Bill to allow added produce planting on base acres opposed

A new bill that would allow growers of grain crops to grow fruits and vegetables on some of their farm program base acres is drawing early opposition from fresh produce interests.

Aiming at attaching the legislation to the next farm bill, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., co-sponsored legislation called “Feeding America through Farm Flexibility Act of 2017.” The proposed law would allow grain farmers to plant an additional 5% of their commodity crop base acres to vegetables if the extra harvest is sold or donated into a food desert with a poverty rate of at least 20%, according to the text of the bill.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, said in an e-mail that the group and other fresh produce advocates have reservations about the legislation.

“We continue to be opposed to allowing producers to be subsidized to grow fruits and vegetables on base acreage,” Guenther said in the e-mail. “We acknowledge food deserts as a real issue and will work hard with members of Congress and other interested stakeholders to identify unique ways to address these problems.”

The proposed legislation would give growers the option to plant additional fruits and vegetables on base acres without a resulting reduction in payment acres, as long as if the crops are grown solely for sale or donation, “directly or indirectly by the producer and with or without processing, in a food desert.”

Under the Agricultural Act of 2014, farmers already can plant 15% of their base acres to vegetables if enrolled in the county-level price loss coverage (PLC) or county agriculture risk coverage (ARC) and up to 35% if enrolled in the individual farm-level ARC program. The proposed legislation bumps the allowed levels up to 20% for county-level programs and 40% for individual ARC, if growers meet the requirements to serve food deserts from the extra 5%.
 

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