What specialty crop producers, scientists want to see in the upcoming Farm Bill

The Senate Agriculture Committee heard from a mushroom farmer and a crop scientist Thursday in a hearing related to the horticulture title of the 2023 Farm Bill.

With less than four months left until the current Farm Bill expires, the Senate Ag Committee is taking a closer look at the horticulture title and how the legislation works for specialty crop producers.

“Mushroom growers [...] produce not only mushrooms but a reusable, value-add soil amendment that sequesters carbon and regenerates soil,” said Pennsylvania mushroom farmer Chris Alonzo, sharing his concerns for the future of the industry. “All of these nutrition and mushroom compost discoveries have come from investment in research. Yet, the mushroom industry lacks critical resources required to stay competitive when it comes to operations.”

Alonzo says fresh mushrooms are a national commodity and should be treasured. But, he says support and research through the Farm Bill is needed.

He continued: “In an increasingly fast-paced agricultural sector, mushrooms need research on integrated pest management (IPM) to mitigate fungi-specific pests and pathogens; research on the beneficial uses of mushroom compost, which, not a fertilizer, sequesters carbon and regenerates soil; research on harvesting mechanization for increased yield, quality, and employee augmentation and retention; and research on the potential value to the industry of crop insurance.”

At the same hearing, Margaret Leigh Worthington, a crop scientist at the University of Arkansas, warned new EPA regulations could hinder the development of new specialty crop varieties.

Worthington said the rules add red tape for plant-incorporated protectants that involve gene editing. She points out it could be more burdensome than regulations in other countries and will make it difficult to commercialize the products.

The new rule is set to go into effect on July 31, 2023.

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