With budgets, taxes and federal spending still the hottest issue in Washington, farm groups and agriculture supporters are concerned that if and when Congress seriously gets down to business on new farm legislation later this year, there may not be enough funding to go around.

With a new summer target date for possible debate on just such a bill, agricultural interests across the nation are vying for more attention and focus on their segments of the industry. From Capitol Hill lobbyists to friendly farm product advocates, every niche of agriculture is aware they may be juggling for position when it comes to securing support for farm legislation friendly to their cause.

The U.S. fruit, tree nut, flower and nursery industries, groups that in the past were often overlooked and rarely understood, are applauding some unexpected legislative committee help this year with the announcement that the Specialty Crop Caucus, a committee of lawmakers charged with protecting the interests of this agriculture segment, is expanding its size from 17 to 27 members.

Recently, co-chairs Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) announced the reorganization of the group that is charged with the education of other members on the issues that specialty crop growers and processors face and to advocate for legislation to help their cause.

“In my home state of California, we produce half the nation’s fruits and vegetables and protecting the industry is critical to the economy of my district. The men and women who grow our specialty crops provide nutritious options for our nation’s families and create thousands of jobs across the country.

“Building a healthier nation starts with our dinner tables, and these are the healthiest, safest foods in the world,” said Costa after the announcement was made.

Hastings says agriculture has been the backbone of Central Washington’s way of life for generations and provides more jobs than any other industry in his state.

“Our region’s specialty crop growers provide top-quality produce to consumers in the United States and around the world, and I am pleased that the Specialty Crop Caucus will provide a way to promote policies that help these growers continue to succeed,” he said.