Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has highlighted the array of changes put forward in the Administration's farm bill proposals that would benefit specialty crop growers. In a speech to the Organic Trade Association and the United Fresh Produce Association in Chicago, the Secretary called the proposals clear evidence of the Administration's commitment to equitable farm policy.

“We listened when producers told us farm policy should distribute support more equitably. Specialty crops are now nearly equal in market value to program crops, yet these producers receive no direct cash support,” said Johanns.

“Specialty crop producers made it clear they don't want a cash subsidy, but they would like additional support to address market promotion, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, nutrition, and targeted research. Our proposals provide that support with nearly $5 billion dollars worth of additional funding targeted toward specialty crop growers.”

The proposal includes an additional $2.75 billion in Section 32 funds over 10 years to specifically purchase fruits and vegetables for USDA nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

The following is a list of additional components of the specialty crops package:

Trade Title

The Market Access Program (MAP) has shown to be effective at expanding markets for U.S. agricultural products. While specialty crops are already a significant user of this program, USDA proposes new mandatory funding of $250 million over 10 years to help address the inequity between crops that are directly subsidized and those commodities that are not directly subsidized.

The Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program awards grants to applicants for projects that result in market access expansion for specialty crops.

USDA proposes enhanced mandatory funds of $68 million that would be phased in through FY 2013. The proposal would also increase the maximum allowable annual project award from $250,000 to $500,000 and allow more flexibility to grant TASC project timeline extensions.

Increase support for initiatives that help to address sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues and other trade restrictions including:

  • Create a new grant program investing $20 million to further focus resources on addressing international SPS issues.

  • Establish long-term mandatory funding of $15 million to increase U.S. presence at international standard-setting bodies, such as the Codex Alimentarius, the International Plant Protection Convention, and the World Animal Health Organization.

  • Enhance monitoring, analytical support, and other technical assistance to support U.S. agriculture in bringing forward or responding to significant trade disputes and challenges. U.S. specialty crop exports are sometimes threatened by trademark piracy in international markets and USDA technical assistance could help to address these challenges.

Nutrition Title

Provide $500 million in new mandatory funding for the purchase of additional fruits and vegetables for use in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

Establish a new five-year $20 million competitive grant program address the growing problem of obesity among low-income Americans.

Support school efforts to offer meals based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including the encouragement of the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Reauthorize the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and provide more fruits and vegetables within the program.

Commodity Title

To ensure that direct payments will be considered non-trade distorting green box assistance, the Administration proposes that the provision of the 2002 farm bill that limits planting flexibility on base acres to exclude fruits, vegetables, and wild rice, should be eliminated.

Conservation Title

Enhance several conservation programs that assist specialty crop producers in managing natural resources. These include: significant increases to the Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the Private Lands Protection Program.

Rural Development Title

Prioritize consideration of project applications that involve specialty crops in the Rural Development Value-added Grants awards-process.

Energy Title

Initiate a new, temporary program to provide $100 million in direct support to producers of cellulosic ethanol. Eligibility for this program would be restricted to specialty crop wastes and other cellulosic biomass feedstocks.

Research Title

Invest $1 billion over 10 years to establish a Specialty Crop Research Initiative to provide science-based tools that address needs of specific crops and regions and which continue advancements in productivity and technology.