( File photo )

(UPDATED 12:30 p.m. Dec. 12) Embracing what they called a bipartisan result, House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders released the text of the 2018 Farm Bill conference report.

The text of the legislation is available online.

The National Potato Council released a statement supporting the farm bill.

The bill addresses several potato industry issues, including:

  • Maintains the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops at its full authorized level;
  • Ensures the Specialty Crops Research Initiative allows crops to compete for $80 million in research funding;
  • Supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service pest and disease programs; and
  • Reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Block Grant program.

“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 NPC, said in the statement. “The potato industry strongly supports this bill and urges Congress to send it to the president for his signature immediately.”

A United Fresh Produce Association member alert named numerous positive farm bill offerings, including the specialty crop grant program, research initiatives and the “dramatic” increases in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program incentives for fresh produce, and the Produce Prescription Program allowing healthcare providers to prescribe fruits and vegetables for low-income patients.

“By all accounts the Agriculture Improvement Act (aka the farm bill) has bolstered the government’s commitment for a strong and dynamic produce industry,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh, said in the e-mail. “The fresh produce industry has much at stake in this legislation and we are grateful for the recognition of the role our industry plays in providing nutritious foods for Americans and those around the world.”

Western Growers cited funding increases for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, continuation of funding to fight huanglongbing (citrus greening), and the creation of the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority pilot program, which is modeled after private-sector funding of high-priority research needs.

“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.

Nassif said Western growers is “disappointed” the bill doesn’t include regulatory reforms in pest and disease management.

Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, also 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.”

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.”

Among the bill’s provisions the Organic Trade Association identifies as top priorities are:

  • Funding for organic certification cost sharing, which helps smaller producers transition to organic;
  • Full funding for the Organic Data Initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s data collection program designed to provide accurate market and production information; and
  • Tools and funding for improved oversight of trade to ensure integrity of organic products through the global supply chain.

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 bill includes priority programs that will allow farmers to continue to put safe, healthful fruits and vegetables on Americans’ tables.”

House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Members Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., all praised the legislation, which now must be passed by the lame duck Congress in December.

Peterson said the bill invests $300 million in the prevention and response for pests and disease and invests in research, outreach to beginning and underserved producers, local and organic food production, bioenergy, and access to new markets.

“It’s the product of strong bipartisan work in both the House and the Senate, and it’s something I’m proud to encourage folks to vote for,” Peterson said in the release.


 

 
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