In an effort to enhance the competitiveness of each state's fresh produce crops, the U.S. Senate passed the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act.
It is seen as a major victory for produce growers who receive very little federal aid. This is the first major federal funding program for the fresh produce industry. Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, called the legislative victory "equivalent of a declaration that this sector of agriculture has now arrived as a major player in Washington."
The Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act of 2004 approved by the Senate will authorize $54 million annually for five years. The majority of the funding will come in the form of block grants through the state departments of agriculture. None of the millions of dollars earmarked for the produce industry will come in the form of direct subsidies. Instead, the funding will assist the produce industry through technical assistance, specialized research programs, regulation review, education, improved food inspection facilities and similar initiatives.
Nassif called the act a "model for the future of agriculture programs" and adds it will go a long way towards promoting the increased consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts and will help raise awareness of the critical role fresh produce plays in a healthy diet.
Some of the features of the Act include: the quantification of the clean air benefits of specialty crops; the enhancement of fresh produce quality; new crop protection tools and pest management systems; and research on the impact of foreign pest and disease invasions and effective solutions. Funding is also to be directed to educate the public regarding nutrition as well as food safety. Technical assistance for specialty crops will be increased and plant inspection programs will also be bolstered.