While raising industry concerns about crop insurance, research funding and other farm bill priorities, specialty crop growers sounded a common plea for progress in farm labor reform at a field hearing of the House Agriculture Committee in New York.

At the committee’s March 9 field hearing in Saranac Lake, N.Y., several specialty crop growers testified, along with a panel of livestock and dairy producers.

Potato grower Ralph Child, owner of Childstock Farms Inc., Malone, N.Y., testified at the hearing and said members of the committee were interested in the labor question.

“Labor is not a part of the farm bill but a number of us said in our testimony that, you know, drafting a new farm bill is great but none of it means anything if we don’t have some reforms in labor and the H-2A program,” Child said.

He said that one member of he committee asked whether the H-2A program would be better administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Child has used the H-2A program since the 1990s but doesn’t feel the program is administered well. However, Child said he is not optimistic about Congressional progress on farm labor reform.

“There won’t be any political will this year to do anything because it is a big election year,” he said. “There never seems to be the political will to fix it.”

Child said March 12 crop insurance also attracted a fair share of attention at the hearing.

“We certainly don’t want market distortion,” Child said. “Protect the growers, but don’t distort the market.”

Adam Sullivan, with Sullivan Orchards, Peru, N.Y., talked to the committee about the need for effective crop insurance, an adequate labor supply and the benefit of the Market Access Program and other funds for research.

Diane Kurrle, vice president of public affairs with the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said most observers expect the Senate to move first on the farm bill by Memorial Day or perhaps even sooner. She said the House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is said to be working with Senate Agriculture Committee chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to produce a farm bill similar in many respects to the one crafted during the supercommittee process late last year.