It took a Senate committee about three hours to discuss and amend a $955 billion farm bill before approving it with a 15-5 vote on May 14.
Unofficially the goal is to send the bill to the full Senate immediately so that the chamber can have a final vote on the legislation before the Memorial Day recess, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
“I think there is better than an even chance they will get it to the floor (of the Senate) next week,” Guenther said after the May 14 vote by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
“It is almost identical to the 2012 (Senate) version of the bill. No surprises in terms of fresh produce programs. Overall we are supportive of the bill.”
The U.S. House committee on Agriculture is scheduled to begin discussions of its version of the 2013 farm bill May 15. The lower chamber is expected to take longer with the bill at the committee level than the Senate did, but Guenther said the unspoken goal in both chambers is to finish work on the farm bill as quickly as possible so Congress can focus on immigration reform.
“The House anticipates going to the floor (with its version of the farm bill) in June,” Guenther said. “That sets a timeline up for it to go to a conference committee in late July or August with final approval possible in September.”
If Congress does not approve a new farm bill by Sept. 30, a continuing resolution to maintain funding would be necessary because the current extension expires that day.
There are a couple of concerns, though, about the Senate’s version that Guenther said the fresh produce industry is watching closely.
One concern relates to a section in the Senate bill that would require growers who buy crop insurance to have a conservation plan for the land they are insuring.
Guenther said other commodities have had this requirement previously, but not specialty crops, which include fruits and vegetables. He said United Fresh and other produce industry groups have asked for a cost analysis, but none has been provided yet.
“Until we know more about this provision we can’t support it,” Guenther said. “We need to know what the financial impact might be and how many growers and acres this would impact.”