Opinion: Florida Growers Well Represented In Farm Bill Prep

The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance has begun foundational work on the 2012 Farm Bill by naming alliance co-chairs and appointing policy working groups. The working groups will develop a framework of policy recommendations for each of the Farm Bill’s titles.

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Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has said he wants to get started early next year on the Farm Bill and complete it before 2012. FFVA is well represented on the alliance. President Mike Stuart is serving as co-chair, as he did for the 2008 Farm Bill, along with John Keeling of the National Potato Council. Others and their respective working groups are: Kerry Kates, Conservation (Title II); Mike Aerts, Trade (Title III) and Research (Title VII); Stuart, Horticulture and Organic Agriculture (Title X) and miscellaneous titles; and Dan Botts, Pest and Disease Programs (Title X). I am serving on the Communications Committee and the Nutrition (Title IV) and Rural Development (Title VI) working groups.

The alliance worked for more than two years for passage of a 2008 Farm Bill that was balanced and equitable for the country’s specialty crop producers. The bill provided a total of $289 billion over five years for farm and nutrition programs. For the first time, it included mandatory funding of almost $3 billion for specialty crop, pest and disease, nutrition, research, and conservation priorities.

FFVA Annual Report Available

The 2009-2010 season was dominated by developments that had serious implications for agriculture. Some events had immediate impact, such as January’s record-breaking freeze that severely damaged many crops and played havoc with the spring markets. Others, including the passage of health care reform and EPA’s move to impose water quality standards, will have significant long-term consequences that have yet to be felt.
FFVA has summarized its work on these and other challenges facing the specialty crop industry in its 2010 Annual Report, which is available at www.ffva.com/Publications. The report was distributed to FFVA 2010 convention attendees and will be sent out at year’s end to members.

Lessons In Labor

A broad range of topics for agricultural employers was covered at the 36th Annual Agricultural Labor Relations Forum Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Orlando.
The expert presentations ranged from workers compensation to I-9 audits to health care.
 
Monte Lake of the Washington, DC, law firm C.J. Lake gave an overview of key legislative and regulatory issues. Despite a pro-labor administration, surprisingly few major worker-related bills have passed. He noted with Republicans taking back a majority of seats in the U.S. House, it’s unlikely that pro-labor legislation will pass in the next two years. The same holds true in the Senate, he said: Even though the Democrats kept a majority, it will be harder to get the 60 votes necessary to move a bill through. Lake also predicted stepped-up enforcement efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement will continue in the form of I-9 audits.
 
Regulatory rather than legislative changes pose the greatest threat over the next couple of years, Lake said. “Employers will remain in the legislative and regulatory cross-hairs.” Agencies are changing substantive rules without public notice and comment with the same effect as a change in law, he said. He urged agriculture employers to monitor the Federal Register. “You need to stay abreast of [rule changes], comment, and make a record as to the effect it will have on your companies,” he advised. Industry groups will have to step up to the plate and challenge the agencies.
Mark your calendar now for next year’s event presented by the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation. The forum is slated for Sept. 29-30 in Orlando.