Washington - Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) tlday voted in favor of the Farm Bill, which he says makes strides that will help New Jersey farmers, even though it lacks the sweeping reforms that he ultimately would like to see.
"After a number of excellent, more extensive reform efforts were defeated, the decision we were ultimately presented with was to essentially extend the previous Farm Bill or adopt this one, which makes some good initial steps toward a better system for New Jersey farmers," said Senator Menendez. "I believe farmers in our state will be better off than before because of this legislation, which is why I supported it. I am particularly encouraged by this bill's commitment to specialty crop farmers, food stamp recipients and healthier food for children at school, and I am proud that this bill included measures I originally introduced.
"However, I fully understand that major additional reforms must be made, including a reform of the direct payment system that largely benefits mega factory farms and a greater emphasis on nutrition and conservation. To that end, I applaud my Senate partner from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, for his efforts with the FRESH Act, and I look forward to continuing to stand up together with him on behalf of New Jersey's farmers."
Provisions from Senator Menendez's Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuels Act included in the Farm Bill:
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
For the first time, specialty crops were given their own section in the Farm Bill, with over $3 billion to fund specialty crops provisions. These crops include the fruits, vegetables and other crops that constitute half of the nation's agricultural cash receipts, but have received little recognition in previous farm bills. New Jersey is a national leader in growing specialty crops like blueberries, cranberries, peppers, peaches and spinach.
National specialty crop rankings for New Jersey:
Blueberries: 2nd highest national output (#1 in fresh market blueberries)
Cranberries: 3rd highest nation output
Peppers: 3rd highest national output
Peaches: 4th highest national output
Spinach: 4th highest national output