The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance commended the dedication shown by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and the Senate Agriculture Committee in advancing “The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012” Thursday in a 16-5 vote, the first key test of support for the legislation. The Committee’s proposed Farm Bill includes many of the critical priorities for specialty crops.

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance worked closely with key policymakers on the Committee and those with significant produce industry interests to secure support for several programs of particular importance to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. The 900-page Farm Bill proposal includes key specialty crop industry priorities such as research, pest and disease mitigation, trade, nutrition, and other programs that enhance the ability of producers to be competitive and meet the needs of American consumers.

(For more, see: Direct payment death as farm bill heads to Senate)

“We are very encouraged by the Agriculture Committee’s commitment to passage of the Farm Bill and to our industry’s priorities,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and co-chair of the Alliance. ”We urge the Senate to keep up the momentum by taking up this bill and passing it quickly.”

John Keeling, National Potato Council Executive VP and CEO, and SCFBA co-chair, welcomed the committee action, saying "We're pleased the Senate Agriculture Committee recognized that continued investments in specialty crops promotes healthier lives and healthier local economies. As Congress continues debate on the 2012 Farm Bill, we encourage our elected leaders to provide specialty crop producers the tools to put more fruits and vegetables on Americans' plates and allow the agricultural economy to keep moving forward. We urge Majority Leader Reid to bring the legislation to the floor of the U.S. Senate for consideration without delay."

The proposals of greatest benefit to the fresh produce industry included in the legislation with a five-year authorization are:

  • Specialty Crop Block Grants funded at $70 million per year
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded at $25 million in FY13; $30 million in FY14-15; $65 million in FY16; $50 million in FY17
  • Plant Pest and Disease Program funded at $60 million in FY13-16 and $65 million in FY17
  • Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
  • Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives
  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
  • Section 32 specialty crop purchases funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels
  • DoD Fresh program fully funded at $50 million per year consistent with 2008 levels

The legislation now goes to the full Senate for debate and votes and then on to the House of Representatives for consideration. The House is expected to take up the bill sometime this summer.