Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-OR) yesterday joined his colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee in marking up the 2013 Farm Bill. Throughout the lengthy process Schrader pushed to increase specialty crop and research funding critical to the vitality of the Willamette Valley, offered numerous amendments to bolster the competitiveness of Oregon agriculture and fought to protect hungry Oregonians from draconian cuts to key nutrition programs.
"Overall, I was very pleased with our ability to secure increased funding for our specialty crop programs," Rep. Schrader said. "The funding will allow the specialty crop industry to continue to exceed innovative expectations, generate greater economic output and make sure that our food continues to be the safest in the world. This industry is a big piece of the puzzle in making sure that Oregon and American agriculture remain as competitive as possible in the global marketplace for years to come."
Specialty crops account for 44 percent of farmgate value for crops, yet receive only fractional funding under the existing farm bill. With an understanding of the rising value of specialty crop production, and hailing from a district that generates an abundant and affordable supply of healthy, diverse crops, Schrader has been a strong advocate for more ample funding for our specialty crop programs.
Schrader offered a number of amendments during the mark-up of the farm bill, some of which were included in final passage of the bill with bipartisan support. One, establishes a long sought check-off program for the Christmas Tree industry by requiring the USDA to lift the current stay it issued on the industry more than a year and a half ago. Congressman Schrader represents the top Christmas Tree growing district in the United States, and his amendment promotes these small businesses and strengthens their marketplace competitiveness. Another, removes the statutory barriers that currently prevent the creation of an organic check-off program and allows organic producers to institute an industry-funded USDA research and promotion program should they choose to do so.
"Being an organic farmer for more than thirty years, current ranking member of the Horticulture Subcommittee and a representative from a district with widespread agricultural diversity, it is great to see the growing importance of the organic industry in American agriculture," Rep. Schrader continued. "My amendment allows our organic sector the option to participate in the same promotional programs that other agriculture commodities enjoy. Not only do these programs fund important advertising campaigns, but also critical research that deals in plant pest and disease issues and best practices, all of which is come at zero cost to the taxpayer. I was proud to stand up for our organic producers."
The one major dissatisfaction Schrader noted, in an otherwise strongly bipartisan piece of legislation, was the draconian cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP currently helps feed more than 800,000 hungry Oregonians each month, though even more remain eligible for the program. Last year, the majority-held House Agriculture Committee insisted on cutting $16.5 billion from SNAP. This year, they have moved the goalposts once again and want $20.5 billion in cuts.
Schrader voted in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) that would protect SNAP from any cuts, which failed. Schrader offered a compromise amendment to reduce the SNAP cuts from $20.5 billion to $4.4 billion in an effort to mimic the cuts that were included in the Senate farm bill and supported in a bipartisan manner, but that amendment was also voted down.
"It is indisputable that these cuts to SNAP will not only increase hunger in my state of Oregon, but in every district and state of every member on the committee," Rep. Schrader begrudged. "My amendment would have taken a balanced approach in doing our part to reduce the deficit and was one that the members of the committee supported as early as last year. It would have prevented more than 30,000 children in Oregon from immediately being ineligible for school meal programs and over 90,000 Oregonians from immediately losing their SNAP eligibility. It is my hope that when the House and Senate go to conference to work out a 2013 farm bill these cuts are drastically reduced if not removed from the bill all together."