The 2018 Farm Bill process has begun and if history provides any lessons will likely consume the balance of the time between now and the expiration of the current bill. The Senate and House Agriculture Committees seem committed to changing Farm Bill history and completing a bill prior to September 30, 2018, when the current one expires.
Chairman Conaway and Ranking Member Peterson of the House Agriculture Committee have set an aggressive timetable for action on the bill. They hope to have their version of the bill on the House floor by early Spring. The Senate Agriculture Committee intends to follow closely behind the House’s floor consideration.
The new Farm Bill promises to be a complicated affair based both on policy issues and on the availability of funds. The overall cost of the 2014 Farm Bill is expected to be lower than originally projected due largely to declining participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Those savings do not contribute to an increase in funding for other Farm Bill programs.
The sections of the bill that are devoted to production agriculture (including specialty crops) may be under significant pressure due to increased costs for commodity and other programs that do not have an established “baseline” budget authority. Both the House and the Senate Farm Bill supporters and leaders will encounter significant obstacles based on a wide array of challenges including: being provided floor time by House and Senate leadership, solving key funding issues, keeping both farm and nutrition provisions in the bill and satisfying or out-voting the unique coalitions of disparate interests aligning to bring the Farm Bill down.
As part of the Senate’s year-long review of Farm Bill programs, NPC member Eric Halverson testified before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee in July 2017. The focus of his testimony was on the importance of the export promotion programs that are authorized and funded under the Farm Bill. Those programs include the Market Access Program (MAP), which is heavily used by the potato industry in key foreign markets and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program (TASC). TASC has been extremely valuable to the specialty crop industry broadly and directly to the potato industry as it provides vital resources in regard to the ongoing Mexico fresh market access issue.
The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) has developed its Farm Bill priorities for the fruit and vegetable sector. The four SCFBA co-chairs met in January 2017 and that meeting was followed by a seven-month long committee process that reviewed all parts of the Farm Bill relating to specialty crops and identified priorities. The potato industry was broadly represented on a number of those individual committees. The priorities they identified include a continued focus on research, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), stimulation of demand for specialty crops through domestic and international promotion, specialty crop block grants and phytosanitary protection. The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance is co-chaired by John Keeling of the National Potato Council.
Regarding the SCRI, the SCFBA is strongly pushing for an increase in overall funding for the program. Currently SCRI is an $80 million program with a carve-out of $25 million exclusively for the citrus industry that is due to expire at the end of September 2018. When that carve-out expires, the SCRI program will have $80 million annually available to all specialty crops. However, there are early indications that Congress and the citrus industry may seek to maintain the carve-out and thereby reduce, once again, funding to the rest of the specialty crop industry from the scheduled $80 million to $55 million annually.
Updated March 20, 2018