Long-awaited farm bill delivers keyFlorida benefits
By John BuchananCentral Florida's Agri-Leader
The new farm bill passed by Congress cuts total agricultural spending by 15 percent. But in terms of practical benefits,Florida fared particularly well, according to key industry leaders."Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association worked with other agriculture organizations through the Specialty Crop Farm BillAlliance for passage of a five-year bill that continues a strong federal investment in specialty crops," said FFVA presidentMike Stuart. "This legislation does precisely that. With its critical programs for producers and shippers of fruits andvegetables, the bipartisan bill is a win for the Florida produce industry."Despite deep cuts in total spending, Stuart said, the long-awaited new bill increased funding for programs that are particularly important to Florida's fruit and vegetables producers.The single most important provision is a commitment of $125 million over the next five years, as part of the specialty cropresearch initiative (SRIC) that is specifically dedicated to citrus greening research.Janell Hendren, national affairs coordinator at Florida Farm Bureau Federation, also hailed the citrus greening research asthe most important allocation in the bill. "And ultimately, there could be the addition another $125 million on top of that baseline amount in discretionary funding," she said. "That means that in the future, we could see $50 million a year beingspent on greening research. And that is unprecedented."She credited Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the House agricultural appropriations committee, and Sen. Bill Nelson for their aggressive support of the spending. "That was an issue that got quite contentious," Hendren said. "ButSenator Nelson, Representative Rooney and Florida Citrus Mutual did a great job in leading that effort."Another key benefit to Florida, Stuart said, is the specialty crop block grant program administered by USDA via statedepartments of agriculture. Grant awards are direct funding to state-specific initiatives that tackle issues critical to localagriculture.Last year, Florida received $4.1 million for a total of 27 projects undertaken by the University of Florida, Florida A&M,Florida International University, University of South Florida, Florida Specialty Crop Foundation, Florida TomatoCommittee, Florida Sweet Corn Exchange, Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Florida Agriculture in theClassroom, Inc., and Urban Growers Community Economic Development Corporation.