Congress had to pass it twice, both times over a Presidential veto, and at one point a clerk forgot to send the entire bill to the White House, but finally the 2008 Farm Bill is in place. USDA has formed a team to implement the Farm Bill and farmers all across the country are examining the opportunities afforded by the new bill.
For the first time in the history of U.S. farm policy, specialty crop pro-ducers and potato growers are among those who will benefit from federal farm policy.
The hard work by specialty crop producers and the senators and representatives who championed their interests paid off. Specialty crop priorities will receive more than $1.5 billion over the five-year life of the bill. This is only a small portion of the total funding in the bill but is a significant accomplishment, given the budget woes that plagued the Agriculture Committees as the bill
Specialty crop interests also were successful on key policy issues not directly related to dollars. In spite of great pressure from fruit and vegetable processors to eliminate the planting flexibility restrictions, those provisions were maintained with only small changes. Also a new policy in the bill provides the Secretary of Agriculture with enhanced authority to address pest outbreaks and provide relief to producers impacted by such outbreaks.
It is also worth highlighting the funding victories in the bill. The Technical Assistance for Specialty Crop program, which is regularly utilized by the potato industry to counter foreign phytosanitary barriers to trade, will see funding rise from $2 million to $9 million a year. The bill also includes $230 million in research funding for specialty crops. These research funds will require matching non-federal funds but offer a tremendous opportunity to jump start lagging potato research in plant breeding, pest and disease, production efficiency, and food safety.
The Specialty Crop Block Grant program previously funded through the appropriations process at $6 to $8 million annually will be funded at more than $50 million yearly for all but the first year of the bill. This program administered by state departments of agriculture has been helpful to state potato grower organizations in addressing emerging local issues that have been overlooked in national priorities.
Currently, the National Potato
Council is working with the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and the state potato organizations to see that our growers are active in the implementation process and benefit from the
programs in the 2008 Farm Bill.
Successful implementation of the Farm Bill must include visible benefits for potato growers in all production regions. Coordinating research funding requests among states and regions and submitting block grant requests that address real grower needs should be the first order of business for all of us in the potato industry.