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Specialty Crops

March 28, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Elena Bickell

Executive Summary 

The specialty crop industry is diverse and includes fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, floriculture crops, and other horticultural goods. Grains and oilseeds such as corn and soybean are not considered specialty crops. Specialty crop growers receive funds which are regulated under Section 101 of the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004. There are three bills (HB 2762, HB 2720, SB 1157) in the 2022 Missouri General Assembly that would create the "Specialty Agricultural Crops Act", a loan program established by the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority for the purchase of certain specialty crop resources. 

Highlights 

  • There are currently more than 242,818 specialty crop farms in the U.S, covering more than 15.6 million acres (about 6% of total U.S. cropland).
    • Most of the specialty crops are produced in orchards (about half the farms), and include fruits and tree nuts. Other land production uses include berries, vegetables, nurseries and greenhouses for floriculture, Christmas trees, and maple syrup farms.
  • The U.S. fruit and vegetable industry accounts for nearly one third of all U.S. crop cash receipts and one fifth of U.S. agricultural exports. 
  • More than half of all fresh and processed fruit and vegetables reach consumers via supermarkets, other retail establishments, and the foodservice industry.
  • The specialty crop industry is labor-intensive, particularly for those producers who harvest their crops manually. Labor is the largest variable expense for U.S. producers of specialty crops. 
  • In 2017 there were 3,503 farms that grew specialty crops in Missouri on 45,150 acres. 
    • Most farms were vegetable farms and orchards. 
    • Potato growers in Missouri receive the greatest cash receipts total of specialty crops.

Limitations

  • Since "specialty crop" covers so many different categories, it is difficult to draw general conclusions about policies related to "specialty crops".
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