PBFA Submits Recommendations to USDA on Strengthening Specialty Crops – vegconomist

PBFA Submits Recommendations to USDA on Strengthening Specialty Crops – vegconomist

The Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and the Plant Based Foods Institute (PBFI) have recently submitted comments in response to the USDA’s request for information on the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative (SCCI). This initiative aims to strengthen the agricultural production of key ingredients for plant-based foods, reflecting the USDA’s increased efforts to support the specialty crops sector and improve the competitiveness of its products.

Objectives of the SCCI

The SCCI is designed to enhance research, market development, and support for farmers in the specialty crops industry, which includes most fruit, nut, and vegetable crops, as well as pulses like dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. The initiative focuses on administrative improvements to maximize the impact of existing Farm Bill programs, addressing challenges related to climate change and global market dynamics.

“We all count on America’s specialty crops for reliable access to nutritious, fresh foods,” commented USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small in a press release. He furthered, “Specialty crop producers are hard at work to keep operations profitable while implementing sustainable practices, and President Biden is proud to invest in innovation within the industry to remain competitive domestically and in markets across the world.”

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Sustainable ingredient supply chains

An article published by the PBFA stressed the need for sustainable ingredient supply chains from farm to fork to build a resilient plant-based food industry. According to the PBFA, many countries in the EU and Asia have integrated the plant-based sector into their national agricultural strategies, investing in seed breeding, cropping systems research, and incentives for farmers to grow more pulse crops.

These efforts also include developing processing and distribution infrastructure to support the plant-based market. However, in the US, there has been limited attention to how global plant-based market dynamics could impact the agricultural economy or how the domestic growth of plant-based foods can create new opportunities for farmers.

fruits nuts seeds pulses
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The PBFA suggests that now is an opportune time to establish a strong supply-side strategy for the plant-based food industry. The future of plant-based meat alternatives will rely on diverse plant proteins, many of which are specialty crops. 

Support is needed to promote consumption and expand markets for these crops. The PBFA sees an opportunity for the plant-based food industry to partner with the USDA to promote specialty crop programs and help farmers compete in domestic and international markets.

Research and innovation

Research and innovation are critical components of the SCCI, with the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) supporting breeding and production science, as well as processing, technology, policy, and market research. The PBFA points out that there has been little major analysis of the demand for crops used in plant-based foods or long-term projections for these markets. Collaborative research between plant scientists and food scientists is needed to optimize and bring more specialty crops to market.

Young farmer in soybean fields
© Bunge

Support for farmers

In addition to research, the SCCI supports production training, technical support for farmers, adoption of sustainable practices, and improvements to distribution and value-added processing. Programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) provide funding for various initiatives, including farm-to-school programs and good agricultural practices. Last August, the USDA marked over $1 billion invested in nearly 12,000 projects through the SCBG.

The PBFA concludes that “By boosting the profitable production of a broad range of healthy crops, SCCI is just one of many important opportunities to establish plant-based foods as a sustainable solution and to build support for the plant-based transition among a critical segment of food and farming stakeholders.”

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