( File photo )

On the eve of a farm bill hearing, the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance presented House Agriculture Committee members specific industry priorities for the legislation in an April 17 letter.

The alliance is co-chaired by the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, the National Potato Council and Western Growers. The group said specialty crop production, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery and greenhouse commodities account for $66 billion in farm gate value and 33% of U.S. farm cash receipts for crops.

“Specialty crop producers across the nation are united in providing consumers with healthy eating options by expanding the consumption of fruits and vegetables, bolstering research and pest management and supporting grower initiatives to improve competitiveness,” John Keeling, executive president and CEO of the National Potato Council, said in the release. “For this work to continue, this next farm bill must address these priorities.”

The alliance works for common industry priorities, reflecting mutual objectives of U.S,. growers and shippers across the U.S., Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association, said, in the release.

“We look forward to working with our allies in all specialty crop organizations who share many of our priorities, as well as with U.S. agriculture stakeholders,” he said in the release.

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, said in the release that the alliance is encouraged that lawmakers recognize the success of past farm bill investments in specialty crops.

“We’re seeking their continued support for our growers who work every day to provide better access to higher quality and more affordable fruits and vegetables,” he said in the release.

The alliance, a coalition of 120 specialty crop groups, listed its legislative priorities:

  • Increase Specialty Crop Research Initiative spending to $105 million a year;
  • Continue the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program a $9 million annually. A new ruling by the Office of Management and Budget means the program will lose its baseline funding by Sept. 30;
  • Increase funds to combat invasive pests and disease with $75 million annually, and a hike in five years by $7.5 million annually to fund the National Clean Plant Network;
  • Keep fresh produce as the default choice in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, allowing canned and other forms only when there are “hardships” preventing access to fresh;
  • Increase Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives funding to increase consumption of produce by low-income consumers in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Continue strong funding of Specialty Crop Block Grants:
  • Increase Market Access Program funding in the next Farm Bill.