Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Chairman K. Michael Conaway Committee on Agriculture Hearing: The Next Farm Bill: Technology & Innovation in Specialty Crops

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Washington, July 12, 2017 | comments
Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning and thank you all for joining us.

Specialty crops play an important role in the success of U.S. agriculture and are an essential component of our national food policy—the farm bill. Diversity among the crops—ranging from fruits and vegetables, to tree nuts, to nursery crops and floriculture—makes the task of developing the specialty crop safety net particularly challenging. Despite those challenges, significant investments, including those made in the 2014 Farm Bill to support the various sectors, have positively impacted our specialty crop producers.

So it baffles me when farm bill detractors question our commitment to specialty crops, implying our country lacks a national food policy because we treat specialty crops differently than traditional commodities.

Over the years, those of us who focus on farm policy have worked closely with producers to develop programs tailored to meet the needs of specialty crop producers. We recognize that the challenges of a citrus producer in California look much different than those of a cotton farmer in West Texas, and we believe our agricultural policies should reflect those differences. So the notion that we don’t invest in specialty crops simply isn’t based in fact. Let me give you a few examples.
• The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program helps enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops by facilitating partnerships between USDA and the state departments of agriculture to provide funding.

• The Plant Pest and Disease Prevention Program provides early plant pest detection and surveillance and funds a system of “clean plant centers” to safely distribute disease-free plant material to producers of nursery stock.

• The Specialty Crop Research Initiative sets aside mandatory funding to ensure specialty crops are not sidelined for research funding.

• The Market Access Program aids the development, expansion and maintenance of foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products. In fact, half of the participating organizations in FY 2017 were focused exclusively on specialty crops.

• The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program aims to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by providing incentives at the point of purchase.

• And, finally, we have made significant strides over the past several years in expanding crop insurance coverage to a variety of specialty crops, including the Whole Farm Revenue Protection policy that was developed with specialty crop producers in mind.

Yes, the United States has long had an interest in ensuring stable production of our staple commodities, which is one of the reasons we continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food supply in the world. But when you pull all of the pieces of the farm bill together, it’s clear we’ve made huge investments to aid specialty crop producers as well.

Looking forward, our goal is to maintain these advancements and address improvements needed in the next farm bill. As we do that, I’m particularly interested in the role that technology plays.

To that end, I’d like to welcome all of our witnesses today. I look forward to hearing from all of you about ways to build upon public-private partnerships and innovation to benefit specialty crop producers.

With that, I yield to the ranking member for any opening remarks he may have.
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