FARM, NUTRITION, AND BIOENERGY ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - November 06, 2007)
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Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, many of us are coming to the floor today to speak to the new farm bill that the Senate Ag Committee has proposed and brought to us over the last several months.
Over the years I have had the privilege to participate in a variety of farm bill developments and structures as we ultimately came to a new 5-year farm policy in our country.
First of all, let me say for the first time in a good number of years we have actually had the Secretary of Agriculture go out amongst American agriculture, ask questions and listen, and send us proposals of change in farm policy.
We have also had both the House and the Senate committees operating extensively in bipartisan ways to hold hearings, looking at the existing farm policy and what may need to be changed to justify a new farm bill.
While many are caught up in the bits and pieces of a farm bill structure, what is important to remember is a nation that feeds itself is a nation that is, by its own definition, strong and independent. And that has been throughout our history one of our great legacies: that we could produce our own food and fiber to feed our own populations, and then step beyond that to help feed the world.
In fact, in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, as we saw a burgeoning export market in agricultural growth, we were expanding our own growth capabilities not only to feed ourselves but to feed the world.
That, in part, has been the product of a consistent farm policy over the years that stabilized agriculture, agricultural producers who looked at the primary commodity crops and said: This is the base of American agriculture, and this is what we ought to support to assure there is adequate food and fiber for the American consumer.
We now take for granted every day of the week that as we walk into the supermarkets of America the shelves will be full and overflowing with an abundance of food. We just take it for granted--unless you are amongst the very poor, and then you might stand in a soup line. But there are few of those in our country today. And, certainly, for those less fortunate there are a variety of food and nutritional programs embodied within farm policy that assure there will be minimal nutrition values offered and provided to America. That is truly one of our great legacies and something I think all Americans can be proud of.
Over the years, American agriculture has changed. We think traditionally of corn and wheat and soybeans and cotton and, of course, we used to have a tobacco program in the South that was supported, that no longer exists for obvious and important reasons.
But little did we recognize something that we now value greatly as a part of our nutritional base today: our vegetables, our fruits, and that huge variety that you see on the fresh produce shelves as you walk into any of our great supermarkets across the Nation.
And to those of us who have been associated with agriculture all of our lives, it is not the meat shelf, it is not the bread shelf, it is the fruits and the vegetables, the specialty crops, the kinds of things that never have been in a farm bill, that we have never spoken clearly to, that embodied a very large part of American agriculture.
In fact, today, at farmgate, meaning the value of products leaving the farm itself, we view specialty crops as somewhere in the area of 50 percent. Not a program crop, not a loan program, not a base support price, but American farmers out there working to diversify and to ensure the variety that all of our consumers enjoy today.
So it is, in my opinion, a very big victory that today I come to the floor, along with a group of my colleagues, to talk about a new provision within farm policy to deal with the specialty crops. And for the next few moments, let me talk about it and its importance as we recognize what it means not only today but what it could mean in the future.
This sector includes vegetables, fruits, nursery crops, herbal crops, floriculture, horticulture, dried fruit, tree nuts, and turf grass. We know about all of those things. Turf grass you do not buy at the fresh produce stand, but if you are building a new home and all of a sudden you have instant yard because the landscaper has laid turf, then you know a lot about turf.
In my State of Idaho, that is a rapidly growing and, in some areas, urbanizing area; turf farms are a very important part of Idaho agriculture today. It may surprise some, when they think of specialty crops, they think of the great agricultural belt known as the San Joaquin Valley of California, where you see one different crop after another for hundreds and hundreds of miles across that phenomenally fertile stretch of American agricultural soil.
But in my State of Idaho, we are one of the top States in the Nation as it relates to producing specialty crops. Beyond being the No. 1 producer of potatoes that we certainly recognize, and most of us enjoy, Idaho is proud to boost production of cherries, table grapes, mint, apples, onions, carrots, and a variety of seed, nursery and ornamental crops.
The specialty crop industry has never relied, as I earlier mentioned, on the traditional farm program to support or sustain it. Yet they are subject to high volatility in markets. They face significant risk in their operations, including pests and disease threats, along with technical trade barriers and disaster conditions.
The inclusion of these new crops does not cost the traditional programs at all because we are not looking for, nor has the specialty crop industry asked for, the kind of program that is represented in wheat and barley and pulse crops and sugar and others. These new provisions do not provide direct subsidy to producers but create and fund programs that will, among other things, help to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops, expand valuable nutritional programs, and direct new mandatory funding to specialty crop research.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Many States of the Nation now have a growing wine industry. Idaho is amongst those. We have a unique microclimate along the Snake River Valley of Idaho that allows us to raise quality grapes and to produce very fine quality wine.
But the problem of adapting an Australian-based or a German-based or an Italian-based grape to a new ecosystem
takes research. A few years ago I was able to get the wine industry of Idaho research grants, hire a university professor, do the laboratory work, and learn how to manage a Melbac, or a Shiraz, or a particular type of Cab grape that allows us to up our values and up the quality of the wine grapes of our State. That is the kind of program we have embodied in the new specialty crop title and provision of the farm bill.
It provides producers better ways to address technical barriers in trade. It assists in the prevention, detection, and eradication of invasive pests and diseases in specialty crops.
I am pleased to see the bill extends the authority of specialty crop block grants, a charge which I led back in 2004, and will provide funding to States for locally driven and directed programs relating to research, commodity promotion, product quality enhancement, food safety, and other areas.
These are all very critical to the quality, the safety of the food that the average consumer, once again, walking into the supermarket on a daily basis simply takes for granted.
Mandatory dollars for specialty crop research will help our Nation keep a competitive edge on breeding, genetics, and genomics, also fund initiatives to address a certain economy such as the increased need for mechanization and food safety initiatives.
Very frankly, fellow Senators, if we do not begin to ensure a labor force to American agriculture, the kind that has largely left agriculture over the last 2 years because of the immigration debate and the border crisis that we are now trying to fix, we are going to have to see more and more of our industry mechanized or it will simply have to move out of our country to an area where that labor force exists.
So here is an opportunity in the specialty crop bill to do a little more of that research toward mechanization that again gives us opportunities that we heretofore did not have.
I also applaud the national expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, a program in which Idaho has been fortunate to participate for several years now. With the expansion, it is estimated that 4.5 million low-income elementary school children in 5,000 schools nationwide will benefit from receiving a fresh fruit or vegetable snack every day of the school year.
This bill takes a major step forward in recognizing the significance of the specialty crop industry to the overall agricultural economy of our country. The benefits to the health of U.S. citizens and the need for a stable, affordable, diverse, and secure food supply are clearly addressed within the specialty crop title.
For the first time in my years in Washington working on farm policy, I think it is possible to say the farm bill we currently have on the Senate floor, crafted in a bipartisan way, with the administration fully participating in the initial input of it, now covers a much broader whole of the American agricultural scene than we have ever before had.
With the inclusion of specialty crops in the overall program, it can clearly be said that is the case. So while I know the bill currently has its own problems on the Senate floor based on what may or may not transpire here, this ia a very fine piece of work, in my opinion. Do I agree with all of it? No. Would I have written it this way had I been chairman of the Ag Committee or had the ability to do so? No, probably not.
There are several provisions within it that would simply not be there because my State of Idaho, for example, does not necessarily care for some of them. For example, the large milk program of dairy is not what adjusts or identifies to my State's large and rapidly growing dairy industry. This is designed to protect a much smaller producer; in my opinion, a less economical producer today than the kind that has built the dairy industry in my State.
Be that as it may, that has always been the character of farm policy. Has it been bipartisan? Yes. By definition it has to be. Does it need to recognize all regions of our country? Yes, it does.
But most importantly, in doing all of those things, what it always has been able to do is to assure the American consumer that food in this country will be relatively inexpensive compared to the amount of consumer income required to put a meal on the table of an American family. Americans, without question, are blessed because of the phenomenal productivity of American agriculture, the ingenuity, the technology, all that goes there.
In part, the stability that has produced that is a product of farm policies down through the decades that have recognized the basic principle that a nation that can feed itself, that can be assured there will be an abundance of food for itself and use the surplus to sell to the world, is a nation that not only can be preeminent but certainly a nation that can stand on its own.
Senator Stabenow has just entered the Chamber. She and I were the first two Senators to actually sit down with the fruits and vegetables industry of our Nation and say: We need a specialty crop title. We need provisions within the farm bill that recognize and bring forth all of the kinds of programs that I have just talked about.
Over the course of the last 3 years, working in a bipartisan way, we have done just that. Let me recognize Senator Stabenow for the phenomenal work she has done over the last several months in shepherding this piece of legislation through to inclusion in the farm bill, in working with both sides of the aisle to assure that happened. And I must say hats off to the Senator from Michigan because she, like I, recognizes the phenomenal diversity of agriculture in our State and the need to not only recognize it and enhance it where we can, but to do so in a bipartisan way, that has produced the work product we have before us.
I am proud to stand on the Senate floor today recognizing a small but very important new provision within the farm bill, recognizing the nearly 50 percent of gross farm revenue across America today that is embodied within the phenomenal specialty crop diversity that makes us the great agricultural Nation we are.
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