Dec 17, 2023
Farm Bill: Conservation, research lead seed association priorities

Farm bill priorities for members of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) are as diverse as the seeds they produce and/or distribute, from numerous crops to the regions of the U.S. they represent.

But as with agriculture in general, there are overarching issues that span across the spectrum, from apples to zoysia, and ASTA presents them every five years or so, as in this year when the Farm Bill deadline of Sept. 30 came without Congressional action.

ASTA released its Farm Bill priorities earlier this year, and they focus on five areas: conservation, agricultural research, trade, innovation and risk management.


The association’s conservation priorities focus on cover crops, flexibility in conservation programs and enhanced carbon sequestration and “land resilience” via plant diversity.

According to ASTA, more than half of the funding requests to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation program are unfunded, and alternate approaches to encourage cover cropping should be considered. That could include financial incentives tied to the number of species included in cover crop seed mixes.

“Interest and enthusiasm surrounding cover crops continues to grow as producers look for tools to slow erosion, improve soil health and enhance water availability, among other economic and environmental benefits,” said Payton Englert, director of government affairs at ASTA. With the Biden administration’s interest in funding climate-smart ag projects, the seed industry has a unique opportunity to participate in efforts and projects to support conservation efforts nationwide, Englert said.

Agricultural research

ASTA’s Farm Bill priorities include “robust” funding for Land-Grant University programs and facilities, as well as various USDA research programs, from the Specialty Crop Research Institute to resources for plant breeders. A key priority is the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS): ASTA worked with members of Congress for the 2018 Farm Bill to mandate USDA develop and implement a national germplasm and cultivar collections assessment/utilization plans for the NPGS.

“Agriculture research is the foundation for advancing U.S. innovation in the specialty crop sector, and ensuring a strong return on investment in public and private ag research dollars,” Englert said. “Robust funding for primary USDA research is essential, and desperately needed to continue supporting the work of programs like the NPGS, National Clean Plant Network, and Specialty Crop Research Institute.

“Specialty crops are critical to complement staple crops in providing essential nutrition and health to the U.S. population,” she said.

ASTA is focusing also on the vulnerability of U.S. production areas, singling out climate change and evolving pest and disease pressure. Examples include the spread of spotted lanternfly and unprecedented droughts and other weather events that have affected different crops: flooding in California that devastated dozens of crops early this year, and warm winters, late frosts and wet springs that have caused production shortfalls in key apple regions in recent years. The federal government should fast-track an assessment of these and similar threats to agriculture, according to ASTA.


ASTA’s trade-related Farm Bill recommendations focus on programs like the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, which promote U.S. specialty crops and other domestic food in other countries through industry dollars and government funds.

The Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program has also addressed export barriers for specialty crops, according to the association.


Englert said it’s crucial that USDA has clear regulatory frameworks in place as new technologies are developed, allowing producers to use the new tools. This would address uncertainty created by a patchwork of state regulations.

“ASTA was pleased to support the Plant Biostimulant Act, a bi-partisan piece of legislation that would direct the USDA to establish a federal definition for plant biostimulants,” Englert said. “This would be an important step in ensuring these innovations are broadly available to producers to employ the benefits of these technologies to increase productivity while conserving natural resources.”

Funding shortfalls at the EPA, Food and Drug Administration and USDA, the agencies responsible for regulating biotechnology products, have allowed staffing shortages to affect commercialization of products developed through innovative breeding methods, according to ASTA.

Risk management

The seed association joins dozens of other agricultural groups in stressing the need for improved farmer safety nets. Crop insurance helps growers rebound after losing a crop and to purchase seed for the next season. Another Farm Bill recommendation is offering crop insurance rebates for cover crop use, building on the Pandemic Cover Crop Program. ASTA supports a $5 per acre rebate on crop insurance premiums to use to plant cover crops.

“Farm Bill programs play a pivotal role in ensuring certainty for producers across all regions and sectors of U.S. agriculture, and provide for a more nutritious and food-secure future both at home and abroad,” Englert said. “Resiliency and prosperity in agriculture starts with seed.”

— Chris Koger, managing editor

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