Specialty crops are a critical component of the overall U.S. agriculture economy. The production of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery and greenhouse commodities accounts for $66 billion in farm gate value and 33 percent of farm cash receipts for crops.
The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance’s legislative priorities include enhancing nutrition programs, continued support for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, combating invasive pests and diseases, and support for trade and research funding. In each case, these measures would assist the specialty crop industry’s ability to compete and grow in domestic and global markets.
Farm Bill Priorities
Enhance funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI)
The SCRI was established in 2008 to address the critical research needs of the specialty crop industry. Since then, 288 research projects for specialty crops have been funded, enhancing the industry’s competitive prominence in the domestic and international marketplace. SCRI is one of the most oversubscribed research programs; current funding allows for only 10 percent of the requested projects to be funded. SCFBA urges the House Agriculture Committee to dedicate $105 million annually for the SCRI program.
Continue the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program at a full $9 million annually
Authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill, TASC addresses technological barriers that prohibit or threaten the exports of U.S. specialty crops. TASC has been responsible for more than 275 grants to address these barriers even though it has only been funded at $9 million. A new ruling by the Office of Management and Budget means all new programs will lose their baseline funding by Sept. 30. SCFBA urges the House Agriculture Committee to ensure full funding in a reauthorized farm bill or if the current farm bill is extended.
Increase funding to combat invasive pests and diseases.
The specialty crop industry strongly supports efforts to protect the domestic market from the increasing threat of harmful plant pests and diseases entering the United States. The farm bill has provided funding and direction for innovative initiatives that help identify and mitigate offshore threats and improve pest detection and rapid response. More than 1,700 projects have been funded since this program’s inception in the 2008 Farm Bill. SCFBA urges the House Agriculture Committee to continue supporting these programs at $75 million annually, with the goal of enhancing its funding in five years by a modest $7.5 million to fund the National Clean Plant Network.
Ensure healthy eating in low-income families.
The farm bill has funded the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which will reach more than 4 million low-income elementary students nationwide this year. SCFBA urges the House Agriculture Committee to maintain the intent of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program while clarifying all forms of fruits and vegetables are permissible only when there are hardships preventing access to fresh.
In addition, the SCFBA supports continued funding for the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), focused on retailers that operate year-round and have more accessible hours to maximize the opportunity for healthy food purchases. The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) grant program focuses on SNAP families who spend 80 percent of their benefits with participating retailers. The SCFBA believes this program should only include fruits and vegetables. SCFBA supports the House Agriculture Committees efforts to increase FINI funding levels.
Continue strong funding of Specialty Crop Block Grants.
One of the key aspects of the last two farm bills was the extension of the Specialty Crop Block Grant program through fiscal year 2018. The program is a much-needed effort to help specialty crop producer’s balance the challenges and uncertainties of agriculture production with improvements to their products and the access consumers have to those products.
Increase access to foreign markets.
Specialty crop growers face significant obstacles in the development of export markets and unique challenges because of the perishable nature of their products. The Market Access Program (MAP) assists producers in their efforts to create, expand and maintain access to foreign markets. The Alliance strongly supports continuing key programs that address sanitary, phytosanitary and marketing barriers to the export of U.S. specialty crops. SCFBA encourages the House Agriculture Committee to increase funding for the MAP program in the next Farm Bill.