Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Delegation seeks funding for ?specialty crops?

Farm Bill consideration ongoing in Washington

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho congressional delegation is leading a bipartisan effort to urge those working on the Farm Bill in Washington, D.C., to support specialty crop funding.

The massive Farm Bill, which influences everything from farming to public land management, has been stalemated in the new year, but Capitol Hill negotiations are ongoing.

The stalemate was revealed earlier this month when President George Bush warned he would veto any farm bill that would raise taxes or that does not include reforms on some farm programs. The legislation passed by both the House and Senate was a five-year, $286 billion bill. Administration officials argued the bill lacked reform, spent too much money and raised taxes.

Agriculture Chief Ed Schafer "is going to work with members of both parties on a bill that spends the people's money wisely, doesn't raise taxes, reforms and tightens subsidy payments—a farm bill that will benefit the entire economy," Bush said, according to The Associated Press. "I'm confident we can come together to get a good farm bill, but if Congress sends me legislation that raises taxes or does not make needed reforms, I'm going to veto it."

Idaho is one of the nation's top producers of specialty crops, boasting production of cherries, blueberries, apples, onions, plums, grapes, snap beans, mint, a variety of seed, nursery and ornamental crops, and potatoes.

The delegation's effort originated as a joint letter from Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., in the Senate and Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and John Salazar, D-Colo., in the House. The letter went to the chairmen and ranking members of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and the Committee on Agriculture.

The letter stated, in part:

"Specialty crops represent approximately 50 percent of the U.S. crop cash receipts and are of great significance both to farmers working the land and consumers seeking healthy foods. Therefore, we continue to believe very strongly that the Farm Bill should include mandatory funding for programs that support and enhance this important sector of American agriculture."

The signatories wrote that they were pleased the Senate bill included approximately $2.2 billion in mandatory funding over five years for specialty crops, and the House bill included approximately $1.6 billion over five years.

"We ask for your continued leadership and support of mandatory funding and retaining the highest funding levels for specialty crop programs," they stated.

In total, 57 members of the House joined a third of the Senate in thanking leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees for including specialty crops provisions in both the House- and Senate-passed versions of the Farm Bill.

Specialty crops account for 22 percent of all agriculture cash receipts in Idaho, and that statistic includes animal agriculture.

Of Idaho's $4.4 billion in cash receipts in 2006, $950 million came from specialty crops, said agriculture economist Tom Kurtz, deputy director of the Idaho field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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