( File photo )

The farm bill is in the hands of President Trump, following the Senate and House approval of the legislation, widely praised by groups representing fresh produce growers and marketers.

The Senate passed it on Dec. 11, 87-13, and the House passed it Dec. 12, 369-47.

“As part of this Farm Bill, the fresh produce industry secured major victories around increasing access to fresh produce in federal nutrition programs, breaking down trade barriers, focusing additional resources towards research priorities, and combating pest and disease challenges,” according to a statement from the United Fresh Produce Association. “Overall, the Farm bill represents over $3 billion in resources and policy changes dedicated to these and other important programs targeted by the fresh produce industry.”

Produce groups widely praised specific programs funded by the farm bill:

  • Specialty Crop Block Grants — Continues funding of $425 million over five years;
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative — Provides $80 million a year for research, with a new $25 million annual fund for the citrus industry’s fight against huanglongbing, aka HLB/citrus greening; and
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — Continues fresh fruit and vegetable purchase incentives and adds the Produce Prescription Program, allowing healthcare providers to prescribe fruits and vegetables for low-income patients.

When the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders released the text of the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report on Dec. 10, praise from the produce industry was widespread, with associations urging its passage.

“All in all, we applaud the committee leaders, conferees and staff for their diligence in producing a strong, bi-partisan farm bill, and we urge swift passage and enactment before the end of the year,” Western Growers president and CEO Tom Nassif said in a statement.

Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, praised citrus research funds for HLB.

“We’re very pleased that the farm bill is going to be moving out of Congress and to the president,” Nelsen said Dec. 11, from Washington, D.C., where he was meeting with guest worker legislation and trade stakeholders. “The U.S. citrus industry has a lot at stake here with HLB.”

Mike Stuart, CEO of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, said the bill's support for trade programs to identify markets and overcome trade barriers, as well funds to fight Huanglongbing, are highlights.

“We appreciate the dedicated efforts of the House and Senate agriculture committee leadership in bringing forward a bill that will put more nutritious produce in schools, provide critical research funding to fight citrus greening and other invasive plant pests and diseases, and help us to expand markets for our crops,” Stuart said in a news release.

“This new farm bill makes needed investments in specialty crop research, restores funding for vital trade programs and offers certainty to farmers for the next five years,” John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council, said in a statement.

The Organic Trade Association called the farm bill a “major policy win” in a statement, with provisions for organic research, and compliance and enforcement for domestic and imported items.

The association lauded the inclusion of $50 million annually for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative by 2023, more than double the current funding.

“This will ensure stable, baseline mandatory funding for the program, and will enable organic farmers to meet the unique challenges they face,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, said in the statement. “The bill also includes important steps to modernize and speed up federal efforts to prevent organic fraud, to create a transparent marketplace, and to ensure that every stakeholder in the organic chain is playing by the rules.”