Prepped and Primed

Potato industry ready for upcoming Farm Bill

Published online: Jan 11, 2018 Articles John Keeling, Executive VP and CEO, National Potato Council
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This column appears in the January 2018 issue of Potato Grower.

Throughout 2017, under the umbrella of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA), a seven-month process was undertaken to review every piece of the Farm Bill that affects our industry. It resulted in a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve our federal farm policy. That policy is increasingly turning its attention to delivering value for our producers.

Ten years ago, the fruit and vegetable industry was largely a bystander as the focus of legislators’ attention remained on dairy and the major “program” crops including corn, wheat, cotton, rice, soybeans, sugar and peanuts. But beginning with the 2008 Farm Bill, the specialty crop industry joined together under the SCFBA to make specialty crops, including potatoes, a significant player at the Farm Bill table. The Alliance is now entering its third full Farm Bill, and the results have been impressive.

Over $3 billion is now dedicated to the fruit and vegetable industry through the Farm Bill. These funds are delivered through new programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program and others. In addition to these new programs, the Farm Bill has also encouraged the USDA to make existing programs such as crop insurance, conservation programs and rural development focus more on the needs of potato producers and other specialty crop growers.

Throughout 2017, the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees have conducted listening sessions across the U.S. and tried to take the necessary steps to meet their commitment to pass a new Farm Bill before the September 2018 expiration of the current bill. Responding to those signals, the potato industry—indeed, the entire specialty crop industry—went to work in January to develop priorities for federal fruit and vegetable policy.

Beginning in January 2017, the SCFBA, which the National Potato Council (NPC) co-chairs, began a comprehensive review of the Farm Bill that ultimately concluded over the summer. The review confirmed the value of the current specialty crop Farm Bill initiatives on research, trade promotion, block grants and pest and disease management. SCFBA members strongly supported enhancements in the programs to support specialty crop exports and all areas of research, including initiatives related to mechanization and food safety.

Since these recommendations were finalized, NPC staff, along with other SCFBA members, have met continuously with House and Senate committee staff and individual congressional offices to walk through our priorities. Ultimately, those public officials are the ones with the responsibility to ensure the Farm Bill moves forward with our improvements included.

The NPC has devoted significant staff time and resources to the SCFBA. We believe that working in collaboration with our specialty crop industry colleagues allows us to leverage the policy and political power of our industry in a focused and effective manner. 

Ultimately, the excellent leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees did not have their optimism rewarded. The Congressional calendar did not allow for the Farm Bill to move forward in 2017, as tax reform and other issues captured lawmakers’ attention.

When the Farm Bill does have an opportunity to move forward in early 2018, the potato industry and our colleagues are prepared to effectively advocate for our priorities. Due to the comprehensive work of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, we possess substantive recommendations on how to enhance federal farm policy to our benefit and the benefit of our consumers.