During a Tuesday farm bill hearing, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture quizzed panelists on a broad range of topics regarding specialty crops and nutrition programs.

The hearing was of special interest as it came just three weeks after the full committee, following bruising rhetoric and a party-line vote, passed the Agricultural Reconciliation Act of 2012. Over the vociferous objection of committee Democrats, the legislation put the bulk of a mandated $33 billion cut to agriculture spending on nutrition programs.

Tuesday’s hearing lacked both mid-April’s rhetorical fireworks and, mercifully, the repeat of a shouting match between lawmakers over Jesus’ views on government.  

For more, see here.

It did, however, provide opportunity for members to reiterate previously stated praise and criticisms of programs under the subcommittee’s scrutiny: Food stamps, nutrition and consumer programs, fruits and vegetables, honey and bees, marketing and promotion orders, plant pesticides, quarantine, adulteration of seeds and insect pests, and organic agriculture.

For witness statements and more, see here.

The first panel dealt with specialty crops. Asked about funding priorities in an age of austerity, Jerry Lee of nursery leader Monrovia, said “in the nursery industry, what we’ve been doing is looking at the process of the old regulatory framework that says ‘I’ll have a pest-by-pest program quarantine. I’ll have a shipment-by-shipment inspection.’ That won’t be sustainable going forward.”

Lee advocated coordinated best management practices (BMPs). “Having that on the nursery level requires (fewer) inspections. We’ve also found that by looking at the various BMPs, we can apply them to not only one set of pests, but multiple sets of pests reducing the need for additional audits. We’ve seen a great deal of success in pooling those types of programs together and they’ll be less labor-intensive in the future.

“To pull that off took a very much coordinated effort between the stakeholders, USDA, National Plant Board – all those people involved sitting at the table.”

Dan Richey, president and CEO of Riverfront Packing Company in Vero Beach, Florida – and speaking on behalf of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association – hit on three areas “of keen interest to our industry.”

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative, said Richey, is “an area of significant funding with a broad reach. Citrus Greening may be the poster child for that program when you think about Texas, Arizona, Florida and California. And we’re wrestling with this in more of a global sense. That program can … assist us.”

Second, Richey nodded towards state block grants that have “been of great benefit to us. Those dollars have been deployed on a competitive basis in a very positive manner from small producers to large producers.”

Third, Section 10201 “has also been used in Florida, specifically for port interdiction. We’re second to California … relative to the potential for disease proliferation and introduction. That program has been very beneficial in an outreach. The ‘Don’t Pack a Pest’ program in all the airports and seaports has been very effective.”

The hearing also focused on nutrition programs, which take up some 80 percent of federal agriculture spending. The farm bill debate, it should be noted, comes at a time when those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits has risen from 26 million in 2007 to more than 46 million -- at a cost of over $75 billion -- last year.