Every five or six years when we write a new Farm Bill in the U.S., the Commodity Title, which involves direct and counter-cyclical payments, the marketing loan and loan deficiency payments and grain facility loans, usually gets the most attention by farm organizations, the agricultural media, and members of Congress from midwestern and southern states. However, there are many other titles in a Farm Bill that affect everything from conservation programs, ag exports, renewable energy, forestry programs, and rural development to food stamps and school lunch programs.

Some of these other titles, besides the Commodity Title, are getting much more attention during the writing of a new Farm Bill in 2007 than they have in recent Farm Bills. First of all many organizations and members of Congress would like to see the funding and focus for some of the Farm Bill titles, other than the Commodity Title, expanded. Some members of Congress feel that the funding and support level in the Commodity Title can be reduced in the 2007 Farm Bill without adversely affecting most grain producers because of the higher commodity market prices in the past year. Also, there are many new members on the U.S. Senate and House Agriculture Committees, which are putting together the design of the new bill. Many of these newer Ag Committee members represent regions of the U.S. with less traditional types of agricultural production, many of which are not addressed by the current Commodity Title in the Farm Bill.

One of the areas that has received a lot of attention since the last Farm Bill became law in 2002, is how the 2007 Farm Bill should address the needs of fruit and vegetable producers. Recently, U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns released USDA’s recommendations for specialty crops for the new Farm Bill. These very inclusive recommendations included the following provisions for specialty crops in the various titles that will likely be included in the new Farm Bill:

Commodity Title: Allow total planting flexibility for fruit and vegetable crops, similar to corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and other program crops. The 2002 Farm Bill placed restrictions of acreage for fruit and vegetable crops, which has been viewed negatively by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Nutrition Title: Allocate an additional $2.75 billion in funding over 10 years to purchase fruits and vegetables for USDA Nutrition Programs, such as the School Lunch and Breakfast Program. Also, programs would be added to encourage more fruits and vegetables in the diets of school-age children and lower income Americans.

Conservation Title: Enhanced targeting of existing conservation programs for fruit and vegetable producers, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), and the Private Lands Protection Program.

Trade Title: More emphasis on fruit and vegetable exports through the Market Access Program (MAP), and other USDA Trade enhancing programs.

Rural Development Title: Target more rural development value-added grants to projects involving specialty crops.

Research Title: Invest $1 billion over 10 years into ag research projects specifically targeted toward productivity and technology advancements for specialty crops.

Energy Title: Initiate a new, temporary program to provide direct support to producers of cellulosic ethanol, which is derived from crop wastes and biomass feedstock resulting from specialty crops.

Finding The Funding For New Programs
There is a lot of support for enhanced specialty crop programs, such as those outlined by Johanns, conservation programs such as CRP, WRP, EQIP and the Conservation Security Program (CSP), food and nutrition programs, rural development programs, and for new initiatives for renewable energy.

The main problem is: “where will the money to fund these new and expanded programs come from?” There is not likely to be many new dollars available to fund programs for the 2007 Farm Bill, which means that most new spending on Farm Bill programs will likely have to come through reductions in other Farm Bill programs. Reducing funding for some programs, such as the traditional Commodity Title programs for corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton in order to increase funding for new and enhanced programs in other Farm Bill “Titles” will not be an easy task for members of Congress.

This process will likely be very divisive between farm organizations and non-farm organizations, between different regions of the U.S., and within local communities. There is still a long ways to go in writing the 2007 Farm Bill, and it should be very interesting this summer as the U.S. Senate and U.S. House release their versions of the new Farm Bill. There are likely to be many new and enhanced programs proposed in the various titles of the new Farm Bill; however, ultimately, the available funding for these new and innovative initiatives will likely have a big impact on which provisions end up in the final version of a new Farm Bill, which will likely be passed later this year.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.