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Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Specialty Crops: A Primer on Government Programs

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Publication Date: January 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32746

Topic: Agriculture, forestry and fishing (Crop management)


U.S. farmers grow more than 250 types of fruit, vegetable, tree nut, flower, ornamental nursery, and turfgrass crops in addition to the major bulk commodity crops. Although specialty crops are ineligible for the federal commodity price and income support programs, they are eligible for other types of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) support, such as crop insurance, disaster assistance, and, under certain conditions, ad hoc market loss assistance payments.

The industry also benefits generally from USDA programs to enhance marketing opportunities; protect sellers from fraudulent practices in the marketplace; support and stabilize markets through purchases for USDA feeding programs; promote and facilitate exports; protect domestic production from foreign pests and diseases; and conduct research on related horticultural and economic subjects. The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930 (PACA), the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, periodic omnibus legislation authorizing USDA programs, and annual and supplemental appropriations acts are the primary laws that govern the USDA programs affecting specialty crops.

Other federal agencies also play important roles. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA, in the Department of Health and Human Services) is responsible for assuring that fresh, frozen, canned, and imported fruits, vegetables, and nuts are safe for human consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the safe limits for pesticide residues on produce, which FDA enforces. The Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission are responsible for investigating instances of suspected "dumping" of foreign goods on the U.S. market and levying antidumping taxes. The Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security jointly administer a system for temporarily admitting foreign workers to provide seasonal labor, provided that U.S. workers are not available.

This report describes the federal programs of importance to the specialty crop sector, and provides the most recent funding information available for them. It will be updated periodically.