Congress is moving ahead expeditiously with consideration of omnibus legislation to replace the expiring Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171, the 2002 farm bill). Farm bill policies governing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs on marketing, crop insurance and disaster assistance, protection against pests and diseases, export promotion, and domestic food assistance, among others, are important to the competitiveness of the specialty crop sector of U.S. agriculture. This sector includes fruit, vegetable, tree nut, and nursery crop producers, processors, manufacturers, wholesalers, importers, and exporters.
Several legislative proposals containing comprehensive policy initiatives intended to benefit the specialty crop sector have been introduced as “marker” bills in the months leading up to House and Senate committee consideration of the 2007 farm bill. In general, these bills would make USDA’s conservation, trade, pest and disease protection, disaster assistance, and research programs more attuned to the unique characteristics of the specialty crop industry. Additionally, many of the bills would substantially increas the amount of fruits and vegetables that USDA purchases for distribution through the school lunch program and a number of other nutrition programs that reach low-income, nutritionally vulnerable segments of the U.S. population.