IRVINE, Calif. – President Bush has signed the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act, landmark legislation revolutionizing federal funding policy for the nation’s specialty crop industry.

The SCCA authorizes $54 million annually for five years to enhance the competitiveness, both domestically and internationally, of each state’s fresh produce crops, mostly through block grants to the state departments of agriculture.

"The signing of this bill is a significant victory for growers and consumers alike," said Western Growers President Tom Nassif. "As a model for federal agricultural funding, none of the millions of dollars earmarked for the produce industry will come in the form of direct subsidies. Instead, the funding will be an investment in the produce industry to enhance exports through technical assistance, specialized research programs, conservation, education, promotion, improved food inspection facilities and similar initiatives. It marks the nation’s first major federal funding program for the fresh produce industry."

Western Growers, its members, and other industry partners, worked for nearly three years to win congressional approval for the legislation. The co-authors of the bill are Reps. Doug Ose and Cal Dooley, both of California. The SCCA passed the House of Representatives in October 2004, and the U.S. Senate in December. The bill was cosponsored by 122 members of Congress representing farmers across the nation who grow more than 250 fresh produce crops ranging from lettuce in California to melons in Arizona to blueberries in Maine.

Food assurances

"This law will ensure a reliable and safe food supply and is an important boost for the nation’s health and nutrition," Nassif continued. "It will go a long way toward promoting the increased consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts and will help raise awareness of the critical role fresh produce plays in our lives. We look forward to the implementation of this historic and very positive legislation."

Some of the features of the act include: the quantification of the clean air benefits of specialty crops; the enhancement of fresh produce quality; new crop protection tools and pest management systems; and research on the impact of foreign pest and disease invasions and effective solutions. In addition, technical assistance for specialty crops to help enhance exports will be increased and plant inspection programs also will be bolstered.

Western Growers and its 3,000 members played a significant role in the passage of the legislation, as did a broad alliance of organizations representing specialty crops throughout the nation.

"We could not have achieved this historic victory without the cooperation of a powerful alliance of organizations representing fresh produce," said Nassif. "This is a tribute to the strength of that alliance as much as it is a landmark piece of legislation. We thank our members, our partners, our co-sponsors in Congress and all those who contributed to this effort."