(Nov. 27) Last year, the government pumped the maximum amount of funds into the Market Access Program, giving the produce industry a great opportunity to build export markets.

Produce exporters took advantage of 50% more MAP funds in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 than the year before.

Now, as Congress trudges through its lame-duck session, the next agriculture budget will be hammered out, and the industry should do all it can to ensure it gets all it can from the MAP program.

A start would be to implore every congressman and congresswoman to keep MAP funding at no less than the $200 million maximum authorized under the 2002 farm bill.

The produce industry must appreciate how good the MAP program was to it in the past year.

For fiscal 2006, produce-related export groups netted more than $68 million, or about 50% more than the $45 million in fiscal 2005, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Nov. 15.

The industry could use the help. As Johanns noted, agricultural exports for fiscal 2007 are pegged at $72 billion, up from $68 billion in fiscal 2006 and $62.5 billion the year before.

For fresh fruit, vegetable and nut exporters to make the most of emerging markets in other nations, MAP funding must stay at its maximum funding.