( File photo )

(UPDATED,  June 14)  Boasting almost universal bipartisan support, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 passed the Senate Agriculture Committee by a vote of 20-1.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available on the Senate Agriculture Committee website.

The bill, which is expected to be voted on the by the full Senate before the July Fourth recess, includes many provisions important to the fresh produce industry, according to a United Fresh Produce Association member alert. Those include:

  • Full funding for the Market Access Program ($200 million/year) and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program ($9 million/year);
  • $80 million in annual funding for all specialty crops under the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, giving priority for mechanization projects;
  • $25 million annually for citrus greening research through the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund;
  • $4 million annually for a new research initiative focusing on urban agriculture;
  • Reauthorization of the Office of Pest Management Policy;
  • Full $85 million per year in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program with $5 million set aside for multi-state programs to be administered through the Agricultural Marketing Service;
  • The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is maintained as a fresh-only program;
  • An increase to $50 million in mandatory funding (now $250 million over five years) for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program; and
  • A new Harvesting Health Pilot Program that provides a “produce prescription” to those who may be suffering from diet-related conditions.

 

Industry response

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, representing more than 120 U.S. specialty crop organizations, applauded the efforts of Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the balance of the committee for the farm bill.

“This legislation clearly reflects the growing importance of the specialty crop industry in American agriculture,” the alliance said in a release. The group said it was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of a new program for citrus producers, increased funds for nutrition programs as well as the extension of many of the specialty crop provisions that were included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

“These funding commitments demonstrate that the Senate recognizes the value of these programs and their tremendous importance to the specialty crop industry and consumers,” the alliance said in the release.

The House last month failed to pass the farm bill because of an immigration reform fight among Republicans and objections from Democrats about food stamp work requirement provisions in the bill.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh Produce Association said the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance worked with both Senate Republicans and Democrats to deliver a farm bill that meets the needs of the industry. 

“We’re very happy with it,” Guenther said June 14. 

Guenther said the Senate could vote on the farm bill as early as the week of June 18, and if not, likely before the July Fourth recess.

Meanwhile, after setting aside immigration issues, the House could vote on its version of the farm bill June 21, Guenther said. 

“If we get both bills passed out of the House and Senate (by July 4), I think it really bodes well for getting a bill done this year,” he said. 

Even though there are significant differences in the two bills, particularly related to nutrition programs, he said getting the farm bill to conference would give lawmakers plenty of time to work out the differences before the current farm bill expires at the end of September.

Meanwhile, Guenther said there could be another push toward votes on immigration legislation this year.

“Whether it includes an agriculture component is up in the air,” he said. “We’re still trying to make sure agriculture gets recognized in immigration reform this year.”

In a statement June 13, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., applauded the Senate for its bipartisan approach and expressed hope that the House would bring a bipartisan bill to conference.

“What the Senate has put together reflects great work by Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow to set partisan goals aside and focus on a bill that addresses the issues we’ve heard about throughout this farm bill process,” Peterson said in a statement. He said the House Agriculture Committee should “come back to the drawing board” and match the Senate effort.

 

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