In a letter to the House Committee on Agriculture, Congressman John Garamendi (CA-10), Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-11), Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-23), and 29 of their colleagues in the California Congressional Delegation detailed their top priorities in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill, which Congress is expected to consider later this year .  The 2012 Farm Bill, which sets food and farm policy for the nation, provides multi-year funding for a wide range of agriculture programs.

“As a rancher and a pear farmer, I know the unique challenges that California’s agriculture community faces,” said Garamendi. “The Farm Bill offers the opportunity for California’s farm businesses to overcome these hurdles through advanced research, pest management, and marketing assistance programs. The bill can also connect disadvantaged families, especially children, with the food they need to lead healthy, productive lives. I join my colleagues in urging the Committee to pass a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that helps America’s families and farmers to Make It In America and grow it in America.”

“California produces the best specialty crops that are consumed in this country such as asparagus and almonds.  This year’s Farm Bill must level the playing field and grant more opportunities to the productive farmers from California.  We grow some of the best grapes in the world and as a result, have a robust and thriving wine industry.  Our family farmers stand to play a deciding role in our economic growth and we must do everything we can to help them flourish,” said McNerney.

(For more, see: Specialty crop program gets farm bill attention)

“The 2012 Farm Bill is one of the biggest items on the agenda for Congress this year,” said Capps.  “We know the legislation will have a significant impact on California’s growers and ranchers, and that’s why it was so important for our delegation to express its priorities to the Agriculture Committee.  We want to ensure that our agriculture industry remains a pillar of the U.S. economy.”
 
In the letter, the California lawmakers highlighted the importance of maintaining support for specialty crops, agricultural research, pest detection, nutrition, and conservation – all of which are supported by the California Farm Bureau.  California is the most productive agricultural region in the world, contributing $39 billion per year to California’s economy and supporting over 1 million jobs.  California is ranked number one nationwide in exports for “specialty crops” such as tree nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and the state is ranked number two in dairy production nationwide. Prior to reforms enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill, only large growers who produce commodity crops like corn and wheat were eligible to receive federal support.  

The lawmakers also expressed their strong support for preserving investments in nutrition programs for low income Californians, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Text of letter

The text of the letter is included below.

Dear Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson,

As representatives of California’s urban, suburban, rural and agricultural communities, we write in support of an economically responsible 2012 Farm Bill that maintains and strengthens our state’s economy, public health, and environment while providing stability for our farmers and ranchers.

California is the most productive agricultural region in the world, and therefore has a major stake in the outcome of the 2012 Farm Bill.  California’s annual $39 billion agriculture sector consists of approximately 80,000 farms and ranches, and supports more than 1 million related jobs.  California farmers and ranchers produce more than 400 different agricultural commodities including fruits, vegetables, grains, cotton, tree nuts, horticulture, meats and livestock, and many of the world’s finest wines.  California is also the nation’s leading dairy state, housing 1.75 million cattle that produce milk products worth $5.9 billion.

Despite these numbers, a startling 19 percent of California households reported struggling with food hardship in 2011.  In 2010, nearly 1 in every 4 California children lived in poverty, the majority from families where one or more parents worked full-time.  A lack of access to the affordable, nutritious food grown throughout the state makes our citizens vulnerable to a lifetime of health issues and systemic poverty.

A sound Farm Bill will help California farmers, ranchers and citizens find new ways to remain economically viable, strengthen connections between rural and urban communities and markets, protect crops from pests and diseases, improve water and air quality, enhance opportunities for farmers, and provide healthy food for a growing population.  Additionally, as traditional commodity supports are revamped, the Farm Bill should take into account the unique, high value nature of California’s commodity crops such as rice and cotton, and should strengthen support programs that reward farmers for providing important ecological services.

In recent years, Congress has recognized the importance of California’s agricultural production to the U.S. health and economy, and made significant strides to strengthen programs that are vital to our state.  We respectfully urge you to support the following programs as you write the 2012 Farm Bill:

Specialty Crops

California’s specialty crop industry accounts for about half of all domestic farmgate crop value but has received relatively little funding in Farm Bill programs. The 2008 Farm Bill included new funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, assistance for organic production, local food marketing and promotion, beginning and disadvantaged farmers, and other key programs that help to strengthen this sector.  We request that support for these programs be maintained, and that funding be increased to reflect their effectiveness in creating new jobs, stimulating local economies, improving public health, and increasing access to healthy foods for children, seniors, and low-income citizens.

Research

The next Farm Bill should support a strong research title by preserving mandatory research programs, particularly the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, and ensuring that more research is directed to enhancing the consumption of fruits and vegetables, mixed crop and livestock agriculture, and local and sustainable farming systems. The Farm Bill should also ensure that Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funding is available to a wide array of entities, including non-profit research organizations and schools and universities, such as the University of California and California State University.  These partnerships bring agricultural and natural resource science from the laboratory into the field, and work with industry to enhance agricultural markets, address environmental concerns, protect plant heath, and enhance food safety.

Pest Detection

California is particularly vulnerable to diseases and pests due to its size and numerous points-of-entry.  Strong support for all pest detection programs, including the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service Plant Pest and Disease Program (Sec. 10201), should be maintained and funding should be increased.  These types of programs maintain the highest level of detection and eradication of pests and diseases and can achieve significant cost savings through rapid response and eradication.

Nutrition

With nearly four million participants, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides critical support to low-income Californians.  The economy grows by $1.73 for every $1.00 invested in SNAP.  The 2012 Farm Bill must provide full funding for SNAP, and maintain SNAP’s current structure, eligibility requirements, and benefit levels.  In addition, the Farm Bill should also support the Hunger-Free Communities Program that will provide incentives for SNAP beneficiaries to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.  The next Farm Bill should also provide full funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), the Community Food Projects Grant Program, SNAP education and Nutrition Research, education, and extension programs.

Conservation Programs

Conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), and Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), have been critical to helping farmers, ranchers, and landowners improve agricultural production, while enhancing air and water quality, conserving soil and water resources, and maintaining wildlife habitat and land conservation as compatible goals.  Each year, 66 percent, or more than 4,000 farmers applying for conservation cost-share are turned away due to lack of funding.  Therefore, we ask that any reorganization or consolidation of these programs maintain and improve the availability of resources to all stakeholders and that they be targeted to states like California that face pressing environmental challenges.

We look forward to working with you to pass a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that supports specialty crops, organic, local and regional food systems, agricultural research, pest detection programs, nutrition programs and conservation.  Maintaining these objectives will encourage economic growth, create jobs, benefit consumers, and ensure that California’s agriculture industry remains a pillar of the U.S. economy.