Congress Sends Farm Bill To President Obama, Who Expects To Sign It Friday, February 7

President Obama is scheduled to sign the long-awaited Farm Bill on the Michigan State University campus on February 7.
President Obama is scheduled to sign the long-awaited Farm Bill on the Michigan State University campus on February 7.

Millions of dollars in additional funding for floriculture and nursery crops became a reality on February 4 when the Senate passed a new five-year Farm Bill. The House passed the measure on Jan. 29, and the president is expected to sign it on Friday, in East Lansing, Mich., on the Michigan State University campus.

The bill provides increased funding for research on pest and disease prevention and mitigation, as well as grants to fund marketing programs for flowers and plants. In addition, the bill continues the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) designed to address broad research challenges in the specialty crop industry, including flowers and plants.

SAF, AmericanHort and more than 120 other members of the Specialty Crops Farm Bill Alliance lobbied aggressively for the bill. SAF members took the issue to Capitol Hill during SAF’s 2013 Congressional Action Days, and advocacy letter-writing by SAF members over a three-year period had a significant impact on the outcome.

“SAF is extremely pleased that Congress has passed a new Farm Bill,” says SAF Senior Director of Government Relations Lin Schmale. “The relationship-building and lobbying done by SAF and its partners, combined with grassroots support of members, had a huge positive impact on the outcome of this issue.”

Some specific details of the bill include:

• The critical pest and disease research program coordinated by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was increased from $50 million per year to $62.5 million in each of the next four years, and $75 million in 2018, with a minimum of $5 million targeted to the National Clean Plant Network. Strongly supported by SAF and AmericanHort, the APHIS research has targeted research dollars to study impatiens downy mildew, chrysanthemum white rust, gladiolus rust, boxwood blight and new invasive insects — just to name a few of the research projects that have benefitted the floriculture industry.

• The bill provides $80 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, an increase from the previous level of $50 million, with hard-fought new provisions providing for increased industry participation in review of research proposals to ensure that industry priorities are addressed. Dr. Terril A. Nell, a former SAF president, helped make that change by participating as a member of USDA’s Specialty Crops Subcommittee review panel in 2011.

• Specialty Crop Block Grant funding is increased from $50 million per year to $72.5 million per year for the next four years, and to $85 million per year in 2018. Block grants have provided funding for important state initiatives to increase flower and plant promotion in states like Hawaii, Alaska, California, Texas, Michigan and others.

Schmale attributes the successful outcome for the floral industry to two additional factors: SAF’s ongoing financial commitment to serve as a steering committee member of the Specialty Crops Farm Bill Alliance and dollars given to congressional candidates by the Society of American Florists Political Action Committee (SAFPAC).

“We have joined with our partners in SCFBA’s Steering Committee to work hard on this bill, and it has paid off,” Schmale says. “As we look into the future, we will know that our industry’s hard work has kept specialty crops alive as a recognized, and funded, partner in American agriculture. The bipartisan work of members of the House and Senate who have finally made this possible is enormously appreciated!”

Schmale also cited the impact of SAFPAC dollars, which were given to legislators who support the floral and nursery industry and the Farm Bill. “Those SAFPAC contributions gave SAF a foot in the door of several congressional offices,” she adds. “This is a perfect example of how SAF’s political action committee is used to leverage support for an issue on Capitol Hill.”

For more information, contact Lin Schmale at lschmale@safnow.org or 800-336-4743.

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2 comments on “Congress Sends Farm Bill To President Obama, Who Expects To Sign It Friday, February 7

  1. You neglected to mention, Legal cultivation of hemp—a cousin of marijuana used to make everything from fabrics to pharmaceuticals—is closer to becoming reality as a result of a provision tucked into the farm bill that passed the House last week.

    Federal law effectively prohibits the cultivation of hemp, making no distinction between that plant and marijuana, which is much more potent. However, nine states have passed laws legalizing industrial hemp farming, including California, Kentucky and Vermont, according to Vote Hemp, a not-for-profit advocacy group.

    If the legislation becomes law, universities and agriculture departments in those states would be able to grow it for research purposes, with the hope that commercial production could be on the horizon. Permits to grow hemp for research purposes are technically available now, though they are extremely difficult to get.

    “We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who helped craft the language in the farm bill, said in a statement. Farmers there have struggled to find a replacement for tobacco, which is being grown less.

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