Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns yesterday highlighted the array of changes in the administration's farm bill proposals that would benefit specialty crop growers.

In a speech to the Organic Trade Association and the United Fresh Produce Association in Chicago, Johanns called the proposals clear evidence of the administration's commitment to equitable farm policy.

"We listened when producers told us that farm policy should distribute support more equitably," he says. "Specialty crops are now nearly equal in market value to program crops, yet these producers receive no direct cash support.

"Specialty crop producers made it clear they don't want a cash subsidy, but they would like additional support to address market promotion, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, nutrition and targeted research. Our proposals provide that support with nearly $5 billion dollars worth of additional funding targeted toward specialty crop growers."

The proposal includes an additional $2.75 billion in Section 32 funds over 10 years to purchase fruits and vegetables for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

Among the items contained in the specialty crops package are:

Trade Title

  • The Market Access Program has shown to be effective at expanding markets for U.S. agricultural products. While specialty crops are already a significant user of this program, USDA proposes new mandatory funding of $250 million over 10 years to help address the inequity between crops that are directly subsidized and those commodities that are not.
  • The Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program awards grants to applicants for projects that result in market access expansion for specialty crops. USDA proposes enhanced mandatory funds of $68 million that would be phased in through fiscal year 2013. The proposal would also increase the maximum allowable annual project award from $250,000 to $500,000 and allow more flexibility to grant project timeline extensions.
  • Increase support for initiatives that help to address sanitary and phytosanitary issues and other trade restrictions.

Nutrition Title

  • Provide $500 million in new mandatory funding for the purchase of additional fruits and vegetables for use in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.
  • Establish a new five-year $20 million competitive grant program to address the growing problem of obesity among low-income Americans.
  • Support school efforts to offer meals based on the most recent dietary guidelines, including encouraging increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
  • Reauthorize the Emergency Food Assistance Program and provide more fruits and vegetables within the program.

Commodity Programs Title

  • To ensure that direct payments will be considered nontrade distorting green box assistance, the administration proposes that the provision of the 2002 farm bill that limits planting flexibility on base acres to exclude fruits, vegetables and wild rice be eliminated.

Conservation Title

  • Enhance several conservation programs that assist specialty crop producers in managing natural resources. These include: significant increases to the Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Private Lands Protection Program.

Energy Title

  • Initiate a new, temporary program to provide $100 million in direct support to producers of cellulosic ethanol. Eligibility for this program would be restricted to specialty crop wastes and other cellulosic biomass feedstocks.

Research Title

  • Invest $1 billion over 10 years to establish a Specialty Crop Research Initiative to provide science-based tools that address needs of specific crops and regions and which continue advancements in productivity and technology.