(UPDATED: Feb. 7) After a long fight, the farm bill is signed, sealed and delivered.
By a convincing margin of 68 to 32, the Senate passed the 2014 farm bill Feb. 4, The House of Representative passed the conference farm bill measure in late January and President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign the legislation into law at a ceremony in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 7.
Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said he is invited and will attend the East Lansing signing ceremony.
Though the farm bill process was difficult and long, specialty crop programs received consistent support from Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate, he said.
“Over the past five years we have been able to demonstrate the strong return on investment our programs have been to specialty crop producers,” Guenther said Feb. 6.
As lawmakers struggled to finish a new five-year farm bill in recent months — after expiring at the end of September, the 2008 farm bill had to be extended temporarily late last year — support for the legislation was mainly split by proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps. Compromise legislation cut food stamps by 1%, less than the 5% cuts some Republicans wanted.
The farm bill allocates about $4 billion over ten years for specialty crop priorities, including programs addressing pests and diseases, nutrition, research and trade expansion. That is about 55% more than the 2208 farm bill, according to United Fresh.
“The fact that we were able to maintain and even increase some of these programs is very important,” Guenther said.
After the program had been cut when the 2008 farm bill expired, industry lobbyists convinced lawmakers to restore the Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding to about $80 million per year. In the next farm bill, that baseline spending won’t be lost again, Guenther said. Among other programs receiving funding increases, Guenther said pest and disease exclusion and specialty crop block grants were notable.
Guenther said the farm bill requires the USDA’s Risk Management Agency to conduct a study whether it is feasible to create food safety and/or quarantine insurance for the specialty crop industry.
“It’s a start, and it begins the discussion at the federal level,” Guenther said.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates http://1.usa.gov/MX5k5t that direct spending from farm bill programs over a 10-year period will total $956 billion, of which about $756 billion would be dedicated to nutrition programs. The budget office estimates the farm bill will lower deficits by $16.6 billion over the ten-year period.
The bill has been widely praised by produce industry leaders for funding nutrition and research priorities targeted by the specialty crop industry, though some concern has been expressed about the new conservation compliance regulations that are being phased in for specialty crop growers who sign up for federal crop insurance.
Some highlights of the farm bill:
- Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops – $9 million per year;
- Market Access Program – $200 million per year;
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program – $150 million per year;
- At least five states will offer canned, frozen, and dried, produce through the fresh fruit and vegetable program with an evaluation due to Congress on Jan. 1, 2015;
- Healthy Incentives Program – $100 million program (over five years) for programs to increase fresh produce purchases by SNAP participants;
- Value-added grants – Mandatory funding at $63 million;
- Specialty Crop Research Initiative – $80 million per year. From 2014-18 $25 million a year goes to fight citrus greening;
- Specialty Crop Block Grants – includes $72.5 million 2014-17 and $85 million in 2018;
- Farmers Market Promotion Program – $30 million per year; and
- Plant Pest and Disease Program – $62.5 million 2014-17 and $75 million in 2018.
Source: United Fresh