Specialty crops to benefit from provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill

President Obama signs the Farm Bill on February 7.

After nearly four years of debate, a new farm bill is reality. President Obama signed the measure on Feb. 7. The Senate had passed the Agricultural Act of 2014 by a vote of 68-32 on Feb. 4 and the House of Representatives had passed it 251-166 late in January.

The hard copy presented to the president was the size of a piece of carry-on luggage.

Not only does the farm bill set agriculture policy, it also regulates nutrition, conservation, research and energy programs. And for specialty crops, it creates opportunities in disease eradication, marketing of crops and more.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which FFVA President Mike Stuart co-chairs, the bill provides nearly $4 billion in funding for programs that benefit fruits and vegetables, including block grants, research, pest and disease mitigation, nutrition and trade.

Some highlights:

$125 million in citrus research funding

The citrus research initiative will focus on diseases such as citrus greening and will be overseen by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in consultation with industry stakeholders from Florida, California and Texas. A committee of nine representatives from those states will make funding decisions that must be approved by the secretary.

$72 million to $85 million for Specialty Crop Block Grants

The block grants are administered by USDA via state departments of agriculture for local and regional efforts to enhance producers’ ability to compete in the marketplace and provide consumers with a safe and abundant food supply.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for 2013 supports initiatives to:

• Increase nutritional knowledge and specialty crop consumption

• Improve efficiency within the distribution system and reduce costs

• Promote the development of good agricultural, handling and manufacturing practices while encouraging audit fund cost-sharing for small farmers, packers and processors

• Support research through standard and green initiatives

• Enhance food safety

• Develop new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops

• Control pests and diseases

$200 million per year for the Market Access Program

This program helps growers expand to new markets and be competitive internationally. Through the MAP, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service partners with U.S. agricultural trade associations, cooperatives, state and regional trade groups, and small businesses to share the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities that help build commercial export markets for U.S. agricultural products and commodities.

$150 million for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program

This program helps develop healthy eating habits in children by providing fresh fruits and vegetables in schools. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 authorized the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot program in four states and one Indian Tribal Organization. The program later expanded into other states and reservations.  Now it is in selected schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

$100 million for projects that encourage food stamp recipients to buy fruits and vegetables

The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program is designed to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) by providing incentives at the point of purchase. A new program would award grants to some farmers markets and grocery stores that match food stamp dollars if recipients buy fruits and vegetables. It also includes funding to help finance the building of grocery stores in low-income areas that don’t have many retail outlets.

How did the bill finally pass? House ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., admitted that this was the hardest farm bill on which he had ever worked, including the 2008 bill that President George W. Bush vetoed twice.

The House failed to pass its first attempt at a farm bill. The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act was defeated, 234-195.  Ultimately, more Democrats supported passage of the latest bill after compromise was reached on food stamps and a dairy support program.

Florida senators were split. Democrat Bill Nelson voted yes, in a large part because of the citrus greening funding. Rubio voted no and issued a statement saying the bill “goes far beyond agricultural programs and includes anti-poverty programs and renewable energy programs, among other spending measures that total nearly $1 trillion.” He said the bill does not “undertake any fundamental reforms to ensure every taxpayer dollar is being properly spent to secure our nation’s food supply instead of needlessly growing government or continuing the status quo on programs that need reform.”

FFVA commends our leaders in Congress who supported passage of the Farm Bill. “It’s great news for specialty crop agriculture, but it’s even better news for consumers,” said FFVA President Mike Stuart following the Senate passage. “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.”

Read more about what the 2014 Farm Bill has in store for specialty crops here.

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