The House Farm Bill that was recently passed by the House Agriculture Committee is a favorable markup for California agriculture from the standpoint of the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF). The bill still has a long way to go before it gets finalized, but the version passed by the Committee on April 18 would appear to have a positive impact on the state’s ag industry.
“This bill, the way it looks right now,” said CFBF Manager of Federal Policy Josh Rolph, “there’s really a lot in here for farmers and ranchers to be happy with in California.”
One of the overall benefits of the House Farm Bill is a lack of substantial change to several programs. There was potential to see some significant alterations in the Farm Bill draft, which would have caused some challenges for certain areas of agriculture. “First on the chopping block, usually, is the specialty crops because those are newer to the Farm Bill,” said Rolph. “One thing that we were worried about was the Specialty Crop Block Grant, another was the organic programs, the Plant Pest and Disease program…all of those things could have been chopped, or reduced, or eliminated, and fortunately they’re still there.”
Rolph noted the bureau’s appreciation that research funding for specialty crops has been largely preserved, but there is also some disappointment that there was not more dedicated funding to go towards mechanization. “We’re looking at members to introduce an amendment on the House floor that might help to get that priority language and dedicated funding,” Rolph said.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was a particularly difficult issue in the House discussions. Democrats in the House have issued several statements denouncing the changes made to SNAP. The program is likely to remain a point of contention throughout the process and the Senate House Bill is expected to have much fewer changes to SNAP. “This has become a very politicized and partisan Farm Bill, unlike in years past,” Rolph noted.
There is still time to get changes made to the bill as it works its way through the legislative process and CFBF hopes to see something done about the Food Safety Modernization Act, particularly the Produce Safety Rule. Rolph mentioned that many growers are confused by some of the requirements of the rule and how it applies to specific farming operations. CFBF aims to bring the regulations that are part of the Produce Safety Rule under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), instead of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“They don’t have the on-farm expertise and yet they were tasked with coming up with on-farm rules and regulations. So, it never made sense for them to be the ones administering this program,” said Rolph. “Moving to USDA, you’ll have a complete rewrite of the Produce Safety Rule. I think you’d have much more involvement and you would have rules that make more sense.”
Listen to Rolph’s interview below.