May 11, 2012
Tuesday, May 8th, the House Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture held its fourth of eight hearings in preparation for a 2012 Farm Bill. The hearing consisted of two panels, the first of which discussed specialty crop programs and the second, nutrition assistance.
Rep. Pingree and Russell Libby
Chairwoman Jean Schmidt (R-OH) opened the hearing by stating, “In order for us to reauthorize and craft responsible farm programs, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that every dollar spent is a wise dollar spent. Investing wisely in specialty crops and ensuring that nutrition programs are being administered effectively is critical at this time.”
Schmidt highlighted the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) because it has no baseline funding going forward. She cited SCRI as a “critical element” of specialty crops, and one that promotes health– “A diet with more specialty crops is more nutritious.”
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) echoed the interrelated nature of nutrition and specialty crops as both “important links in ensuring that all families have the option of putting fresh and good food on their tables.” According to Pingree, thinking about how to link nutrition programs to farmers involves expanding local markets.
“When farmers sell to local markets, they get to keep a bigger share of the dollar. It’s a win for farmers and it’s a win for our families,” said Pingree.
The first panel included five witnesses involved in production and packing of specialty crops. As a whole, members of the panel stressed the importance of both SCRI and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBPG) which fund food safety, education, research, and marketing efforts that advance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Several witnesses, asked for changes or more funding for the program. Jerry Lee, the Environmental Services Manager of Monrovia Growers, suggested the Committee “support your Senate counterparts’ efforts to expand funding for this program and allow the opportunity for multi-state proposals.”
Russell Libby, the Executive Director of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, was the only one of the first panelists to discuss organic specialty crops. Libby also referenced the Senate farm bill, asking the House to consider funding the National Organic Certification Cost Share at the level included in the Senate bill. He warned that without the program “farmers here at home will opt not to certify, and organic companies will have to source from overseas instead of from American farmers to meet strong consumer demand.”
Libby also asked to expand organic production through a more efficient National Organic Program, through streamlined inclusion in programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, and through the development of a workable organic crop insurance program.
During the question and answer portion of the hearing, Rep. Pingree inquired about potential barriers to farmers, especially those concerning beginning and organic farmers and farmers selling into local markets. Generally panelists agreed that farmers needed access to capital to aggregate product and scale up supply networks.
During his round of questioning, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) pointed out that cutting nutrition assistance programs also meant cutting benefits for farmers. Phil Blalock, the Executive Director of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, made a similar point in the second panel. He discussed the role the Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program play in supporting agriculture, explaining that these programs “increase income to small family farmers by increasing use and awareness of farmers markets.”