Jean-Mari Peltier, president of the National Grape and Wine Initiative

Jean-Mari Peltier, president of the National Grape and Wine Initiative

Congress’s failure of taking action on a new 2012 Farm Bill before adjournment on September 21 means no more mandatory research funding for specialty crop growers, leaving grape, tree fruit, and other commodities out in the cold, says Jean-Mari Peltier of the National Grape and Wine Initiative.

“Because of a technical issue in the way the 2008 Farm Bill was written, authorization for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative ends October 1,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Good Fruit Grower. “Not only must Congress act, but it must pass the new 2012 Farm Bill rather than merely opt to extend the 2008 measure as a stopgap approach. Failure to act would be a travesty for specialty crop agriculture.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner reportedly announced today that there would be no movement on new farm bill legislation until after the 2012 elections. Congress will reconvene on November 13, but few believe much will be accomplished in the lame duck session.

Peltier, president of a national coalition of grape industry producers and organizations, based in Sacramento, California, points out that specialty crops now comprise more than half of the total value of U.S. agricultural production. More importantly, since the Specialty Crop Research Initiative was included in the 2008 Farm Bill, she says it has resulted in game-changing innovations, not just in California, but in such diverse states as New York, Washington, Virginia, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Grapes are the nation’s largest of all specialty crops, generating $162 billion in annual revenue, she said. Additionally,  a University of California economic study recently pegged a 32-to-1 return on investment for every dollar spent on agriculture research. A variety of grape and tree fruit research projects have been funded through the SCRI, from research dealing with drought and salinity to automating orchard tasks. Specialty crop research has also helped farmers fight an outbreak of new invasive pests like the spotted wing drosophila fruit fly and brown marmorated stinkbug.

Hundreds of agricultural industry allies attended a rally in Washington, D.C., in mid-September  to urge Congress to pass a new farm bill before the current law expires at the end of this month. The event, organized by the Farm Bill Now Coalition, featured remarks from Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, who is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“The clock is ticking on the 2008 farm bill that will expire on September 30,” Peltier said, adding that growers must act now and make their needs known to Congress in hopes that a new farm bill will be approved before the end of the year.