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Schafer: Specialty crops, conservation major pillars in 2007 farm bill

It's almost a done deal for specialty crop growers; get ready to toast with the orange juice.

At press time, the Bush administration and Congress were poised to finalize a new farm bill with proposed specialty crop funding to increase the consumption, promotion, and research for fruit, vegetables, and nuts.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer wants to ensure a final bill placed on the president's desk for signature contains pro-specialty crop language and the dollars to support it.

“The president supports specialty crops (provisions) and the president also has initiated specialty crop support, research, and increased nutritional efforts,” Schafer told Western Farm Press in late March in Phoenix, Ariz.

Nutritional gains can be achieved through expanding and improving school lunch programs, promoting USDA's food pyramid, and fighting obesity through a healthier diet, Schafer noted.

“One way to accomplish that is to support specialty crop producers, support USDA research on specialty crops, continue to market specialty crops, and include them in America's diet,” Schafer said.

Speaking at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Phoenix, Schafer said the conservation of natural resources will be a key component of the 2007 law. The USDA's farm bill proposal includes $7.8 billion in new conservation spending — the largest budget increase in the farm bill, the secretary said.

Schafer lauded the successes of the USDA-Farm Service Agency's conservation programs. He gave kudos to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Forest Service — calling the 193 million acres under Forest Service management “one of our nation's greatest treasures.”

In March, Congress passed a 33-day extension of the current 2002 farm law setting the new expiration date of April 18. Schafer made it clear that the administration wants a new law on the books — not another extension.

“Producers need a firm idea of what farm policy is going to be to make planting and financial decisions and commitments,” Schafer said.

“The continued uncertainty isn't helping anyone. Leaving the old bill on the table under an extension or two is not good policy for this country.”

Schafer said the USDA's goal is delivering a farm bill to Bush that achieves real reforms in farm policy, strengthens the safety net for producers, and keeps the door open to continued growth in trade without imposing new taxes.

“The bill that meets that criteria is one that President Bush will be proud to sign into law this year,” Schafer said.

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