Rep. Jean Schmidt, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture, held a hearing to continue receiving input on agricultural programs in preparation for writing the 2012 Farm Bill. This hearing focused on specialty crop and nutrition programs.

The first panel of witnesses included growers and representatives of the specialty crop community to discuss the programs under Title X of the 2008 Farm Bill. They include the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Pest and Disease Prevention, the National Clean Plant Network and others. Specifically, they explained how programs are working to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops from research to marketing and promotion, as well as how they are working to address plant threats such as disease, pests, and pathogens.

(For more, see: Produce farmers want seat at farm bill table)

The second panel of witnesses discussed the various nutrition programs under the Subcommittee's jurisdiction. The nutrition title accounts for nearly 80 percent of the entire farm bill spending. The primary nutrition assistance program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assurance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. SNAP helps supplement the food budget of low-income households and is designed in such a way that it expands to help those households during economic downturns and contracts as the economy improves.

Participation in SNAP has risen by nearly 77 percent - from 26 million in 2007 to more than 46 million individuals currently. The U.S. spent $33 billion on SNAP in fiscal year 2007 and spending has more than doubled to nearly $76 billion in fiscal year 2011. Other nutrition programs within the Subcommittee's jurisdiction that the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers are the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).

"With soaring deficits and an unfathomable national debt, we must be mindful of this grave fiscal situation.  In order for us to reauthorize and craft responsible farm programs, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that every dollar spent is a wise dollar spent.   Investing wisely in specialty crops and ensuring that nutrition programs are being administered effectively is critical at this time," said Chairman Jean Schmidt (R-OH).

Written testimony provided by the witnesses is linked below.

Witness List:

Panel I

Mr. Jerry Lee, Environmental Services Manager, Monrovia Growers, Cairo, Georgia

Mr. Michael Jarrard, President and COO, Mann Packing Company, Salinas, California

Mrs. Lisa Schacht, Owner/Operator, Schacht Family Farm and Market, Canal Winchester, Ohio; on behalf of Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association

Mr. Russell Libby, Executive Director, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Unity, Maine

Mr. Dan Richey, President and CEO, Riverfront Packing Company, Vero Beach, Florida; on behalf of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association

Panel II

Mr. Rodney Bivens, Founder and Executive Director, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Dr. Ron Haskins, Senior Fellow Economic Studies Program, the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

Ms. Stacy Dean, Vice President for Food Assistance Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington, D.C.

Mr. Phil Blalock, Executive Director, National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, Alexandria, Virginia