers, and on another, the Iowa farmer with bushels of corn, which may be destined for the local ethanol plant.

Who’s the more sympathetic figure?

Also, specialty crop programs comprise just a fraction of overall agriculture spending.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2011 budget, less than $125 million was devoted to specialty crop programs.

That’s less than a tenth of a cent of each dollar in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $149 billion spending authority (nutrition assistance programs, including the benefits formerly known as food stamps, account for about 70 cents of every USDA dollar; direct payments and other commodity programs, about 6 cents).

“Big Ag,” as represented by vast corn fields feeding ethanol mills, looks to be ripe for downsizing.

Are there opportunities for the produce industry to exploit, even as government budgets shrink?

Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United Fresh, earlier this month said his group is working with other industry associations on objectives for the 2012 bill, and as negotiations over the bill approach, it’s important growers, distributors and others “present a unified voice.”

I’m all ears.

bblythe@thepacker.com

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