United Fresh: farm bill victory for specialty crops
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign off today on the Agriculture Act of 2014, the long-awaited farm bill stalled in two years of legislative debate. We caught up with United Fresh's senior vice president of public policy, Robert Guenther, to discuss what this law will mean for specialty crops in years to come.
Although every bill of such extent comes with its compromises and disappointments, Guenther said the fresh fruit and vegetable sector is enthusiastic for and supportive of the final package.
"An interesting aspect was that most of our major programs were, in terms of resources allocated to them in the farm bill, either increased or remained the same," Guenther told www.freshfruitportal.com.
"The programs we are focusing on in the farm bill are very diverse. Everybody can take advantage of these programs. There is research, trade, infrastructure investment, nutrition programs. It’s not like we’re advocating what the apple industry wants or the citrus industry wants.
"All of these programs for block grants, research, trade, help across a broad spectrum of specialty crops grown in the U.S. We have been very conscious of that and very focused on making sure the programs we advocate for in the farm bill help a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and specialty crops grown in this country."
Despite overall spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Guenther said fresh fruit and vegetable programs should benefit from greater public reach.
"When you look at some of the nutrition programs and increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables in federal nutrition programs in schools, even through food stamp SNAP recipients, I think there are a lot of opportunities over the next five years to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables," he said.
Overall, the bill cut US$8 billion over 10 years from the SNAP program. The budget does include modest allocations, however, for community food programs, and pilot projects for processed fruits and vegetables.
Regarding research, Guenther emphasized greater funding for local and state programs, as well as for specialty crop block grants.
"State and local issues are going to see an increase in terms of revenue allocated to those programs to expand the depths and opportunities for state and local specialty crop stakeholders to develop more innovative and new types of grant proposals that will help them enhance their competitiveness at the domestic and global level," he said.
For trade, Guenther said the bill assists with market access programs and technical assistance for specialty crops.
With the farm bill now through Congress, Guenther said United Fresh will refocus its legislative efforts on immigration reform and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
"Immigration reform is going to be our top congressional priority for the remainder of this year," he said.
"We would like to see reform in the current immigration system because it just does not work in terms of providing an adequate, legal and stable work force for those folks who are growing the fruits and vegetables in this country. We are interested in how we can reform the agricultural guest worker program to ensure an adequate labor workforce this country."
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