(Feb. 13) Proposing to cut funds for export promotion and add industry user fees, the White House budget for fiscal 2007 held few pleasant surprises for the produce industry.

In many ways, the White House budget mirrored last year’s, in which the administration called for new user fees and reduced funding for export promotion. Those suggestions fell on deaf ears in Congress, and advocates said they would again make their case for industry priorities on Capitol Hill.

The White House document, considered a starting point for congressional consideration of the fiscal 2007 budget (fiscal 2007 starts in October), cuts USDA discretionary outlays from $22.7 billion in 2006 to an estimated $21.5 billion, a decrease of 5%.

Total proposed expenditures are set at $92 billion for fiscal 2007, down about $3 billion from fiscal 2006.

The budget did not detail funding on the fruit and vegetable snack program, noted Keira Franz, director of legislative affairs for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Washington, D.C.

She said United and other industry lobbyists likely would have to push for additional funding beyond the $9 million in mandatory money provided for the snack program by the 2004 child nutrition reauthorization act. That $9 million in permanent funding allows operation of the snack program in eight states and three reservations.

The White House budget also did not fund specialty crop block grants, a provision of the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act of 2004.

For fiscal 2006, Congress appropriated $7 million for block grants to states. Advocates for the block grants, which can be used for research or promotion, said they will try to match or beat that $7 million number for fiscal 2007.

MARKET ACCESS FUNDS

Meanwhile, the White House recommended $100 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service Market Access Program, Franz said.

Marketers of horticultural crops — and also program crops like wheat and cotton — use the program to expand demand in international markets.

The White House’s $100 million figure for MAP is half the $200 million prescribed by the 2002 farm bill. Last year, the White House suggested MAP funding of $125 million, but Congress eventually restored funding to $200 million that the 2002 farm bill calls for in fiscal 2006 and 2007.

Franz said the MAP program has broad support and there will be a fight to reinstate that money.

Franz said the White House budget included $2 million for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops, a program that helps exporters overcome technical barriers in export markets.

MICROBIAL PROGRAM FUNDS GONE

The controversial Microbiological Data Program was zeroed out in the budget, Franz said. United opposes funding for the $6 million program, which tests for pathogens on produce.

Critics, including United and past members of the USDA’s fruit and vegetable industry advisory committee, said the program duplicates efforts by the Food and Drug Administration and has serious research flaws.

NEW FEES>/B>

The White House budget also proposed two new fees for the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The first is a mandatory user fee to recover the full cost of the development of grade standards for commodities it inspects.

The second, according to a White House analysis of the budget, is a proposal to recover the majority of the costs of the agency’s oversight of marketing agreements and order programs.

SUBSIDY LIMITS

Franz said the buzz around the USDA budget will be limits on farm subsidies. Those limits, while a huge issue to rice and cotton growers, don’t affect fruit and vegetable producers. Fresh produce growers don’t receive direct subsidies from the USDA.