Sep 27, 2010
10:00 AMThe Wind Machine
On the Block
Congress, in 2008, expanded the traditional scope of its multi-year Farm Bill to include a number of initiatives to help producers of fruits, vegetables, and other “minor” crops. Among these initiatives is the specialty crop block grant program. While the broad scope of this program is supervised by USDA, its detailed administration is by state departments of agriculture—the aim being to push project decision-making away from Washington, D.C., and closer to the field.
Last Thursday USDA announced its Fiscal Year 2010 awards based on recommendations made by the states. (In general, funding for each state is made on an allocation formula based on the value of specialty crop production within that state.) Nationally about $55 million has been set aside to fund 827 projects. Of this, Idaho will receive about $1 million, Oregon about $1.7, and Washington about $3.7. Included within these Pacific Northwest amounts are a number of strong projects that will be of benefit to the commercial tree fruit industry.
Nationwide, these projects include ones related to organic farming, sustainable agriculture, local marketing, nutrition, food safety, economic surveys, pest control, research, and export promotion. (A list of all funded projects is located at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service/ Fruit and Vegetable Programs’ Web site.) Some of these projects seem quite worthwhile, others appear to be of dubious value. Many look to be of short-term benefit or to be very crop-specific. One example: a marketing campaign for Vermont wine.
Members of our tree fruit industry should take a close look at this information and reflect. Is this new federal specialty crop block grant program, on balance, worth fighting to keep?
Given current economic realities, the 112th Congress will be focused on cutting discretionary expenditures, regardless of the outcome of the elections on November 2. I will guarantee you Congress, when it sets out next year to draft a new Farm Bill, will find itself with less money to spend.
Hard choices will be made in the years ahead related to all federal spending, including that for agriculture. Where does $55 million a year for specialty crop block grants rank on our own priority list?