Top 4 Farm Bill Priorities
While Congress works to craft the 2018 Farm Bill, the seed industry hones in on four areas that have a big impact on the business.
While it’s estimated that only 2 percent of Americans are directly involved in farming, the 2018 Farm Bill will touch the lives of nearly every American. The bill includes programs on food security and access, trade promotion, conservation, specialty crops, research, education, invasive species and more.
Those in the seed industry are impacted by nearly each of these areas, but four have been identified as vital. Throughout the year ahead, keep your eye on research funding and programs for conservation, trade and commodities.
“We’re trying to make sure that folks who are producing hybrid seed have access to the same type of safety net programs that regular commercial growers have,” says Jane DeMarchi, American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) vice president of government and regulatory affairs. This means maintaining current language to ensure that program requirements do not adversely affect hybrid seed growers.
According to ASTA, the farm bill should support flexible and efficient programs that provide producers with both financial and technical assistance. Virginia Houston, ASTA associate director of domestic and government affairs, explains that a part of ASTA’s membership supplies seed for farmers to implement these conversation programs. Just as farmers have difficulty with program efficiencies and deliveries, so do seed suppliers, she says. “We’re really looking at how can the seed industry help NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and help the farmer partners improve program efficiency — make them more cost efficient and also help them meet conservation goals,” Houston explains.
Specifically, ASTA has its eye on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), cover crop usage and wildlife habitat. Throughout the farm bill process, ASTA will be working to increase the current CRP acreage cap and to refine policy to encourage producers to use cover crops. When it comes to wildlife habitat, the association reports that seed specifications for conservation programs can greatly impact program costs and effectiveness. ASTA believes that U.S. Department of Agriculture seed mix recommendations should provide the maximum benefit without unnecessarily adding cost. At the same time, program participants should be encouraged to use professionally produced seed that has undergone proper testing.
At a U.S. House Agriculture Committee hearing on the farm bill and innovation in specialty crops, ASTA’s President and CEO Andy LaVigne shared that the U.S. vegetable seed market is valued at approximately $860 million annually. Federally funded U.S. agricultural research has played an important role in expanding our understanding of plant genetics leading to new crop varieties, he said, adding that partnerships between the public and private sector help ensure that farm bill research dollars continue to result in new products that benefit farmers, consumers and the environment.
Specifically, ASTA supports continued funding for pest and disease prevention programs, funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and continued funding for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR). LaVigne stressed that the new farm bill should maintain robust and long-term funding for research to foster the growth of a strong 21st century farming economy.
USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program are enormously important to the work that ASTA does, DeMarchi says, noting that seed can move between six different countries before being commercialized. DeMarchi adds that non-tariff trade barriers, such as phytosanitary regulations, in other countries impact seed trade. “We use those MAP and FMD dollars to work on regulations in other countries,” she says. “We are matching in-kind [contributions] 2,000 percent of what we’re getting from USDA. The work that we are doing is a small investment, and it’s paying off for the seed industry and for the U.S. government.”
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