Farm bill clears U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate passed the 2013 Farm Bill June 10 by a vote of 66-27. The bipartisan proposal cuts $24 billion in spending by eliminating direct payment subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication and cracking down on food assistance abuse.

“Reforming agriculture programs will save taxpayers billions of dollars while helping farmers, ranchers and small businesses create jobs,” said Debbie Stabenow, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s chairwoman. “Because we worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries.”

Stabenow was joined by top agriculture committee Republican Thad Cochran in introducing the farm bill, titled the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. A Farm Bill sets the nation’s agriculture policy and must be passed every five years.

United Fresh issued a statement congratulating the Senate on the passage of the bill. The measure addresses issues important to United Fresh members, including programs supporting essential research, market promotion and nutrition, and continues support of specialty crops that was established in the 2008 Farm Bill.

“We congratulate the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate leadership for moving forward with this legislation that is so important to the nation’s produce providers,” said Tom Stenzel, CEO of United Fresh. “The bill supports fruits and vegetables in ways that will boost consumption and help provide healthful options to Americans – through block grants, nutrition programs and pest and disease research. We’re looking forward to working with the House to preserve funding for these critical fruit and vegetable programs."

As a member of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, United worked with senators and produce industry stakeholders to secure support for several programs of particular importance to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, Stenzel noted. The bill passed by the Senate includes key specialty crop industry priorities such as research, pest and disease mitigation, trade, nutrition and other programs that enhance the ability of producers to be competitive and meet the needs of American consumers. Highlights of the bill include:

– Specialty Crop Block Grants funded at $70 million per year.

– Specialty Crop Research Initiative funded at $25 million (FY2014); $30 million (2015-2016); $65 million (2017); $50 million (2018).

– Coordinated Plant Management Program funded at $60 million (FY2014-2017) and $65 million (2018).

– Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels.

– Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program fully funded at 2008 Farm Bill levels.

– Section 32 specialty crop purchases funded at 2008 levels.

– DoD Fresh program fully funded at $50 million per year, consistent with 2008 levels.

The House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the farm bill on May 16. The full House was scheduled to consider the legislation the week of June 17.

–Gary Pullano

Originally posted Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013