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20140205/
Long-awaited farm bill delivers key
Florida benefits
By John Buchanan
Central 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 Bill
Alliance for passage of a five-year bill that continues a strong federal investment in specialty crops," said FFVA president
Mike Stuart. "This legislation does precisely that. With its critical programs for producers and shippers of fruits and
vegetables, 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 crop
research 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 as
the 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 being
spent 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. "But
Senator 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 state
departments of agriculture. Grant awards are direct funding to state-specific initiatives that tackle issues critical to local
agriculture.
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 Tomato
Committee, Florida Sweet Corn Exchange, Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Florida Agriculture in the
Classroom, Inc., and Urban Growers Community Economic Development Corporation.
Stuart also cited the allocation of $200 million per year to the federally-funded market access program as an important
benefit to Florida. "That program is vital in helping growers expand to new markets and be competitive on an international
level," Stuart said.
Under Florida Agriculture Commission Adam H. Putnam, exports of "Fresh from Florida" products to new international
market has been a major goal.
Stuart also said the fresh fruit and vegetable program, another effort supported by the new bill and a personal priority for
Commission Putnam, "has had demonstrable success in getting schoolchildren to eat more nutritious produce, starting them
on a path to healthy eating habits."
Hendren said that yet another major victory for Florida in the bill is the elimination of a dairy supply management provision
in former versions that would have had a big negative impact on Florida dairies.
"Those provisions would have harmed our dairies by making Florida, which is a 'milk deficit' state for most of the year,
reduce its milk output when it was already reduced because of weather conditions," she said. "That issue was really the big
fight in the House that held the final bill up for two weeks." In the end, she said, House Speaker John Boehner stood firmly
against the provision, effectively killing it.
Despite all the good news for Florida, however, there is one provision that Hendren and other agricultural organizations
dislike.
That is a new requirement that farmers who seek federally-supported crop insurance for production on highly erodible land
and wetlands be fully compliant with conservation regulations.
The linkage of conservation compliance to crop insurance was a key provision sought by conservation groups, such as
Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.
"This is the first time that in order to get your crop insurance with government support, you will have to take steps to
demonstrate compliance with all relevant soil and water conservation regulations," Hendren said, adding that her objection
is based on the fact that, "it places a higher burden on Florida producers than it does on most row croppers because we
have conservation regulations and other issues that hit us a little bit harder than everyone else out there. And that means
those things could be more costly to implement for our growers."
In the end, however, Hendren said she agrees with Stuart that the overall provisions of the new bill represent significant
benefits to Florida farmers.

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