(Oct. 3) The produce industry’s leading advocates in the U.S. House of Representatives served notice Sept. 27 they expect much more for specialty crop growers in the next farm bill.

How much more the industry will get is an open question, but the Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America Act positions the fresh produce industry for a prominent role in the 2007 farm bill, advocates said in late September.

The culmination of 18 months of work by the 75-member Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, the bill was introduced Sept. 27 in the House of Representatives by original co-sponsors Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif.; Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.; Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.; and Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla.

The 71-page bill, named informally as the EAT Healthy America Act, has more than 50 co-sponsors from 18 states, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

The cost of the legislation has not been tabulated by the Congress, but the industry has clearly aimed high.

While the fruit and vegetable snack program has been funded at $9 million in annual permanent funding, the legislation asks for $300 million. While specialty crop block grants have been funded at $7 million in fiscal 2006, the EAT Healthy America Act calls for $500 million in investments.

United Fresh officials said they had no official estimate of the cost of the legislation, though one ABC News report put the cost of the legislation at more than $3 billion.

The bill states that specialty crop production accounts for more than $50 billion and more than 45% of farm gate receipts. It argues for greater federal investment to insure producers’ long term competitiveness.

“Without appropriate and adequate assistance, U.S. specialty crop production may relocate to less restrictive foreign growing areas,” the bill states.

Advocates praised the sponsors of the bill.

Mike Stuart, president of the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, praised the “the visionary step” by the authors of the legislation. In a Sept. 27 news release, he said their work will assist industry efforts to meet the needs of the specialty crop industry in the next farm bill.

Guenther said there may be some elements added to the legislation in the next few months.

The House bill is expected to be re-introduced in the next session of Congress, and an updated specialty crops bill in the Senate is expected to be introduced by Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Throwing their support behind the Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America Act are Reps. Adam Putnam, R-Fla. (from left); Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.; Richard Pombo, R-Calif.; John Salazar, D-Colo.; and Henry Brown, R-S.C.