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Thirty-two senators sign letter in support of specialty crop programs in farm bill

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry should not back off a commitment to specialty crop programs as they mark up the farm bill in the coming weeks, according to an April 2 letter signed by 32 U.S. senators and hailed by the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.

Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Patty Murray (D-WA) led the effort to build support for 32 lawmakers to sign the three-page letter sent to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS).

Investments in specialty crop programs in the 2008 farm bill “translated into job creation, trade expansion, infrastructure investment for capacity building, targeted research for new innovations and technology, and increased access for fruits and vegetables in federal nutrition programs,” they said in the letter.

The Senate committee is likely to take the first steps in moving farm bill legislation forward in the coming weeks in a budget climate that got tighter last month when House Republicans backed more ambitious budget cuts. All agricultural programs will be competing for a smaller pot of money.

“As the Senate Agriculture Committee continues its deliberations on the 2012 farm bill, we urge you to continue all current investments and build on them where possible,” the letter said. “Most importantly, specialty crops are a critical and growing component of U.S. agriculture, deserving of full and equal consideration as other agricultural sectors in the farm bill.”

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance is urging Congress to pass a new farm bill before it expires in September and has submitted policy recommendations to House and Senate committees, asking for no new programs but some enhancements for existing programs.

“At a time when Americans are being called on to eat more fruits and vegetables, specialty crop producers need these resources to meet the demands of an increasingly health conscious population,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and co-chairman of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.

If the current farm bill is temporarily extended, several important specialty crop programs, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Clean Plant Network, will lose funding, SCFBA said.