Making Room for Specialty Crop Innovation in the Next Farm Bill

News Article -

By: Dr. Barbara P. Glenn, Chief Executive Officer

Specialty Crops. This is a term the average consumer likely does not use or recognize despite (hopefully) consuming them in their daily diet. Congress defines specialty crops as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” Congress created the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) in 2006 to provide locally-driven innovation for specialty crop research, marketing, consumer and producer education tools, and more. NASDA Members have partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service to distribute over $537 million in competitive grants to local commodity groups, colleges and universities, municipalities, tribal organizations, and non-profits. The end game of these grants is to increase the competitiveness of specialty crops – this means supporting farmers while making Americans healthier!

What does a SCBGP grant look like at the state-level? Here’s just two of many examples:

61st Street Farmers Market,
Chicago, Illinois

The 61st Street Farmers Market, a program of Experimental Station, increases access to locally grown fresh and nutritious foods in Chicago’s underserved Woodlawn neighborhood. Since its inception in 2008, the 61st Street Farmers Market has been the neighborhood’s source of fresh and healthy foods and food education. The project rebuilt knowledge of the many benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables, supported local specialty crop producers, and increased economic vibrancy in the community.

The $15,800 SCBG project fully integrated low-income apartment residents into the management and use of their neighboring hoop house and expanded outreach to SNAP customers. The grant also provided at-Market, in school, after-school and summer educational programming aimed at teaching low-income children and adults how to grow, prepare and enjoy specialty crops.

Agricultural Water Quality and Testing: Connecting Produce Growers with Ohio Water Testing Laboratories
Ohio State University

The Ohio State University Fruit and Vegetable Safety Team developed an educational workshop on Agricultural Water Quality and Testing. The workshop provided Ohio fruit and vegetable growers information on the requirements under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule for microbial water quality and proper water sampling techniques.

The Agricultural Water Quality and Testing workshop trained 350 fresh produce growers on three water quality modules. This education, which was previously unavailable to producers, will result in an increase in the grower’s self-efficacy to meet FSMA requirements required under federal law.

The SCBGP is tax-payer funded. It’s critically important to be good stewards to the tax-payer dollar for all federal programs, and know how effectively that dollar is being spent. There are growing concerns that the flexibility the program was built on is eroding due to increased and unnecessary bureaucracy. As we turn to the next Farm Bill, NASDA is working to make sure this important program maintains its flexibly so it works for the specialty crop industries of every state.

While overall spending was reduced by $16.5 billion in the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress saw the importance of the SCBGP and increased funding by $270 million over 10-years. The budget situation is even tougher for the 2018 Farm Bill. But NASDA encourages Congress to enhance investments in this vital program. More funding means a more competitive specialty crop industry in our rapidly expanding health-focused consumer base.

The SCBGP represents a very modest investment of resources in the Farm Bill, but yields tremendous gains for a more competitive specialty crop industry and healthier communities.

This is part of an eight-week series. Please be sure to follow us next week as we take a look at opportunities to further advance locally-driven invasive species programs in the next Farm Bill.