(July 31) The apparent failure of the Doha Round of World Trade Organizations talks — negotiations were suspended indefinitely July 24 — has prompted the American Farm Bureau Federation to advocate a one-year extension of the farm bill.

The 2002 farm bill will expire next year. Agriculture committees in the House and Senate, along with the Bush administration, have played host to listening sessions throughout the country, gathering input about the direction of U.S. farm policy in the 2007 farm bill.

Importantly for the produce industry, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has consistently said in public and private that he sees and understands the need for farm policy reform. When the producers of five or six commodities receive virtually all of federal farm aid, balance must be added to the system.

There will be challenges in creating equity in the next farm bill. Program crop producers won’t easily concede any of their subsidies to fruit and vegetable priorities like block grants and expansion of the fruit and vegetable snack program.

An ambitious WTO trade agreement would have helped build momentum toward cuts in program crop subsidies and reform of U.S. farm policy. Now, though, it appears U.S. program crop interests will be as entrenched as ever in trying to maintain current levels of benefits.

Another danger is that program crop interests will attempt to preserve their subsidies by cutting the planting prohibition from farm bill policy. The provision, designed to prevent unfair competition between program crop producers and fruit and vegetable growers, has been cited by the WTO as proof of market distortion in U.S. farm policy.

Preserving the planting prohibition may be impossible, but the industry must extract meaningful reform and hundreds of millions of dollars from U.S. policymakers in return.

More than ever, the fruit and vegetable industry must insist to Congress and the administration that federal assistance to farmers shouldn’t exclude those who produce specialty crops.