by Marion Nestle
Mar 10 2014

The farm bill promotes fruits and vegetables? Really?

I was surprised to read in yesterday’s New York Times that the farm bill was full of goodies for fruits, vegetables, and organics.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

I took a quick look at the cost accounting.  Giving these program listings the benefit of the doubt:

  Assistance for community food projects     36
  Food insecurity nutrition incentive   100
  Pilot for canned, frozen fruits, vegetables       5
  Research and extension   100
  Specialty crop research   745
  Beginning farmer development   100
  Foundation for Food and Ag Research   200
  Farmers market, local food promotion   150
  Organic ag and tech upgrade     10
  Organic product promotion order     61
  Plant pest and disease management   193
  Specialty crop block grants   270
  Outreach to socially disadvantaged producers     50


Even stretching the items like this, it’s $2 billion over ten years, not 3.   $2 billion is good; $3 would be better.

What am I missing here?

This morning, Politico Pro Agriculture summarized what states are doing to promote local food production:

Arizona: HB 2233 would create a task force to develop recommendations for how the state can improve the quality and nutrition of food sold in state facilities, including suggestions for promoting locally grown food:

Hawaii: HB 1184 seeks to set a state-wide food sustainability standard to be achieved by 2025 that would increase the availability of locally grown and produced foods to reduce the state’s reliance on imports. The standard would be set at a level double the cash farm receipts that are produced in 2015:

HR 82 and its senate companion SCR 6 calls on the state departments of agriculture and education to develop a farm-to-school program that would provide locally grown produce to public school salad bars:

SB 524 similarly seeks to create an agricultural development and food security program under an existing economic development statute that would seek to increase demand for and access to locally grow foods through promotional campaigns and improving infrastructure, among other things:

Iowa: H2426 seeks to promote small farmers through a new financial assistance program, a marketing program, a revolving grant program and a property tax exemption for farmers who sell their products to state facilities or schools. The measure also calls for state facilities, when cost effective, to purchase from local farmers:

Kansas: SB 380 aims to create a local food and farm task force to develop funding and policy recommendations for supporting and expanding local food production. The task force would be required to issue a report to the legislature by the beginning of the 2016 legislative session:

New Jersey: SR 44 calls on state and local government entities to purchase locally made food and products:

Michigan: HB 4487 would amend an economic development statute to include the creation and funding of programs to promote local agriculture:

Mississippi: HB 1556 would provide a state income tax credit to grocers that amounts to 25 percent of the cost of purchasing locally grown and produced products starting in 2014:

Missouri: HB 2088 would create a “Farm-to-School Program” within the department of agriculture to help facilitate the use of locally grown produce in school meal programs through a website and database that would link farmers and schools. The bill, which was introduced March 5, sets up a task force that is charged with developing recommendations for the program:

New Jersey: SR 44 calls on state and local government entities to purchase locally made food and products:

Rhode Island: H7494 would create a task force for developing recommendations on how to improve the nutrition of food sold at state facilities, including promoting locally grown products:

Lest we forget, the Center for Responsive Politics produced these statistics on farm bill lobbying:

  • 325. Number of companies and organizations registered as lobbyists in 2013 to work on the Senate’s farm bill through the end of October 2013 — the fifth-most of any legislation
  • 111.5 million.  Amount “agribusiness” spent on lobbying in the same period, more than even the defense industry and labor unions.
  • 93 million.  Amount companies and individuals in agriculture made about in campaign donations during the 2012 presidential campaign.

If we want the next farm bill to promote fruits and vegetables (a.k.a. specialty crops), we need to start working on it right now.

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  • Dan Charles

    Maybe the NYTimes was including crop insurance subsidies for fruit and vegetable crops as well. Crop insurance is now available for most crops.

  • Francine M.

    I think even $2 billion is way too much taxpayer pork doled out to what USDA calls lifestyle farmers. Most of those are really people who dawb around at farming as a hobby. Then they like to sell their little odds and ends of goofy stuff at farmers markets for exorbitant prices. If U.S. taxpayers are funding these folks shouldn’t we also be funding other hobbyists? You know, coin collectors, recreational boaters, scrap bookers, quilters, hang gliders, etc., etc….

  • Scott UK

    Since when were fruit and vegetables goofy? Would you prefer they fell in line, and just grew soy, wheat and corn like the big agricorps?

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  • jfuzzy

    The Specialty Crop Research is not just for organic, it is for “specialty” crops in general which includes most fruits and vegetables. You can apply to that grant program for organic research, but most of it is not for organic, that is covered by the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (the one listed for $10m per year, and that number is down from previous years, but I thought it was going to be $25m per year this time, I’ll have to check). The Specialty Crop Block grants do fund some organic research on a state-by-state basis. And for Francine M., most of this money is for research and extension/outreach as opposed to going to farmers directly.

  • Good Apple

    Not even Millions and Trillions will replace the minerals already depleted from the soil. The reason 3rd world countries had to battle malnutrition is because farmers planted and the result was full tummies and no vitamins and minerals until now Farmer today don’t give the soil long enough to replenish.
    World food organizations have figured it out. Why don’t we know about it on this side of the world? “Can’t sell pills if we are healthy”.

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