Specialty Crop Issues in the 109th Congress
CRS Report for Congress
Specialty Crop Issues in the 109 Congress
Updated October 24, 2006
Jean M. Rawson
Specialist in Agriculture Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Specialty Crop Issues in the 109 Congress
The U.S. specialty crop sector is comprised of producers, handlers, processors,
and retailers of fruit, vegetable, tree nut, and nursery crops. The major U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) commodity price and income support programs
do not include specialty crops, but the industry benefits generally from USDA
programs related to trade, conservation, credit, protection from pests and diseases,
domestic food assistance programs, crop insurance and disaster payments, research,
and other areas. Certain programs of the Food and Drug Administration, the
Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor also affect the
specialty crop sector.
The 108th Congress passed the first law intended to address selected issues of
importance to the specialty crop industry as a whole (the Specialty Crops
Competitiveness Act of 2004, P.L. 108-465). It is widely expected that this act will
serve as the basis of more comprehensive debate on policies affecting the sector
when the House and Senate Agriculture Committees begin consideration of the
omnibus farm bill that would take effect when the current farm act (P.L. 107-171)
expires in 2007. Another bill that might serve a similar purpose has been introducedth
in the 109 Congress. The Specialty Crops and Value-Added Agriculture Promotion
Act (S. 1556) would amend the 2004 Act to make some of its authorities permanent,
and to address issues related to trade, the revenue insurance program, and marketing
opportunities for specialty crops. See CRS Report RL33520, Specialty Crops: 2007
Farm Bill Issues for more information.
Bills addressing a number of other industry-related issues were introduced in the
108-465 (H.R. 2744); planting flexibility proposals that could have affected specialty
crop supplies and prices (H.R. 2045/S. 1038; S. 194); and guest worker programth
reform (S. 359/H.R. 884, and others). This report summarizes the 109 Congress’s
activity on these bills and other specialty crop issues, and will not be updated.
Legislation in the 108th Congress..................................1
Issues in the 109th Congress..........................................2
FY2006 and FY2007 Appropriations ..............................2
A Major Policy Proposal....................................3
Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)...............................3
Trade Agreements and Planting Flexibility......................5
Guest Worker Program Reform...................................6
Specialty Crop Issues in the 109 Congress
A number of different laws authorize the programs and set the policies affecting
the U.S. specialty crop sector, which is comprised of producers, handlers, processors,
and retailers of fruit, vegetable, tree nut, and nursery crops. One of these is the
periodic, omnibus farm act, commonly called the farm bill, that guides the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) commodity income and price support
programs, and authorizes and directs funding for the major agricultural trade,
conservation, and domestic food assistance programs (e.g., the school lunch program
and food stamps), among many others.
Other laws besides the farm bill also set policies for programs affecting the
specialty crop sector. Congress may make changes to these laws within the farm bill,
or within annual appropriations bills, or in separate legislation. These separately
authorized programs include those that help producers insure their crops against
losses; provide monetary assistance after disastrous losses; protect agriculture from
foreign diseases and pests; promote orderly marketing; and protect producers and1
handlers from fraud in market transactions.
Legislation in the 108th Congress
On December 21, 2004, President Bush signed into law the Specialty Crops2
Competitiveness Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-465; H.R. 3242). The act identifies several
major challenges facing specialty crops: high vulnerability to emerging pests and
diseases, trade restrictions for phytosanitary reasons, nontariff trade barriers, and
competition from subsidized imports.
To meet these challenges, the act authorizes (1) a pest and disease response fund
within the U.S. Treasury; (2) a requirement that USDA’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS) reduce a backlog of export permits; (3) a peer review
system to strengthen the science behind the APHIS standards that govern import and
export permit requests; (4) additional funds for a program that provides technical
1 For descriptions of USDA and other federal agencies’ programs affecting the specialty
crop sector, see CRS Report RL32746, Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Specialty Crops: A
Primer of Government Programs.
2 The Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs of the
Committee on Government Reform held a field hearing on H.R. 3242 in Salinas, California,
on December 12, 2003. The hearing record, Serial No. 108-151, Problems Facing the
Specialty Crop Industry, is available at [http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.
cgi?dbname =108_house_hearings &docid=f:94067.pdf].
assistance to overcome barriers to U.S. exports of specialty crops; (5) block grants
to states to support programs to increase the competitiveness of each state’s specialty
crops; and (6) a higher priority for specialty crop research.
H.R. 3242, as introduced, would have provided $508 million per year for five
years in mandatory money provided through the Commodity Credit Corporation
(CCC) to implement the programs in the bill.3 As enacted, the law authorizes $59
million per year in discretionary funds, subject to appropriation. The act allocates the
majority of authorized funds to support the program of block grants to the states, as
did H.R. 3242. Each state is to use the funds to develop and promote the state’s
specialty crop industry.
Issues in the 109th Congress
FY2006 and FY2007 Appropriations
The Administration’s FY2006 budget request did not propose funding for any
of the programs authorized in P.L. 108-465. The leading specialty crop industry
group, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (now the United Fresh
Produce Association (UFPA)), called for full funding of the block grant program
($44.5 million) and the technical assistance program for exports ($2 million), and for
maintenance of the Agricultural Marketing Service Training and Development Center
in Fredericksburg, VA ($1.5 million).4 The industry group also called for an
additional $42 million in appropriated funding to expand the Fruit and Vegetable
program, which provides free fresh produce to schools to encourage children to snack
on fruits and vegetables rather than on less nutritious foods. The final act making
FY2006 appropriations for USDA (P.L. 109-97) contained $7 million for the
specialty crop block grant program, and no additional appropriated funds for the Fruit
and Vegetable program beyond the $9 million in mandatory funds authorized in a
Separate legislation was introduced in the 109th Congress to amend the child nutrition
law to authorize $20 million annually in FY2006 and FY2007 to support the
expansion of the Fruit and Vegetable program, but it was not passed (H.R. 3562/S.
3 The CCC is a wholly owned government corporation with the authority to have up to $30
billion in outstanding debt to the U.S. Treasury. The CCC repays the funds it borrows,
usually through the regular USDA appropriation.
4 Telephone contact with United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, April 14, 2005.
Note: The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association merged with the International
Fresh Cut Produce Association in 2006 and now is called the United Fresh Produce
5 USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers the block grant program. The
agency published a proposed rule with request for comments on April 20, 2006 (71 FR
20353), and published the final rule on September 11, 2006 (71 FR 53303). On September
26, 2006, AMS published the first notice of funds availability inviting applications for the
program (71 FR 56101).
The Administration’s FY2007 budget request did not propose any funding for
programs authorized by P.L. 108-465. As of the date of this report, the House-passed
USDA appropriations bill included $15.6 million for specialty crop block grants to
states for FY2007 (H.R. 5384). A provision in Title VII of the Senate-reported bill
would provide $10 million in FY2007 for the program. It is expected that Congress
will complete action on agriculture appropriations after the November 2006
A Major Policy Proposal. In anticipation of possible consideration of
specialty crop policies if Congress takes up debate on a new farm bill in 2007,
Congresswoman Darlene Hooley and Senator Ron Wyden introduced companionth
measures in the 109 Congress to amend the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act
of 2004 and propose additional policies (H.R. 3562/S. 1556, the Specialty Crop and
Value-Added Agriculture Promotion Act of 2005). The bills contain provisions to
expand the existing block grant program and to create a new program of block grants
to states to help producers develop business plans and marketing opportunities for
value-added products, among several other proposals. See CRS Report RL33520,
Specialty Crops: 2007 Farm Bill Issues, for more information on this and other 2007
farm bill proposals.
Farmers Markets. Legislation was introduced in February 2005 that would
have authorized $50 million annually through FY2007 in mandatory Commodity
Credit Corporation funds to support the construction, improvement, and
rehabilitation of farmers’ markets (H.R. 710, the Farmers’ Markets Infrastructure
Assistance Act of 2005). Although Congress authorized a Farmers’ Market
Promotion program in the 2002 farm act (P.L.107-171) for the purpose of increasing
the number of direct producer-to-consumer sales opportunities, no funds for the
program have been appropriated to date. In the interim, USDA’s Agricultural
Marketing Service (AMS) has supported farmers’ markets by tailoring to their needs
some of the agency’s generally available research and technical assistance under this
mission area.6 H.R. 710 would provide targeted support for the physicalth
establishment of farmers’ markets. The 109 Congress had taken no action on this
bill as of the date of this report.
Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)7
Under §304 of the Tariff Act of 1930 as amended (19 U.S.C. 1304), every
imported item must be conspicuously and indelibly marked in English to indicate to
the “ultimate purchaser” its country of origin. The U.S. Customs Service generally
defines the “ultimate purchaser” as the last U.S. person who will receive the article
in the form in which it was imported. For example, if a supermarket receives a
6 See [http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/] for examples of AMS activities in this
7 Information in this section is largely from CRS Report 97-508, Country of Origin Labeling
shipment of Chilean grapes or Mexican tomatoes that were packaged in the country
of origin into containers ready for retail sale, the law requires that their “immediate
containers” carry a country of origin mark. If, on the other hand, they arrive in large
boxes and are sold loose from store bins, labeling is not required because the law
allows for certain products to be exempted from COOL requirements, namely
“vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries ... which are in their natural state or not advanced in
any manner further than is necessary for their safe transportation” (19 C.F.R. 134.33).
Section 10816 of the 2002 farm act amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of
1946 to require retail-level COOL on “perishable agricultural commodities,” as
defined by the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA; 7 U.S.C. § 499a et
seq.), among several other provisions. More specifically, it requires PACA-regulated
retailers (those selling at least $230,000 a year in fruits and vegetables) to inform
consumers of the origin of these products “by means of a label, stamp, mark, placard,
or other clear and visible sign on the covered commodity or on the package, display,
holding unit, or bin containing the commodity at the final point of sale to
consumers.” The 2002 law required the labeling to be implemented by September
30, 2004. House-Senate conferees on the FY2004 consolidated appropriation act
(H.R. 2673; P.L. 108-199), which incorporated USDA funding, agreed to language
to delay the September 30, 2004, mandatory labeling date for fruits and vegetables
(and other commodities) until September 30, 2006. The USDA appropriations act
for FY2006 postponed the date two more years — until September 30, 2008 (P.L.
The United Fresh Produce Association generally is not in favor of mandatory
COOL. Beginning with consideration of the 2002 farm bill COOL provision, UFPA
officials have maintained that the program should be voluntary, and that COOL laws
should apply to all food items and cover all channels of distribution, including food
service sales. The industry is concerned that a mandatory program will lead retailers
to try to shift the burden of labeling back up the chain to packer/shippers and
producers.8 Opponents of mandatory COOL point out that the industry has
voluntarily labeled U.S.-grown produce and tree nuts for years, and that the trend in
supermarkets and other retail outlets also has been toward increased COOL in
response to consumer preferences.
Proponents of a mandatory COOL program (which include the American Farm
Bureau, the National Farmers Union, some domestic fruit and vegetable producers,
and some consumer organizations) argue that consumers have a right to choose
which foods they buy based on knowledge of their source, particularly since imports
are increasing at a fast pace, and thus the risk is higher that foods with health and
safety problems could enter the U.S. marketplace. Although imported fruits and
vegetables have been the source of some foodborne illness outbreaks (e.g., the
hepatitis A outbreak in November 2003, linked to green onions from Mexico), illness
caused by pathogenic organisms in U.S.-grown produce also occurs, as it did with an
outbreak of illness from E. coli O157:H7 contamination of fresh spinach from
California in October 2006. Food safety officials maintain that regulations already
8 Op. cit., December 12, 2003, hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform,
Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs.
require imported produce to meet the same standards as U.S. produce, and that
country-of-origin labeling does not increase food safety or protect public health.
Congress passed a planting flexibility provision in the 1996 farm act (P.L. 104-
127), allowing producers of program crops to respond to market signals when
choosing what to plant. The term refers to the ability to receive subsidy payments for
a particular base crop (such as corn) on a specific base acreage (as declared by the
farmer during the 2002 program sign-up period), but to grow a different crop on that
same acreage. In that same act, however, Congress added language restricting
producers from growing fruit and vegetable crops on base acres, except in limited
cases where producers had a history of planting such crops. Specialty crop growers
maintain that allowing program crop producers to switch even small numbers of
acres to fruits or vegetables can significantly destabilize the produce market.
Congress renewed the restriction on growing specialty crops on program acres
in the 2002 farm act. In that act, however, soybeans became eligible for declaration
as a “base” crop that could receive both direct payments and counter-cyclical
payments. This raised an unforeseen problem, primarily for some farmers in the
Midwest who traditionally have rotated soybeans with vegetable crops grown on
contract for processing. Many producers found that the new soybean program rules
severely restricted the amount of acreage on which they could continue that rotation.
They also found owners of rental farmland much less willing to rent their soybean
program acres to farmers wanting to grow vegetables, for fear of losing base acreage
on which their payments are based.
Companion bills were introduced in the 109th Congress that would have reduced
program payments on an acre-for-acre basis in a year in which a producer planted
fruits or vegetables for processing on base acres. The following year, however, if the
producer again planted a program crop on those acres, that year’s payment would be
calculated on the full number of base acres for the covered commodity. In other
words, no base acres could potentially be “lost” for having been planted to a fruit or
vegetable crop for one year. The bills also provided that, in the event the Secretary
authorized a recalculation of base acres, any acres that had been planted to fruits and
vegetables for processing would have been counted as having been planted to the
program crop. The 109th Congress has taken no action on these bills as of the date
of this report. Regardless of what other specialty crop policies may be discussed for
possible inclusion in the next farm bill, changing or continuing planting flexibility
policies likely will be a key issue in that debate.
Trade Agreements and Planting Flexibility. The concept of “decoupling”
is important in the context of U.S. obligations under multilateral trade agreements.
The term refers to separating the direct link between federal farm payments and
farmers’ decisions on what to plant on program acres. Efforts to decouple farm
income and commodity support began in the 1980s, and Congress passed the first
major decoupling provisions, using planting flexibility as the mechanism, in the 1996
farm act. At the same time, the act prevented producers from planting fruits and
vegetables on “flex” acres except under limited circumstances.
In 2004, the World Trade Organization ruled that specific provisions of the U.S.
cotton program — some related to the U.S. policy on planting flexibility — were out
of compliance with the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture. Some trade and
market analysts, as well as legislators, became concerned that legislative changes
might be necessary to bring existing cotton program operations into compliance, and
that such potential changes could necessitate that the 2002 farm act be reopened well
before its scheduled expiration in 2007. There was some concern, therefore, that the
existing planting restrictions might need to be re-examined. However, it
subsequently became apparent that the process of settling upon and implementing a
compliance plan to meet the WTO finding would move slowly, and that any potential
changes in the current planting restrictions affecting specialty crops would not need
to be considered until Congress takes up the 2007 farm bill.9
Guest Worker Program Reform10
At present, the H-2A program is the only program for temporarily importing
foreign agricultural workers, sometimes referred to as agricultural guest workers.
Employers interested in importing workers under this program must first apply to the
U.S. Labor Department for a certification that U.S. workers capable of performing
the work are not available and that employment of alien workers will not adversely
affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
A number of bills were introduced in the 109th Congress proposing to make
changes to the H-2A program (S. 359/H.R. 884, H.R. 3857, S. 2087, and others).
Some of them contain provisions that would establish mechanisms for certain foreign
agricultural workers to become U.S. legal permanent residents. None of these bills
had been passed into law as of the date of this report.
Positions on guest worker reform proposals are mixed within the specialty crop
industry and larger agriculture community. The UFPA is strongly in favor of the
proposals that have been introduced, arguing that the lack of a sufficient, legal
workforce has reached crisis proportions. They further maintain that S. 359/H.R. 884
would provide a stable workforce for growers and more job stability for workers,
give workers better wages and working conditions, and let responsible guest workers
earn the right to stay in the United States, among other things.11 Opponents of the
bills largely frame their arguments in terms of immigration policy, arguing that the
measures would give amnesty to illegal immigrants, and make it easier for criminals
and terrorists to get into the country.
9 For an in-depth analysis of the WTO ruling, see CRS Report RL32571, U.S.-Brazil WTO
Cotton Subsidy Dispute, which is available on the CRS website.
10 Much of the information in this section has been taken directly from CRS Report
RL32044, Immigration: Policy Considerations Related to Guest Worker Programs. Please
see that report for a full analysis of the issue. Further questions should be directed to the
author of the report.
11 UFFVA position paper, “The Top Ten Reasons to Enact AgJobs,” January 2005.
Available at [http://uffva.org/government/].
The current discussion of guest worker programs takes place against a backdrop
of historically high levels of unauthorized migration to the United States. Supporters
of a large-scale temporary worker program argue that such a program would help
reduce unauthorized migration by providing a legal alternative for prospective
foreign workers. Critics reject this reasoning and instead maintain that a new guest
worker program would likely exacerbate the problem of illegal migration.
The consideration of any agricultural guest worker reform proposals would
appear to raise a variety of issues. Among them are the following: how would the
requirements of any new program compare to the requirements of the existing one;
who would be eligible; should the program include a mechanism for participants to
obtain legal permanent resident status; how would family members of eligible
individuals be treated; what labor market test, if any, would the program employ;
would the program be numerically limited; how would the rules and requirements of
the program be enforced; and what security-related provisions, if any, would be