Years of farm bill labor bears fruit

Published online: Feb 04, 2014 John Keeling
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Over the past four years, the farm bill has been an agenda item at every NPC meeting, including the Potato D.C. Fly-In where we lobby Congress on our issues.

I've personally traveled tens of thousands of miles to speak at dozens of state meetings urging growers to contact their members of Congress in support of agriculture policy that benefits specialty crop growers. NPC has written countless columns, press releases, and social media posts imploring those in the industry to not give up the fight.

At last, we can all breathe a sigh of relief at a job well done.

This afternoon, the U.S. Senate passed the Agricultural Act of 2014 (more commonly referred to as the 2014 Farm Bill) by a vote of 68 to 32. This follows last week's action by the House, which passed the bill by a wide bipartisan vote of 251-166. The measure now goes to the president, who has indicated he will sign it into law.

The 2014 Farm Bill is nothing short of a tremendous victory for potato growers and our specialty crop partners who have labored to preserve the gains made in the last farm bill go-round in 2008. At a time when the purse strings have tightened for virtually every other federal program, this new investment made to the specialty crop industry in this farm bill is nothing short of unprecedented.

In fact, the bill contains a 55 percent increase in new resources dedicated to specialty crop priorities, making it the most significant government investment ever in the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable industry.

Key funding provisions of the legislation include:
* An increase to $80 million in annual mandatory funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which has provided funding for critical potato research, including zebra chip, acrylamide, and Potato virus Y (PVY);

* An increase to $72.5 million in FY 2014-2017 and $85 million in FY 2018 in funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants, which provide funding for state-specific projects that can promote and research potatoes;

* Reauthorization of $200 million per year in Market Access Program (MAP) funding, which provides funding for specialty crops, including potatoes, to promote U.S. agriculture in foreign markets; and,

* Reauthorization of $9 million per year in Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) funding, which addresses foreign market access barriers that block the export of U.S. agricultural products, including potatoes, from their intended destinations.

Once the odd man out, the specialty crop industry earned respect in Washington, D.C. by demonstrating its value in providing the nutrition, jobs, and economic activity our country needs to stay healthy.

The National Potato Council and our industry allies in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance have been working for years to pass this bill; however, it would not have happened without the dedication and leadership of the Senate and House agriculture committees who moved heaven and earth to bring this bill to the finish line.

We also want to thank the growers, state associations, and industry partners who met with members of Congress, wrote their representatives, or otherwise helped us make our collective voices heard in Washington, D.C.

Now, after years of effort, we have a five-year farm bill, which will enable America's potato growers to go back to doing what they do best: growing high-quality, nutritious potatoes for America and the rest of the world.