Specialty crops deserve fair share



For the Capital Press

A strong U.S. agriculture industry depends in part on a robust array of crops grown by America's farmers, as well as diversity in production styles. Also important is the farm bill, which helps farmers and ranchers deal with risks that threaten their ability to produce the food, fiber and fuel we all need.

Congress' recent focus on "specialty crops" -- fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, floriculture and horticulture and nursery crops -- in the next farm bill is welcome news for many farmers.

The value of specialty crop production in the U.S. is significant, accounting for approximately 17 percent of the $391 billion in agriculture cash receipts collected in 2012.

Starting with the farm bill enacted in 2008, programs for specialty crop farmers included outreach and training on Good Agriculture Practices aimed at improving food safety, traceability and productivity; initiatives for pest and plant disease control; and improving direct-to-consumer retail opportunities. Programs that help bring fruits and vegetables produced within a state to local schools also are part of the farm bill. Another popular part of the bill is the Farmers' Market Promotion Program.

Starting with the next farm bill, Farm Bureau has proposed the establishment of a new program -- Stacked Income Protection Plan, or STAX for short -- for apples, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes and sweet corn. STAX would also cover the so-called program crops grown by farmers, including field corn for livestock, soybeans, wheat and rice.

An insurance product, STAX was designed to provide a fiscally responsible and effective safety net for farmers. Under our proposal, it would be administered by the Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency much like the current crop insurance program. It would complement existing crop insurance programs and does not change any features of existing insurance policies.

The five specialty crops Farm Bureau selected for STAX coverage each rank in the top 13 in value of production for the country; represent at least 2 percent of the nation's value of production; and are grown in at least 13 states. In addition, insurance is currently available for each of the crops. If STAX is used to cover these five specialty crops, fruit and vegetable farmers in 44 states will benefit.

STAX and the Farmers' Market Promotion Program are just two examples of how the AFBF farm bill proposal would represent an investment in the farmers who grow the fruit and vegetable crops that Americans desire. There are numerous other priorities related to fruit and vegetable production that Farm Bureau would like to see implemented.

But in order for farmers and ranchers -- our nation's food producers -- to have the certainty they need for farm financing and planning, Congress must take action now and enact a new farm bill before the current one expires in September.

Barry Bushue is the owner of a family nursery, berry and flowering basket farm in Oregon and serves as president of the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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