Agricultural subsidies are a touchy subject these days, especially in international politics.

But there’s a domestic issue that the produce industry must keep its eye on.

With the 2002 farm bill, soybeans become part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commodity subsidy program, meaning the acres can be declared as base acres, making them unavailable for vegetable crop rotation.

Upper Midwest food processors and growers are pushing for an exemption that would allow fresh produce to be planted on those subsidized acres.

The Western Growers Association and other produce groups, needless to say, want to keep that from happening. Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Newport Beach, Calif.-based WGA, chalks the issue up to fairness. “Why should we compete with somebody getting subsidies?”

If the subsidy program limits the options of vegetable processors, it is up to them to make it economically viable for producers to decline enrolling in the farm program, a point supported by Ron Gaskill, director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. That puts the marketplace in charge of farming decisions, not federal subsidy programs.

In international trade negotiations, the U.S. pushes other countries to limit agricultural subsidies to forms that don’t distort markets. The U.S. needs to practice what it preaches.