Jan 5, 2023
Farm bill prep starts, trade likely a key feature

Specialty crop organizations are assessing shifts in congressional leadership while pursuing measures to address the industry’s needs in the 2023 Farm Bill.

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) works closely with the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA), of which it is a founding member.

“We continue to lay out our priorities for the Farm Bill and educate congressional leaders on the needs of domestic producers,” said Christina Morton, director of communications for FFVA.

The SCFBA has set its Principles for Consideration of the 2023 Farm Bill: health, competitiveness and sustainability, trade and foreign competition, research and innovation, and natural resources and climate. Specialty crop competitiveness is a priority.

“That may be through increased access to research and inputs, funding for automation, funding for specialty crop marketing programs or improved crop insurance access,” Morton said.

Trade concerns and Mexico
Seasonal competition issues are a significant concern for Florida growers, Morton said.

“The importance of supporting our domestic producers cannot be overstated, and we do see a path forward in the Farm Bill to stem the onslaught of unfair seasonal and perishable produce from Mexico,” she said. “In fact, establishing a competitive playing field for American specialty crop producers is a focus area for the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.”

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) is working through its list of priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill, but there are several key requirements that it will focus on, said Siobhan May, director of communications and public relations for IFPA.

These include:

  • Expanding access and availability to fresh fruits and vegetables through federal nutrition programs;
  • Establishing a fair playing field for American fruit and vegetable producers in the international marketplace;
  • Ensuring that federal investment into fresh produce research is of a meaningful scale to catalyze opportunities for the industry; and
  • Helping enhance the ability of producers to participate fully in all U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs as well as any initiatives to address global climate change.

May said IFPA recognizes that since the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the industry has confronted new and increasing economic challenges. These include droughts, hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters; disruptions to the supply chain by a global pandemic; increased competition from seasonal and perishable imports; tariff disputes between the U.S. and significant export markets; and labor shortages.

“During this period, Congress and USDA have implemented several ad hoc programs in an attempt to assist producers with these unprecedented challenges,” May said. “It is clear these programs demonstrated that existing tools are inadequate to provide meaningful protection for our industry who grow hundreds of diverse crops in all regions of the country, each with their own unique business models, markets, and pricing.”

Disaster relief sought
Dante L Galeazzi, CEO and president of the Texas International Produce Association (TIPA), said “members are looking for a number of things to come out of the next Farm Bill.”

“Obviously, in the wake of a hurricane and devastating freeze hitting in the same season there have been calls to make a disaster relief program permanent, as well as seeing more funds go into increasing staffing in areas of USDA that process applications and claims for farmers,” he said.

TIPA also will seek further investments in research and development (especially into mechanical harvesting), funding for pest and disease research and a wider array of insurance products for specialty crops.

The Farm Bill doesn’t have the right mechanisms to address inflation, he said.
“However, there could be programs that help with increasing consumption and diet-related education that motivates American consumers to eat healthy fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said. “After all, increasing demand means increasing sales, and sales cures all ails.”

The new Farm Bill process may not include seasonal competition issues that failed to be a part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Galeazzi said.

“That sounds like a trade issue, which would be in the realm of the United States Trade Representative or Department of Commerce,” he said. “I would very much hesitate to get, let alone ask, other government agencies to become involved in the farm bill or any of the programs coming out of the farm bill. Anyone familiar with H-2A knows well the challenges that might emerge when multiple branches of government ‘work together.’”

Sara Arsenaul, vice president of the , said the organization is still working to determine Farm Bill priorities, but stressed that conversations among national agriculture groups have shown an emphasis for many initiatives that focus on specialty crops.

“Some of the core discussions have been focused around the need to expand funding for trade promotion programs such as the Market Access Program, Foreign Market Development Program and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program,” she said.

Arsenaul anticipates efforts to expand crop insurance to be more inclusive of specialty crops and allocation of additional funding for research dollars specific to specialty crops.

She doesn’t see inflation and rising input costs as being a farm bill issue due to its broad domestic and global factors, “but there are some efforts and initiatives going on currently like the USDA domestic fertilizer program and a number of bills introduced by House Republicans with the intent to assist here.”

“The bill has passed in the House and now lies in the Senate for introduction and passage before it can go to the president’s desk. If this doesn’t happen in the lame duck session, the likelihood of it passing under the next Congress with the House flipped is slim.”

Chris Butts, executive vice president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA), said the surge of imported fruits and vegetables continues to be the main priority for U.S. growers.

He also said programs to increase grower efficiencies and reduce inputs are certainly an effective way to limit costs to growers.

“These programs take time and likely won’t help solve concerns with today’s rising input costs,” Butts said. “The time to invest is now so that growers are better prepared the next time we see supply chain interruptions and the resulting rise in input costs.”

Georgia produce and H-2A
Butts said “our growers report the same concerns” with ag labor challenges. “We continue to support calls for labor reform and the push to bring common sense reform to ag labor programs.”

There are positives within the Inflation Reduction Act “to address conservation and climate issues for growers but we also need action on trade and labor as the primary issues impacting our growers on a daily basis,” Butts said.

Farm bill discussions, Butts said, should include seasonal competition issues that failed to be a part of the USMCA but Florida/Georgia interests wanted to address in the bill.

“The very future of Georgia’s fruit and vegetable growers is dependent on finding solutions to level the playing field for our growers,” Butts said. “Farm bill discussions must address competitiveness and seek creative solutions to provide meaningful change to what is currently a very unbalanced equation.”

-By Gary Pullano, FGN Senior Correspondent


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