Hard work on farm bill agreement pays off

01/31/2014 11:12:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationTom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationOur industry has come a long way in terms of programs, resources and clout in Washington, D.C.

The 2014 farm bill is nothing less than a solid win for fresh produce on several fronts, including research, market promotion, pest and disease programs and nutrition initiatives.

Let’s not forget that getting this farm bill agreement finally done has been a long, arduous political process that originally started with work to craft a 2012 farm bill.

United Fresh and our industry allies in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance have been working to pass this bill in a time of high-stakes budgetary showdowns and contentious elections. We’ve been working to pass a good farm bill when many speculated about the chances of passing a farm bill at all.

And it’s not just a good farm bill, it’s a great one.

At a time when many farm programs faced the budgetary ax, programs for specialty crops held firm. For me, last week’s headline at Politico, the most influential political news source in D.C., really brought it home: Farm bill makes produce a ‘major player.’

Here at United Fresh, we’ve known that produce has been a “major player” for a long time, but recognition among the rest of Capitol Hill helps too. Our industry is increasingly shaping the government policies that grow the economy, provide jobs, protect the environment and improve nutrition for millions of Americans.

Thanks go to the leadership in the Senate and House agriculture committees for their steadfast support of our industry and their work to move this bill to the finish line.

Equal thanks go to United Fresh members and other industry leaders who’ve walked the halls of Congress, made phone calls, contributed PAC checks and otherwise made their voices heard to their lawmakers.

More than ever, it takes champions on Capitol Hill and on Main Street to forge these historic legislative victories, so thank you.

There’s a lot in the 2014 farm bill to benefit produce industry companies and American consumers. Here’s a rundown of just a few of the highlights:

 

  •  Specialty Crop Block Grants — A pillar of the produce industry’s utilization of the farm bill by providing funding for local needs. Funding for block grants is up to $72.5 million annually, increasing to $85 million.

  •  Specialty Crop Research Initiative — This provides $72.5 million annually for industry-specific research. Our industry simply doesn’t have those kinds of funds to invest ourselves, so restoring this critical funding has been a major United Fresh goal.

  •  Value-Added Grants — The farm bill includes funding of $63 million over five years for grants that can help companies create new products, expand their marketing or develop specialty and niche products.

  •  Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program — This produce industry hallmark of the farm bill provides funding at $150 million a year. Thanks to this innovative program, school kids across the country receive fresh produce snacks to help ensure their nutrition and educate them about the flavorful benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

  •  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) Incentive Program — This important new program devotes $100 million over five years for grants to incentivize SNAP recipients to buy fruits and vegetables. This commitment to evaluate ways to increase healthy choices in the $80 billion food stamp program may prove to be the biggest step forward in this farm bill.

  •  The Market Access Program is continued at $200 million per year to help producers and commodity groups market their products overseas.

  •  Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops provides $9 million a year to address complex technical in trade.

  •  The Plant Pest and Disease Program includes funding of $62.5 million a year increasing to $75 million in fiscal 2018.

 

Overall, these and other programs constitute a 55% increase in the government’s investment in the produce industry’s competitiveness and the nutritional wellbeing of Americans through increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.

In the weeks ahead, United Fresh will conduct outreach and education to help our members understand how to utilize these programs and resources afforded by this new farm bill.

Congratulations to all whose vision, leadership and commitment have resulted in outstanding legislation that will benefit our industry and consumers for many years to come.

Thank goodness the farm bill only comes around every five years.

Now, on to getting immigration reform passed.

Tom Stenzel is president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

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