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Reps. Carbajal, LaMalfa, Miller, and Spanberger Lead Push for Investments in Specialty Crop Mechanization in the 2024 Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) joined his House Agriculture Committee colleagues Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Max Miller (R-Ohio), and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) to lead 30 Members of Congress in an effort urging Agriculture Committee leaders to prioritize federal support and financial resources for specialty crop mechanization research and development in the 2024 Farm Bill.

In a bipartisan letter sent last week to Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member David Scott (D-Ga.), the members assert that innovative technology is more critical than ever to support the competitiveness and longevity of the U.S. specialty crop industry – which include Central Coast agricultural staples like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and cut flowers.

“Farmworkers in California are using some of the same hand-picking and labor-intensive methods that my dad used when he worked as a farmworker a half-century ago,” said Rep. Carbajal. “As someone who worked in the fields in the summers with him, I know the critical difference that investments in agricultural mechanization research and development through this year’s Farm Bill would make. Undertaken in the right way, with guardrails like those included in the bill we introduced last year, breakthroughs in this space will improve the quality of life for our farmworkers, and ensure we have a workforce that is prepared to cultivate the farms of tomorrow.”

“California is the nation’s sole producer of many types of specialty crops and grows half of the U.S.-produced fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Our specialty crop industry is a significant part of our total ag economy, food security, and global export. However, the specialty crop industry finds itself at increasing disadvantages from increased input costs, labor shortages, and barriers in utilizing certain Federal programs. Bolstering specialty crop mechanization and automation development is essential to the competitiveness and durability of the industry,” said Congressman LaMalfa.

“American farmers must have the ability to utilize advanced technologies to compete in the global market and provide affordable goods for U.S. consumers,” Rep. Max Miller (OH-7) noted, “I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting means toward more efficient agriculture production, particularly with rising input and labor challenges, emphasizing innovation and training for farmers striving to meet global food demands.”

“Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry. Our Commonwealth’s economy and the strength of local economies across our country rely on a competitive, innovative specialty crop industry,” said Spanberger. “As Members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, we understand the critical need to include federal support in the Farm Bill for specialty crop mechanization, automation research, and the growers, producers, and farmworkers who keep our communities fed. Investments in accessible and innovative technologies are investments in a robust agricultural workforce and a strong farm economy.”

The same four lawmakers introduced legislation last year to establish within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) a $20 million-a-year research and development grant program exclusively dedicated to specialty crop mechanization and automation projects.

More information on the Advancing Automation Research and Development in Agriculture Act can be found here.

“We applaud the continued advocacy from Representatives LaMalfa, Carbajal, Miller and Spanberger for increased Farm Bill support and resources for mechanization and automation technologies in the specialty crop sector,” the SCFBA Co-Chairs said in a joint statement. “The shrinking availability and rising cost of labor are major limiting factors for our specialty crop growers. Innovation is needed now more than ever to ensure our farmers, workers and consumers can count on a strong domestic industry now and in the future. These and other glaring pressures on American specialty crop growers point to the need for Congress to advance a new Farm Bill sooner rather than later.” – The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance Co-Chairs are Cathy Burns, CEO of the International Fresh Produce Association; Mike Joyner, President of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; Dave Puglia, President and CEO of Western Growers; and Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council.

“Labor is one of the biggest limiting factors in American agriculture. In this Farm Bill, we must invest in new technologies to allow farmers to address labor shortages while ensuring they can continue to grow the wide variety of fruits and vegetables America’s families rely on to stock their pantries.” – John Walt Boatright, Director, Government Affairs, American Farm Bureau Federation.

Last year, Rep. Carbajal led a bipartisan push calling for robust funding for agricultural research and innovation in President Biden’s 2024 budget.

Heeding Carbajal’s call, the White House proposed a $299 million increase over last year’s funding level, for a total of more than $4 billion proposed for agriculture research and development in Fiscal Year 2024.

View the letter here or read the text below:

As the committee continues its work to reauthorize the Farm Bill, we write to elevate the importance of supporting the competitiveness and longevity of our U.S. specialty crop industry. The need for agricultural technology and innovation has never been greater, and we urge that any multi-year Farm Bill bolster federal support and financial resources for mechanization and automation research and development.

In the specialty crop sector, manual labor remains the predominant method to plant, manage, and harvest fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and ornamental crops. Unfortunately, this reliance on hand-harvesting leads to higher grower production costs compared to other agriculture sectors. According to the USDA-Economic Research Service, labor costs comprise on average 40-70 percent of total expenses for specialty crop farms, compared to just under 15 percent for all of agriculture. This puts the U.S. specialty crop sector at a huge disadvantage due to ongoing labor trends of shrinking availability and rising costs, trends that are expected to worsen in the future.

The development and incorporation of innovative and accessible technology is therefore more critical than ever, both to bridge the gaps left by the shortage of human hands and equip the existing workforce with modern solutions to enhance their skill sets. With dedicated federal funding and attention, we can better attract the private investment and ingenuity necessary to accelerate breakthroughs and commercialization. Such efforts will not only provide for the long-term viability of homegrown farming operations, but also ensure our current and next-generation agricultural workforce can be supported and successful in our own communities.

The Committee’s support is essential in ensuring our producers can continue providing healthy and affordable food to consumers, both domestically and overseas. We thank you for your work and remain jointly committed to delivering a Farm Bill that supports innovation and competitiveness for all our nation’s farmers.

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