Almond Alliance, Almond Board offer comments on Farm Bill programs of interest to almond industry
The Almond Alliance and the Almond Board of California recently testified about almond industry needs at a Modesto public meeting on the Farm Bill, which expires in 2018. The listening session was held by CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and provided the opportunity for agricultural groups to weigh in on what the state should prioritize in the new bill.
One clear recommendation made was that funding for the Farm Bill should not be reduced but instead many of the programs should be expanded to increase job opportunities in rural communities and increase private-public partnerships.
Under the Conservation Title, the Conservation Reserve Program sets aside acreage that has become valuable bee habitat. The almond industry supports this program because access to good habitat is crucial for bee health. Also under the Conservation Title is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which provides funding to meet increasing environmental standards. Almond growers have used EQIP to upgrade ag motors to comply with stricter air quality standards.
The Trade Title contains many programs critical to the almond industry’s sucess. With almost 70% of the crop moving globally, keeping a strong export market is in the best interests of California growers. The ABC has leveraged all of the USDA/Foreign Agricultural Services programs under this Title such as the Market Access Program and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program to open new markets, address trade barriers and build consumer demand. Also, through these market development programs, a pesticide MRL database was developed initially to address specialty crop issues associated with different global pesticide residue limits. Recommendations were made to Secretary Ross that funding to support this database be included in the Farm Bill.
Several recommendations were made with regard to biomass which receives funding under the Energy Title. As almond acreage increases, and more almond by-products and woody biomass become available, funding was requested to help identify innovative ways for sustainably utilizing these byproducts to help reach the industry goal to be a zero-waste industry. It was suggested that the Farm Bill needs to be more inclusive as woody biomass produced by orchards or orchard removals can be used as a feedstock for biofuels or bioenergy just as the traditional row crops have been used for ethanol production.
One very important area that was highlighted is that funding for research has remained stagnant over the past three farm bills. Recommendations to continue a strong Research Title were made to ensure the data is available to help growers produce sustainably and responsibly in order to keep agriculture strong in the face of increasing constraints.
These are just a few of the programs the Alliance and ABC will be following as the 2018 Farm Bill takes shape. We will continue to provide fact-based information and represent the interests of the almond industry with legislators so that advances made by Specialty Crops within the Farm Bill are not lost, but strengthened.
Farm Bill Background
Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation commonly called the “Farm Bill” that sets policy for an array of agricultural and food programs. The farm bill was first created during the Great Depression to give financial assistance to farmers who were struggling due to an excess crop supply creating low prices. Today, the farm bill includes “titles” for several agricultural programs benefiting farmers as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which receives approximately 80% of the funds allocated through the farm bill.
The current Farm Bill expires at the end of 2018 and Congressional leaders have expressed hopes of finalizing the new bill before the current one expires, possibly even in 2017. Both the House and Senate have begun Farm Bill hearings.