Packer Sound Bite - Farm Bill 4-12
In a clip from Packer Insight, national editor Tom Karst reports the latest on the farm bill. ( The Packer )

With iffy Democratic support, the race is on to pass a farm bill this year.

The introduction of the 2018 farm bill signals the start of a search for 218 votes by its author, House Agriculture Commission Republican chairman Mike Conaway.

“That magic number of 218 is what I’m excited about,” Conaway, R-Texas, told reporters in a conference call April 12. He said the bill, which he called a “work in progress,” will be offered to the House Agriculture Committee for amendments on April 18 and should clear the committee by the end of the week.

One potato industry leader said getting a farm bill done this year is critical.

“We appreciate chairman Conaway’s action today to initiate the formal 2018 Farm Bill process,” John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO of the National Potato Council said in a statement. “The potato industry looks forward to working with the committee, the full House of Representatives and their Senate counterparts in delivering a strong bill to the president’s desk before September 30.”

There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the farm bill in the House and the Senate, said Kam Quarles, vice president of public policy for the National Potato Council.

Passing the farm bill by Sept. 30 would allow the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program to continue to operate. If a new farm bill is not passed, its funding authority would expire, he said.

While funding for most specialty crop research programs was maintained at stable levels, Quarles said industry leaders believe more funding is needed for the Specialty Crops Research Initiative.

Under the current Farm Bill, the program is funded in total at $80 million annually, with $25 million reserved exclusively for the citrus industry specifically to combat the HLB virus and the Asian Citrus Psyllid vector. This reserved amount is due to expire at the end of September 2018, which would mean all specialty crops would be eligible for the full $80 million in research funds beginning Oct. 1. However, Conaway’s bill maintains the reserve for citrus research through 2023 without increasing funding available for other crops, Quarles said lobbyists will work to increase funding for the program.


Rough waters

Conaway acknowledged that Democrats on his committee have expressed opposition to the bill because of its provisions to tighten work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. But he said the bill also includes options for increased opportunities SNAP recipients, including participating in a fully-funded, guaranteed employment and training program.

Aside from the SNAP provisions, Conaway said the rest of the farm bill has bipartisan elements that Democrats support and held out hope that the bill wins enough Republican and Democratic support to pass the House with a minimum of 218 votes. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, and any version of the farm bill passed by the House must be reconciled with the Senate version, which has yet to start work on the legislation.

Called the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), the bill would make several changes to programs serving the specialty crop industry. A section by section summary of the bill is available at the House Agriculture Committee’s website.

According to a list of highlights provided by Conaway’s office and excerpts from the bill’s language, the legislation would:

  • Change the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to include canned dried, frozen, or pureed in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Restores funding for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops under the new International Market Development Program;
  • The International Market Development Program is a consolidation of the current Market Access Program, the Foreign Market Development Cooperator Program, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program, and the E. (Kika) De La Garza Emerging Markets Program;
  • Seeks to expand and improve crop insurance policies for specialty crops;
  • Makes improvements to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, while maintaining funding; and
  • Increases funding for the Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiate and provides resources for combating fraudulent imports of organic products coming into the U.S.