How will farm bill extension affect specialty crops?

Instead of passing a new five-year farm bill, the U.S. Congress decided to extend the old one for nine months.

On Jan. 1, as part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, House and Senate members decided not to roll a 2012 farm bill into the fiscal package they came up with, choosing instead to extend the 2008 bill until Sept. 30. The extension, however, did not include funding for expiring specialty crop programs such as the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Clean Plant Network, according to the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA).

“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and co-chair of SCFBA. “We had worked very hard with key members in the House and Senate to craft a farm bill that was fiscally responsible and gave producers resources, such as research funding for pest and disease programs, that they need.”

Ray Gilmer, vice president for communications at United Fresh Produce Association and communications co-chair for SCFBA, described the extension as a “setback.” American farmers came close to getting a new farm bill in 2012, after the Senate and House Agriculture Committee passed slightly different versions last summer. The bill, however, failed to get a vote in the full House of Representatives.

The 2008 Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, 2012, which left many programs in limbo until Jan. 1, when the extension was passed. The impact of that delay on specialty crop programs was minimal at best, Gilmer said.

The new farm bill will need to be redrafted in the coming months and reconsidered by both chambers before the Sept. 30, 2013, deadline, according to SCFBA.

Congress will most likely craft the 2013 bill using the 2012 versions as a framework. There will be a renewed emphasis on cutting budgets in 2013, however, which will make it harder to preserve the gains the specialty crop industry has already made, Gilmer said.

“While we are frustrated, we look forward to working with both committees and the dozens of members of Congress who helped complete the 2012 Farm Bill,” said John Keeling, CEO of the National Potato Council and SCFBA co-chair. “As has been the case for more than a decade, we will be working to ensure that innovative investments for the 50 percent of American agriculture represented by specialty crops are fairly accounted for in the farm bill.”

According to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, the extension of the 2008 bill means some important programs, including disaster assistance and organic and specialty crop research programs, won’t receive mandatory funding.

-- Matt Milkovich

Originally posted Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013