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'Big Four' Governors Strong-arm Farm Bill Writers

Lobbying for specialty crops, conservation and dairy is unprecedented.

As Congressional committees slowly work through 2007 Farm Bill legislation, they've encountered unprecedented and coordinated action by the governors of the nation's most populated states. In recent weeks, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer urged congressional ag leaders to include legislation favoring conservation, specialty crops, risk management and dairy supports.

This week, Spitzer, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, and Texas Governor Rick Perry called on key congressional leaders to act on issues important to the ag economies of the country's four most populous states. Their priority issues included: increased funding for specialty crop programs; protection for invasive species; crop insurance; funding for conservation programs; flexibility in administration of nutrition programs; and support for organic agriculture.

Their letter went to Senate Ag Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson, D, Minn., and Representative Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

"Together we represent a substantial segment of the nation's agricultural economy," said Spitzer. "As our leaders in Washington consider the 2007 Farm Bill, we have joined together to speak with one voice on a critical issue that affects the jobs and lives of our citizens. These six priorities along with our number one priority of protecting the economic well-being of New York's dairy farmers will help to build a solid foundation to strengthen and secure the state's agriculture sector into the 21st Century"

California, Florida, New York and Texas have the country's largest populations. Together, they also represent more than one third of the nation's farmers, more than 174 million acres of cropland, and more than $66 billion in annual revenue.

The "Big Four" letter noted: "While our states are very diverse, we also have much in common. We believe in the vision of healthy people, a clean environment, and a robust agricultural sector. As your committees begin consideration of the 2007 Farm Bill, we would like you to consider issues of importance to our states."

Here's their list

Specialty Crops: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, horticulture and other specialty products make up almost 50% of U.S. farm gate receipts. This Farm Bill should provide increased funding and program flexibility for specialty crop programs, including research and development of production, harvesting, and handling techniques, and open up USDA's commodity, conservation, and disaster assistance programs, in which specialty crop producers have traditionally had limited opportunity to participate.

Provide a permanent allocation for the Specialty Crop Block Grant authorized in the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act of 2004. This grant was successfully used to assist specialty crop producers enhance their market competitiveness.

Invasive Species: Whether it is Citrus Canker in Florida, Asian Longhorned Beetle in New York, the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter in California, or the Mexican fruit fly in Texas, invasive species are a serious problem and require a significant commitment to address. Full funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is necessary. Additional pest management dollars also must be provided for prevention efforts on ports and other pathways of entry.

Crop Insurance: Increase the amount of risk eligible for crop insurance coverage and expand the safety net programs for all farmers, including crop specific revenue insurance. A structure should be established for providing assistance beyond crop insurance after natural disasters.

Conservation: Reauthorize and expand funding for all conservation programs as a strategic investment in our nation's agricultural infrastructure. By increasing outreach and technical assistance funding, states can more effectively deliver and target conservation programs to those farmers who want to participate in the most cost-effective environmental programs.

Nutrition: Maintain the highly successful Food Stamp Program, including Food Stamp Nutrition Education, as part of efforts to promote healthy eating and help prevent obesity. States need the flexibility to develop and implement systems enabling more eligible individuals to receive food stamps.

It's essential that the Farm Bill support healthy diets, farmers market programs, better nutrition and greater access to fruits and vegetables.

Organic Agriculture: Expand support for organic products, allowing farmers to access this growing and lucrative market. Support farmers who have decided to use organic techniques, especially those who are transitioning to organic agriculture.

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