(UPDATED Jan. 28) The final version of the Agricultural Act of 2014, commonly known as the Farm Bill, contains major increases in funding for programs benefiting the fresh produce industry, according to industry leaders.
The United Fresh Produce Association on Jan. 28 launched a campaign for the produce industry, asking leaders to contact members of Congress to support the legislation.
Official Congressional Budget Office costs of the bill and the text of the agreement were not yet available, but a news release from House and Senate leaders in the farm bill conference committee said the Agricultural Act of 2014 is expected to be considered by the House by Jan. 29. The Senate also is expected to vote on the bill this week.
The bill includes a 55% increase in produce initiatives, said Robert Guenther, United Fresh's senior vice president of public policy. That includes funds for Specialty Crop Block Grants, new food stamp incentive grants, Specialty Crops Research Initiative, pest and disease prevention and continued support of the Market Access Program for exports and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in schools.
In a belt-tightening budget atmosphere, Guenther was happy to see funding for so many produce programs grow.
“We are very pleased, when we look at our top priorities in both policy and resource allocations,” he said. “All everybody talks about is ‘cutting, cutting, cutting’ and we’re in a growth mode.”
Guenther said United Fresh has high hopes the bill will get passed by both houses.
“Based on discussions with leadership, counting votes, we feel optimistic it’s going to pass the House and the Senate.”
The House will almost certainly vote on the bill Jan. 29, likely between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. EST, Guenther said. The Senate is expected to vote Jan. 30 or Jan. 31, but there is a chance it won’t come up this week, he said.
Guenther praised Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, for her day-to-day leadership on issues important to the produce industry.
The anticipated success of its lobbying efforts puts the produce industry in a strong position for negotiations over future Farm Bills, Guenther said.
“We’ve become more of a player in this area,” he said.
“Not only is this a good farm bill, this is almost a miraculous farm bill,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, during a Jan. 28 teleconference with reporters.
The three-year process to craft a farm bill has been difficult, lawmakers said in the teleconference. Disagreements on farm program cuts, changes in dairy policy, food stamp reforms and an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the country of origin labeling law were some of the hurdles.
Lucas acknowledged that lawmakers on the extreme liberal and conservative ends of the spectrum will oppose the bill, but said his “gut feeling” is that the bill will garner enough support in the House.
Fruit and vegetable-related programs in the farm bill include investments in local foods, organics, farmers' markets and farm-to-school initiatives, according to legislators.
“Today’s bipartisan agreement puts us on the verge of enacting a five-year Farm Bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety net and helps farmers and businesses create jobs,” Stabenow said in the release.
According to United Fresh, programs funded include:
- Market Access Program – reauthorizes at $200 million per year;
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program – maintains Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program authorization and baseline funding at $150 million per year;
- Healthy Incentives Program – provides $100 million program to establish “incentives grants” for projects that incentivize SNAP participants to buy fruits and vegetables;
- Specialty Crop Research Initiative – sets mandatory funding at $80 million per year. From 2014 to 2018, $25 million per year will be utilized to address the emergency citrus greening mitigation;
- Specialty Crop Block Grants – funding includes $72.5 million in 2014-2017 and $85 million in 2018. Includes multi-state funding project to be established by USDA;
- and Farmers Market Promotion Program – includes $30 million per year.
Markets Editor Andy Nelson contributed to this story.