Opinion: Growers Can Stop To Give Thanks

This is the traditional time of year for us to give thanks. Mostly for friends and family, of course, but those involved in fruit growing can also be thankful for being part of such a special industry. It’s special in a lot of ways.

In how many lines of work, for example, do you actually have a great reason to spend your time not only outdoors, but out in orchards? And how many industries do you know that are so family-oriented?

But perhaps the most special thing about it in these days of economic upheaval is that fruit growers actually produce something tangible. And it’s not only tangible, it’s healthful, another tremendous advantage what with the worrisome projections of childhood obesity. We’ve got to get those kids munching on nature’s candy. That’s an issue for another day, however.

It’s interesting that fruit be termed a specialty crop when we now know it should be a mainstay of the diet. Not only that, but sales of fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts account for almost one-third of all crop cash receipts in the U.S.

That makes the passage of the most recent Farm Bill, the first to contain a separate title for issues related to specialty crops, so remarkable. The 2008 bill dedicated almost $3 billion in funding over five years to areas that are important to fruit growers of all stripes: nutrition, farmers’ markets, trade, and plant pest and disease management.

As the federal government moves at glacial speed, we are just feeling the impacts of all this new spending. From providing more money for poverty-stricken mothers to buy fruits and vegetables for their kids, to multi-pronged battle plans to defend our crops from dangerous pests, growers are seeing real impact. And for that we should be thankful.

Be Ever Vigilant

Not that we don’t need to keep our eyes open. I was reminded of that in late October when the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a hearing to review the implementation of the Farm Bill. Specifically, Dennis Cardoza of Modesto, CA, called the hearing to examine the implementation of the bill regarding fruits and vegetables. “It is clear that USDA has much more work to do to fully implement Congress’ direction in the Farm Bill,” he said, “and I intend to hold additional hearings into these issues.”

Another subcommittee member, Jean Schmidt of Ohio, agreed. “Specialty crop and organic producers across the nation have the opportunity to benefit from the Farm Bill, but only if the integrity of the programs is protected,” she said. “It is crucial that we all do our part by ensuring these programs are implemented in a timely and appropriate manner.”

I’m not sure that most fruit growers are aware of the many resources in the Farm Bill, which provides:
• $33 million to expand opportunities for grower-to-consumer marketing
• $22 million for USDA’s organic cost-share program
• $10 million annually for research into the beekeepers’ bane of Colony Collapse Disorder
• $20 million to establish and operate the National Clean Plant Network
And the biggies:
• $377 million over 10 years for pest and disease detection and control
• $466 million over 10 years to expand the specialty crop block grant program to support projects in research, production, marketing, education, and food safety.

Growers today should be thankful they are among the first to benefit from such programs. But at the same time, as Schmidt noted, “it is crucial we all do our part” in ensuring their implementation. You’ll thank yourself later.

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