Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said that Michigan's robust fruits and vegetables sector is a bright spot in the state's economic future, as recent reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate that this year's harvests are set to surpass last year's. Fruits and vegetables, known as specialty crops in agriculture policy terminology, play a major role in Michigan's agriculture sector, which is the state's second largest industry, supporting one out of every four jobs. With the exception of California, Michigan leads the nation in crop diversity, growing and producing more than 200 unique commodities.
"Fruits and vegetables are not only helping to supply healthy products to our schools, families and communities, but these farmers are also making a major contribution to the American economy," Chairwoman Stabenow said at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on specialty crops. "Sales of U.S. fruit and vegetable crops top $60 billion annually, with nearly $2 billion of those sales coming from Michigan alone. Michigan is a leader in fruit and vegetable production, and we need to ensure Washington is listening to our producers as agriculture policy is made."
Tuscola County farmer Dennis Engelhard, a fourth generation family farmer who produces corn, soybeans, wheat and edible beans, testified before the Committee, noting the important role specialty crops and agriculture are playing in the economy.
"The last few years have been strong ones for agriculture, and farming has helped to lift the nation out of some dark economic times," Mr. Engelhard said. "In Michigan, agriculture ranks number two in economic return to the state and this trend must continue ... effective farm legislation has long been valuable in maintaining healthy, low-cost food for America. We look forward to the 2012 Farm Bill continuing that trend."
Before 2008, the U.S. Farm Bill - which sets national agriculture policy every five years - focused mainly on commodity crops such as corn, wheat and soy. Senator Stabenow was able to get the first ever specialty crop title in the 2008 Farm Bill, to help ensure that U.S. agriculture policy is more inclusive.
"It is amazing to think that, until 2008, fruits, vegetables and floriculture were given the cold shoulder by this country's agriculture policy. National policy focused far more on crops produced en masse in the plains states rather than the fruits and vegetables we grow," Chairwoman Stabenow said. "But today this important sector of the economy is finally getting the attention it deserves and we need to build on that for the future."
The 2008 Farm Bill extended the same support to fruit and vegetable farmers that other farmers already received, such as initiatives to help strengthen operations and add jobs, control crop-killing pests and diseases, support the research of new agriculture technologies at research centers like Michigan State University, and provide trade assistance for farmers impacted by unfair trade practices - something critically important for asparagus growers in Michigan.
An archived webcast of the hearing is available on the Senate Agriculture Committee's website at http://ag.senate.gov.