The future of thousands of family farms in California and the Southwest is at risk unless the federal government provides a safety net program for specialty crops, said Michael Wootton, a spokesman for Sunkist Growers, during a Ventura hearing on the 2002 farm bill.

Wootton, Sunkist's vice president of corporate relations, also highlighted the need for fair world trade practices for citrus and additional funding to prevent dangerous and exotic pests from entering the U.S. He spoke before the NFACT forum hosted by California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary William “Bill” J. Lyons Jr.

NFACT is a coalition of the New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, California and Texas departments of agriculture, which formed last year to spotlight specialty crop and livestock issues. The farm law is addressed by Congress every five years to set direction for federal agricultural policy.

Wootton noted that market loss assistance has long been standard U.S. policy for such commodities as corn, wheat, cotton and others.

Specialty crops were addressed for the first time last year when price declines for apples and cranberries prompted dramatic congressional intervention.

“Perhaps it is now time to consider institutionalizing that assistance option for fruit and vegetable farmers, rather than trying to help on an ad hoc basis,” said Wootton. “Such a risk protection program must be available to specialty farmers when market prices fail to cover their cost of production and operation,” he said.