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Specialty crops targeted in emerging Farm Bill

Representatives of specialty crops in Michigan have voiced support for the efforts of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, to push through a farm bill that has come out of her Senate committee.

Stabenow visited May Farms near Sparta, Mich., on May 28 for a press conference to urge passage of the 2013 Farm Bill.

The chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, pushed the bill that was approved by the Senate last year. The full House of Representatives never voted on its own measure.

Stabenow said the current bill, which is expected to be taken up by the full Senate next week, includes special provisions for specialty crops like cherries, asparagus and apples, which Michigan produces in large quantities.

The House Committee on Agriculture recently approved H.R. 147, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013. Stabenow said she anticipates the House leadership would address the proposal in June.

“I think there is enough of a bipartisan group in the House who understand that this is a jobs bill,” Stabenow said. “Sixteen million people in the country work because of agriculture – one out of four in Michigan – and we need to get it done.”

Stabenow said the challenge in pushing forward the five-year farm bill has rested on “the folks that are to the most extreme right.” She said representatives labeled as Tea Party Republicans don’t want to see any sort of farm bill.

She also said some representatives on the far left think there were too many cuts to food programs in the House bill.
Stabenow, who stressed that the farm bill is essential to stabilize the food supply and prices while allowing farmers to make long-term investments, was joined at the press conference by representatives of the apple and asparagus industries, along with conservation groups.

“(A) portion of the farm bill acknowledges the significant contribution that specialty crop farmers make to the U.S. economy, as well as the health benefits derived from eating fruits and vegetables, including asparagus,” said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.

Julia Rothwell, chairwoman of the Michigan Apple Committee, said passage of the farm bill would provide the state’s 900 family owned apple orchards with the assurances they need to make long-term investments.

The Senate committee’s proposal would reduce spending by $24 billion by replacing direct assistance to farmers with crop insurance programs that provide support for specialty crops such as apples, asparagus and cherries.

Stabenow said that for the first time, the commodity title and conservation title funding emerging from the bill would be nearly identical. Farmers signing up for crop insurance would be required to agree to best practices for conservation.

The Senate bill provides for a $400 million cut from the nearly $80 billion spent annually on food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Stabenow also pointed to beefed-up funding proposals for agricultural research efforts, including the proposed establishment of a foundation that would include an ongoing investment mechanism for public and private funding sources.

The current farm bill expires in September.

– Gary Pullano

Originally posted Wednesday, May. 29, 2013

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