President Bush recently signed into law the "Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act," legislation, which is important to the future of the nation's specialty crop industry. The American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) actively advocated for the bill’s passage. As reported in the December 20 issue of GPN Weekly, the issue was passed by the House and then the Senate in mid-December, making the next step the president.
The cornerstone provision of the legislation is a block grant program. Administered by the state departments of agriculture, the block grant component is authorized annually at $44.5 million with each state authorized to receive a minimum grant of $100,000. Block grants are to be spent on state priority projects to benefit specialty crop producers — including nurseries and greenhouses.
"The signing of this bill is a significant victory for growers and consumers alike," said Western Growers Association President Tom Nassif. As a model for federal agricultural funding, none of the millions of dollars earmarked for the produce industry will come in the form of direct subsidies. Instead, the funding will seek to improve profitability and markets through technical assistance, specialized research programs, conservation, education, promotion and similar initiatives. Western Growers, a California-based produce industry trade group, led the coalition working to secure the bill’s passage.
The bill had been passed by the House of Representatives in October 2004. It cleared the Senate during the post-election “lame duck” session of Congress, after several Senators agreed to release holds on the bill. Leveraging good working relationships built around the immigration reform effort, ANLA played an instrumental role in persuading at least one leading Senate Democrat to allow the bill to move to enactment.
Due to budget limitations and political concerns among some Congressional leaders, the bill was scaled back from its original version. It authorizes a total of $54 million annually for five years to enhance the competitiveness of fresh produce crops, the nursery and greenhouse industry, and other specialty crops. However, it does not automatically ensure that Congress will fund the provisions. State agriculture commissioners and secretaries, as well as industry, will work to secure at least partial funding in the year ahead.
Looking toward the future, passage of the bill represents a milepost along the way to more comprehensive specialty crop agricultural policy now being advocated by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). They are expected to introduce legislation in the Senate early in 2005.