The U.S. Senate is expected to submit its final vote today on the long-awaited farm bill. Although the legislative chamber will most likely approve the five-year bill, uncertainty still remains for the House vote scheduled for later in the month.
The most hotly contested area will be funding cuts for nutrition programs such as a food stamps, explained Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for the Western Growers Association.
"The House debate is going to be very contentious. There is going to be a lot of activity on the farm bill. One of the biggest questions is going to be around the nutrition program and the level of cuts. Are they too much or too little? It sounds simple but that’s the basic question," he told www.freshfruitportal.com.
If passed, the bill would cut US$24 billion from farm spending over 10 years. This would include US$4 billion from food stamp funding.
Although specialty crops have not been the main focus, Nuxoll explained that there is a lot at stake for fruit and vegetable growers.
"From our perspective, there are a number of programs that we’re very interested in. There’s the research and development program," he said.
"There are block grant programs, pest and disease programs, changes to the crop insurance program that make it more useful for us. There are a number of programs that help children purchase fruits and vegetables in schools.
"By not passing the bill, you’re creating a lot of instability in the industry. Folks in the industry don’t know, are these research dollars and pest and disease programs going to be funded? Are they going to continue? There is uncertainty and that by itself stifles business growth."
For disease control, Noxell explained that a lack of funding could damage prevention measures.
"If you think about citrus greening and the level of engagement you have to have from the state, local and federal government to slow down, prevent and perhaps turn around its spread - those are really important programs," he said.
"In a lot of states that are struggling, if you don’t have federal funds doing that, if you don’t have federal funds at the ports where you have incoming produce, that’s a really big deal. That can impact long-term viability if you start having invasive species wiping out trees."
In the scenario that the House once again fails to pass the farm bill, Noxell said the industry will fight aggressively for further program extensions. Until the vote come in mid-June, however, Noxell said no one really knows what will happen.
"When you talk to the House committee folks, they are upbeat they have the votes to pass it. But there is an unease. I would characterize it as, we just don’t know," he said.