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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Specialty Crops: Selected Federal Programs

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

U.S. farmers grow more than 350 types of fruit, vegetable, tree nut, flower, nursery, and other horticultural crops in addition to the major bulk commodity crops. Specialty crop producers are ineligible for the federal commodity price and income support programs that benefit commodity crop producers (e.g., grains and cotton); however, they are eligible for other types of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) support. Unlike federal support for commodity crops, support for specialty crops spans a wide range of existing USDA programs, many of which also provide support to other agricultural commodities. These include marketing and promotion programs, crop insurance and disaster assistance, plant pest and disease protections, trade assistance, and research and extension services, among other types of miscellaneous support. The industry also benefits from fruit and vegetable purchases under various domestic nutrition assistance programs. Despite this wide range of program support, overall program spending on all specialty crops remains a small fraction of that spent on all commodity crops, even when considering both mandatory and discretionary funding.

Some of the programs supporting specialty crops are longstanding farm support programs that benefit all agricultural producers and are regularly contained within omnibus farm legislation. However, several programs addressing specialty crops specifically were established following the enactment of the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-465), which was enacted outside a farm bill year. Many of the programs in the 2004 act were further expanded and reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill (Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, P.L. 110-246). Other programs were established in the 2002 farm bill (Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, P.L. 107-171), often as pilot initiatives that have since become established programs. Other laws, such as the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930 (PACA) and the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, were enacted long ago to exclusively serve the produce industry to protect sellers in the marketplace.

Other federal agencies also play important roles in the specialty crop industry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) is responsible for assuring that fresh, frozen, canned, and imported fruits, vegetables, and nuts are safe for human consumption. Recently enacted food safety reforms (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, FSMA) placed additional regulatory requirements on certain specialty crop growers and processors to comply with safety requirements for foods that are regulated by FDA, which includes specialty crops. Under FSMA, FDA is developing mandatory food safety regulations and traceability requirements affecting farmers, packers, and processors of both domestically produced and imported foods under FDA’s jurisdiction. At the farm production level, these requirements will mostly affect produce growers.

Among other agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency sets the safe limits for pesticide residues on produce, which FDA enforces. The Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission are responsible for investigating instances of suspected “dumping” of foreign goods on the U.S. market and levying antidumping taxes. The Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State jointly administer a system for temporarily admitting foreign workers to provide seasonal labor, provided that U.S. workers are not available.

Date of Report: October 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 52
Order Number: R42771
Price: $29.95

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