(UPDATED COVERAGE: Jan. 30) Promising more investment in the specialty crop industry than any previous federal legislation, the completion of the 2014 farm bill after years of debate was welcomed by industry leaders.
Setting the stage for expected Senate approval and President Obama’s signature to make it law, the House of Representatives easily passed the farm bill on Jan. 29 by a vote of 251 to 166.
The farm bill legislation provides a 55% increase in produce industry initiatives compared with the 2008 farm bill, according to the United Fresh Produce Association.
“We feel this is probably the most significant investment in resources in any piece of legislation for the produce industry,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh, Washington, D.C.
Program priorities of trade, research, pest and disease exclusion, nutrition programs and block grants were addressed, he said.
Hard work and collaboration with members of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance since 2008 contributed to the successful outcome, he said. Guenther also praised Republican and Democratic leaders on the farm bill conference committee,
“It’s a big win for the specialty crop industry and producers around the country,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.
Increases in funding for block grants, a new baseline and added funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, and dedicated funding to combat citrus greening are key provisions, he said.
Despite objections by industry leaders for more study of the issue, the farm bill does not exclude specialty crop growers who purchase federal crop insurance from complying with conservation compliance regulations.
The application of conservation compliance mandates to specialty crop growers who buy crop insurance will eventually mean that growers who farm on land that could be considered wetlands or highly erodible lands will need to have a certified conservation plan, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, “It is something that the specialty crop industry has not had to deal with in the past,” Quarles said.
The farm bill also creates a one-year evaluation period to allow frozen, dried, canned and fresh fruits and vegetables to be offered in a limited number of states that participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Guenther said United Fresh will make sure that the pilot program is evaluated on the basis of what is best for students.
“Ultimately this program benefits kids and it has got to about the kids,” he said. “It can’t be about industry, it is there to benefit the kids.”
According to United Fresh, programs funded include:
- Market Access Program — reauthorizes at $200 million per year;
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program – maintains program authorization and baseline funding at $150 million per year;
- Healthy Incentives Program — provides $100 million to establish “incentives grants” for more 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 used to address the emergency citrus greening mitigation;
- Specialty Crop Block Grants — funding includes $72.5 million in 2014-2017 and $85 million in 2018; and
- Farmers Market Promotion Program — includes $30 million per year.