Farm Bill Passes Congress: Menendez Praises Benefits for NJ Farmers, Expresses Hope For More Reforms In Future

Farm Bill Passes Congress: Menendez Praises Benefits for NJ Farmers, Expresses Hope For More Reforms In Future

Menendez worked to include school nutrition provisions, protect New Jerseyans from losing rural assistance

Washington - Today, the U.S. Senate gave final approval to a new five-year Farm Bill. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) who helped defend New Jersey farmers and fought for provisions on issues such as school nutrition programs and increased nutrition funding, voted in favor of the bill.

"This will start us down a path that will make the agriculture system fairer for farmers in states like New Jersey, though we still have to work for serious reforms to the way the government tilts toward the big commodity farmers," said Senator Menendez. "It is important to New Jersey farmers that this bill for the first time signals a real federal commitment to specialty crops, which means so much to a state that is a leading producer of crops like blueberries and cranberries. On top of that, the funding to preserve farmland will help keep New Jersey's farms operating and will help protect them from development.

"I was glad to see that, in a time of record food prices there, is a considerable boost in nutrition funding. Many New Jersey families are having a hard time making ends meet and this funding can help them weather these tough times.

"Previous versions of this bill would have dealt a serious blow to many New Jerseyans with an over-the-top change to the federal definition of 'rural', but I was proud to help lead the effort to soften that blow in the final bill. I was also proud to include a number of provisions to improve school nutrition, which will not only help keep our children healthy, but will also help keep our local farms healthy."

Menendez work on the Farm Bill:

• The legislation includes important provisions from Senator Menendez's Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act :
o Expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to every state in the country, targeting benefits to low-income children, giving them a healthier snack option that will lead to healthier habits in school and at home.
o Additional funds for the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program to award grants to state governments to provide low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for healthy foods at farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs.
o Restoring the authority of schools to buy local foods in the School Lunch Program to support local farms while giving their children fresher and more nutritious food options.

• The final version includes a Menendez-requested USDA study on local food economies (activities such as farmers markets and road side stands), their benefits and the barriers to expansion.

• Senator Menendez fought to protect thousands of New Jersey citizens from being excluded from rural development programs. The version which passed the Senate Agriculture Committee could have excluded over half of the New Jersey residents who currently qualify for these programs. Senator Menendez organized a group of Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Senators to loosen this revised definition and exclude the Water and Wastewater programs and the Community Facilities programs from the new definition.

Other highlights of Farm Bill for New Jersey

• Specialty Crops (New Jersey has the 2nd highest national output of blueberries, 3rd highest national output of cranberries and peppers and the 4th highest national output of peaches and spinach):
o The bill dedicates approximately $3 billion to critical mandatory funding to specialty crop priorities such as nutrition, research, pests and disease, trade assistance, conservation local competitiveness projects.
o $1.02 billion to expands the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Snack Program to all 50 states. The nationwide expansion of the Snack Program will develop life-long healthy eating habits for millions of children by providing fresh fruits and vegetables in our nation's schools.
o $466 million to enhances funding for "Specialty Crop Block Grants" that focus on local efforts to enhance producers' ability to compete in the marketplace and provide consumers with safe, abundant food.
o $ 377 million to create a new Pest and Disease Program focused on combating invasive pests and disease, which cost the economy billions of dollars a year. This program will be a joint collaborative effort between the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) and state departments of agriculture.
o Prioritization of federal research activities for specialty crops. USDA will collaborate with specialty crop producers and organizations to develop and implement applied research and extension initiatives funded and sponsored by the agency.
o Farmers' Markets: expansion of the Farmers' Market Promotion Program, first created in the 2002 farm bill, by providing $33 million over the next five years to continue our investment in promoting fresh, local foods.

• Nutrition: At a time when food prices are setting record highs, New Jersey will see an increase of $186 million (over 10 years) in the Food Stamp, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program.

• Food Banks: the bill will give food banks an immediate infusion of resources to help families turning to them in these tough economic times, and in total provides $1.256 billion over the next ten years to increase commodity purchases for food banks - this nearly doubles the current level of funding.

• Conservation: The bill contains $4 billion in additional conservation funding - to take one conservation program as an example, New Jersey could receive almost $50 million over 5 years for the Farmland Protection Program. This will greatly help New Jersey's farmers protect their lands from development and also help New Jersey's efforts to preserve open space.

The bill has wide support from New Jersey agricultural groups and organizations.