That sound you heard on Feb. 7 most likely was a collective popping of champagne corks throughout agricultural circles when President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 – better known as the farm bill – into law.
It was a significant win for specialty crop agriculture to the tune of almost $6 billion over five years. Compared with the 2008 farm bill, the measure increased federal investment in programs that address our priorities by 56 percent. We no longer have to fight for a seat at the table when it comes to being recognized in federal agriculture policy.
FFVA expressed appreciation for the commitment and work of leadership and members of Agriculture Committees in both houses to pass a bill that will help specialty crop producers continue to put nutritious food on Americans’ tables.
In its leadership role with the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, FFVA has been dedicated to ensuring that the importance of specialty crops – which account for half the nation’s crop value – is recognized in ag policy at the federal level. FFVA President Mike Stuart has served as co-chair of the Alliance since its inception.
Stuart called the passage “great news for specialty crop agriculture. But it’s even better news for consumers. It ensures that Americans will continue to have access to a plentiful supply of nutritious fruits and vegetables. This unprecedented investment in specialty crop agriculture shows that Congress understands the vital role we play in the U.S. economy and in public health.”
The bill increases funding for research, nutrition, pest and disease mitigation, expansion of markets, and block grant programs – all of which are vital for American agriculture to remain competitive in a global marketplace. What’s more, a key provision for Florida’s citrus industry is $125 million in new funding over five years dedicated to critical research into citrus diseases, including greening.
The bill includes:
- Specialty Crop Block Grants funded at $72.5 million for the first four years and $85 million in 2018. It includes a new multistate program to be administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture. Florida’s share is about 9 percent.
- Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded at $80 million per year, including the $25 million annually for citrus disease research.
- Plant Pest and Disease Management funded at $62.5 million through 2017 and $75 million in 2018.
- Market Access Program funded at $200 million per year.
- Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops funded at $9 million per year.
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program funded at $150 million per year.
- Minimum Section 32 specialty crop purchases will be maintained.
The farm bill fast track
Although the path to completing the Farm Bill was a long one, the implementation process is progressing rapidly. Stuart recently participated in Rep. Tom Rooney’s Florida Agriculture Fly-In. The attendees met with House Speaker John Boehner, Rep. Paul Ryan and other officials involved in federal agriculture policymaking.
Participants heard directly from key officials working on implementation of the farm bill, particularly the funding that was targeted for citrus greening research.
FFVA representatives also joined others from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance in meetings at the USDA to address the process for making the specialty crop provisions of the Farm Bill a reality.
To date, the Alliance has held meetings on the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Both programs contain new levels of funding and requirements, so the industry and USDA sat down to compare notes about how to ensure the process unfolds as intended.
Many more meetings are planned as USDA takes on the huge task of implementing this landmark new legislation.
Lisa Lochridge is the director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland. She can be reached at 321-214-5206 or email@example.com.