(May 4) House agriculture leaders approved $15.6 million for specialty crop block grants in the 2007 agriculture appropriations bill, which would expand fruit and vegetable programs in schools.

The decision, approved May 3 by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, more than doubles the $7 million secured for the program in 2006. Congress enacted the Specialty Crop Block Grant program in 2004, through the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act. Funding for the program continues to trail Congress’ authorized amounts.

Tom Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, commended subcommittee leadership, including Sam Farr, D-Calif., Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

“Despite a tight federal budget, the subcommittee members provided funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grants because they recognize the critical importance of moving forward to implement the historic Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act,” Nassif said in a statement.

The $15.6 million, among other things, would expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school fruit and vegetable snack program.

In the Senate, Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced in late March a specialty crop block grant bill authorizing $200 million in annual grants to states.