CFBF President's Message: Advocating for state’s farm bill priorities

Issue Date: November 9, 2011
By Paul Wenger

As you'll read on Page 1 of this week's Ag Alert®, the basis of the 2012 Farm Bill is being decided during the deliberations of the congressional "super committee" on deficit reduction.

Concerns have been raised about this behind-closed-doors process and how it might affect the variety of federal programs most important to California farmers and ranchers. Certainly, this procedure is very different from how past farm bills have been put together and Farm Bureau would prefer a more-open process.

But we must work with the situation as it is, and we've been able to make the case for the programs that have the most benefit to California farmers, ranchers and consumers. A number of these programs represent significant gains achieved in the current farm bill, and to maintain them we will look to Reps. Lucas, Peterson, Cardoza, Costa and Baca, and Sens. Stabenow and Roberts, agriculture committee members who all care about the programs that are important to California.

No matter who writes it or how it's assembled, the next farm bill should contain these features:

  • Congress should retain and build upon the specialty-crops title in the farm bill. It recognizes the unique needs of fruits, vegetables, nuts, nursery crops, floriculture and other specialty crops and, through its block grant program, allows each state to tailor programs to its particular needs. That's the type of flexibility Congress should support.
  • Conservation programs are critical to maintain working farmland in California while conserving the landscape and habitat. Initiatives such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Grasslands Reserve Program have proven successful and should be expanded.
  • Plant pest and disease programs must remain a high priority. California faces multiple threats from invasive pests and diseases that attack both our crops and our natural landscape. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and state governments must retain the funding to detect and eradicate pests and diseases through the Plant Pest and Disease Program.
  • Nutrition programs should expand incentives for the purchase of fruits and vegetables by people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, allowing more low-income Americans access to diets that include optimal levels of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other healthful foods.
  • New language in the farm bill should direct the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration to identify, each year, priorities for food-safety research and technical assistance. A committee of farmers, handlers and researchers should be involved in establishing those priorities.
  • We support California rice, cotton and wheat farmers as they define farm programs based on risk management and crop insurance that will keep them working on the land.
  • Any dairy program must permit farmers to earn a price that enables them to market a stable and dependable milk supply. We support a move away from the federal dairy price support program and Milk Income Loss Contract to a gross margin insurance program.
  • The National Organic Program should be given more authority to stop the sale of products being sold in violation of organic standards, and should be given the technical resources to process complaints and issue export certificates faster.
  • To serve our growing customer base outside the United States, we strongly support market-development programs that improve agricultural trade. As we face increased competition in foreign markets, the federal government must be more aggressive, with increased funding for programs that result in greater market access for American farmers and ranchers, including the Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops.
  • As our state's population grows, many parts of California can't participate in farm bill programs because they don't meet the government's definition of "rural." These communities should be eligible for programs they are currently denied.
  • California farmers and ranchers depend upon agricultural research to maintain their competitive edge in the world market, and the next farm bill should preserve research funds. To ensure the money is used effectively, representatives of the interested farming sectors should play a role in reviewing requests for research funding.

The new farm bill should allow the federal government to serve the role it plays best on overarching programs for research, pest exclusion, market development, risk management, nutrition, conservation and rural development. Governments around the world look increasingly to the marketplace to send price signals for farm goods, a trend that will benefit California agriculture.

As the process to finalize the next farm bill continues, I can guarantee you that Farm Bureau will remain a forceful advocate for programs vital to California farmers, ranchers and consumers.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.