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In what some media outlets are terming “the most overlooked mega-bill of the past 12 months,” the Senate voted with strong bipartisan support to send a nearly $1 trillion farm bill to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.
The Senate voted 68-32 to approve the five-year Agricultural Act of 2014, which will set the course of U.S. food policy for the next five years following the Republican House's vote in favor of the legislation last week.
The United Fresh Produce Association hailed the long-awaited passage of the Farm Bill, for which Congressional hearings began in 2010 and which provides nearly $4 billion in funding for programs that benefit specialty crop production, including fresh produce. The funding amounts and policies encompassed in the bill reflect specialty crop priorities for block grants, research, pest and disease mitigation, nutrition and trade. The federal commitment to specialty crop needs included in the bill is unprecedented and builds on the momentum begun under the 2008 Farm Bill.
“Everybody seems to agree that in the history of Farm Bill reauthorizations, this has been the most challenging and has taken the longest,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh’s SVP of public policy. “But even though the overall bill took many unexpected twists and turns, one thing was consistent: strong, bipartisan support in the House and Senate for fresh fruit and vegetable policies.”
Fruits, Veggies Win Big
Throughout the long process, Guenther said Farm Bill programs for fruits and vegetables were maintained or strengthened. “This is a clear sign that policymakers recognize the importance of our industry to the nutritional well-being of all Americans and to the overall U.S. economy. We’ll continue to work with lawmakers to ensure that America’s fruit and vegetable providers operate under government policies that allow them to be as innovative as they can be to enhance their competitiveness and ability to meet America’s nutritional needs.”
The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which comprises 120 specialty crop organizations and 350 individual specialty crops grown across America, cheered the Senate’s passage of the bill, noting: “This legislation represents the most significant government investment ever into the competitiveness of specialty crop producers and industry members."
Key provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill includes an overall increase in investment of 55 percent over 2008 Farm Bill funding levels in specialty crop initiatives and programs, including the State Block Grant Program; Specialty Research Initiative; a new fruit and vegetable incentive grant program for SNAP recipients; the pest and disease prevention program; and maintaining funding in the Market Access Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
Uncool News for Meat Groups
However, while the bi-partisan farm bill passage is warmly welcomed by many commodity crop farmers, such is not the case by many in the meat industry, some of the largest trade associations for which are opposed because it fails to strike rules for country of origin labeling (COOL), which requires meatpackers to label where livestock were born, raised and slaughtered.
"They basically slapped the face of the livestock industries in this country," Scott George, a Wyoming rancher and president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, was quoted as saying in recent media reports.
Other groups that oppose the new farm bill include the American Meat Institute, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Chicken Council, which decry the rules as a “bookkeeping nightmare.”