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Senators back specialty crops


Bipartisan letter urges enhanced farm bill provisions



By SEAN ELLIS



Capital Press



Idaho's nursery industry is joining industry leaders in applauding a letter signed by 32 U.S. senators that calls for the new farm bill to build on specialty crop provisions contained in the 2008 Farm Bill.



In an April 2 letter sent to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, the senators said the programs established in the 2008 Farm Bill significantly benefited consumers, producers and farm communities.



Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association Administrator Ann Bates said she likes the tone of the letter.



In Idaho, specialty crop grants funded through a farm bill program have helped the state's nursery industry survive during a slow period, she said.



Specialty crop grants have enabled the industry to launch a "Plant Something" consumer awareness campaign and fund a map of all wholesale nurseries in Idaho that was sent to landscape contractors and retailers in several states.



"These specialty crop grants have helped our industry tremendously," Bates said. "There is no way we ever could have done (those things) with our limited association funds."



"We're one of the ... ag crops that doesn't get any subsidies. Anything that helps us to be competitive as an industry is good," said Seneca Hull, manager of Franz Witte Nursery in Boise.



The letter complements a comprehensive package of policy and program proposals submitted by the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance to the House and Senate agriculture committees.



Because of current budget constraints, SCFBA did not recommend any new programs. However, the group did recommend refining and enhancing some existing specialty crop programs established in the 2008 Farm Bill.



The senators' letter was welcomed by SCFBA co-chair John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council.



"We need sustained programs that put more fruits and vegetables on Americans' plates, enhance our industry's efforts to fight invasive pests and diseases, and help us to market our crops domestically and globally," he stated in a news release.



Specialty crops, which include the fruit, vegetable, tree nut, nursery and floriculture sectors of the agricultural economy, represent almost half of total farmgate crop value in the United States.



Specialty crop investments in the 2008 Farm Bill include research, invasive pest and disease mitigation, foreign market development, nutrition and state-level grant funding for local initiatives.



Among those to sign the letter were: Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both D-Calif.; Michael Crapo and Jim Risch, both R-Idaho; Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both D-Ore.; and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash.



The specialty crop industry is urging Congress to pass the 2012 Farm Bill before the current law expires in September. If the current farm bill is temporarily extended, several important specialty crop programs will lose funding.



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