June 20, 2024

The farm bill is important for specialty crop growers

Jon Iverson is a specialty crop farmer and Farm Bureau member in Oregon.

As Congress returns from August recess, discussions around the 2023 farm bill will once again begin to heat up. All across the nation, farmers and ranchers have been working tirelessly to advocate for this vital bill.

Agriculture provides food, fuel and fiber on a global scale, and the farm bill serves as a safety net in fulfilling that mission.

While the farm bill might not immediately evoke thoughts about specialty crops, it’s crucial to recognize that this bill provides significant support for these farmers, as well.

According to the most recent Agriculture Census in 2017, specialty crops accounted for 30% of total crop sales in the United States, encompassing more than 222,000 farms and 350 types of crops in addition to the major commodity crops.

Here in Oregon, our farm has grown nearly 75 different crops. Among these are grass seeds like tall fescue, perennial rye grass and annual rye grass. We also grow cover crop seeds such as clover and hairy vetch and most notably our 35 acres of tulips.

We pride ourselves on the diversity we grow on our farm, yet it presents its own unique challenges. Specialty crop farmers encounter an array of risks due to the variety of methods in cultivation and production.

These challenges range from difficult weather conditions, natural disasters, pests and diseases to complexities related to market access and regulations. While many farmers face these challenges, it’s magnified in specialty crop production.

Fortunately, in recent decades, more programs have been established to aid specialty crop farmers, with the farm bill taking a central role, specifically in Title 10. These U.S. Department of Agriculture-administrated programs include specialized management programs and targeted market promotion.

Provisions supporting specialty crops are not limited to Title 10, but are also contained within several other titles such as research, nutrition and trade.

From our farm’s perspective, the farm bill plays a pivotal role in our success, notably through the Interregional Research Project No. 4 program.

The IR-4 funding enables researchers to explore new solutions for pest management. This research benefits not only us directly, but has far-reaching implications for the broader public, as well.

By supporting IR-4 research, the farm bill contributes to maintaining stable food prices, reinforcing the importance of domestic food production and reducing reliance on other countries for our food supplies.

The farm bill’s support, especially through programs like IR-4, empowers farmers to employ advanced solutions and cultivate our crops in a responsible, sustainable manner. This makes the farm bill a cornerstone of all we do.

Advocating for the farm bill, especially for items such as specialty crop programs, is not just a matter of policy, but an endeavor that supports and secures our nation’s food supply, the economy and the sustainable practice we continue to strive towards.

By advocating on the local, state and national level, we lend our voices as the farmers and ranchers who are directly affected. We’re a collective force that will help ensure the resilience and success of agriculture for generations to come.

Jon Iverson is a specialty crop farmer and Farm Bureau member in Oregon.