Editor’s note: Advocating for the floral industry’s needs on Capitol Hill is a key priority for the Society of American Florists. What issues are most likely to impact you and your business — and how? What is SAF doing about it? In this ongoing series, SAF Senior Lobbyist Joe Bischoff breaks down one issue at a time and outlines SAF’s advocacy work on it.
This week, Bischoff answered questions about renewing the Farm Bill, a multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Learn about SAF’s legislative priorities and register for Congressional Action Days March 20-21 to take the industry’s issues to Capitol Hill.
SAF: Why is the Farm Bill important to SAF and its members?
Joe Bischoff: The Farm Bill includes programs that have been really important to innovation and research in specialty crops. It’s also been a funding source for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deal with pest and disease challenges in floriculture. And, it increasingly has become a source for growers to access support for disaster relief — and potentially crop insurance. We need to increase and strengthen access to crop insurance for floriculture — and the Farm Bill renewal process gives us an avenue to do that.
SAF: How much of the Farm Bill directly impacts floriculture growers?
Joe Bischoff: A small portion of the current $428 billion Farm Bill — less than $2 billion — supports specialty crop producers, including nursery and floriculture (more than 90 percent focuses on nutrition, crop insurance and commodity programs price support, largely for row crops). Specialty crops have not always been given consideration. It took bringing together specialty crop producer groups under the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance coalition — which SAF has been a part of since it formed in 2005 — to advocate for the needs of these producers. It was not until the 2008 Farm Bill, thanks to the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance’s advocacy, when specialty crop producers (which includes nursery and floriculture) began to benefit from Farm Bill investments in research, marketing, and pest and disease response programs.
SAF: What does the renewal process look like — and what are the potential barriers?
Joe Bischoff: Traditionally, renewal of the Farm Bill has been a bipartisan process. Members of Congress in urban districts support the nutrition programs while more rural members support the Farm Bill from a grower perspective. But even that has changed. We now see a lot more nutrition program dollars going to rural America, and an increased interest in urban farming. As a result, the Farm Bill usually has a pretty broad coalition. Historically, the challenge has been fiscal conservatives making cuts to safety net programs for agriculture. And given the signals we have already seen from this Congress about a stricter fiscal approach, we expect there will be proposed cuts and negotiation over the size of the Farm Bill.
SAF: What’s the timeline for getting the bill passed?
Joe Bischoff: Without congressional action, the program will expire on Sept. 30. We expect that the House and Senate committees working on the Farm Bill will make progress — and we might even see bills move in the respective chambers. However, given the continuing uncertainty around the debt ceiling and other legislative priorities, it seems unlikely that a deal will be made before Sept. 30.
SAF: What are SAF’s next steps?
Joe Bischoff: Congress has begun hearings and requested stakeholder input. Funding for the next Farm Bill will be tight, but SAF — along with its partners in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance — will be pushing to expand funding for specialty crop programs that focus on issues such as research, pest and disease response; a permanent disaster program; and improved crop insurance access. As access to crop protection tools continues to become more challenging, the Farm Bill could present an opportunity to secure funding for farmers to implement required mitigations for pesticide use.
In addition to that, floral industry members from all segments will remind congressional offices about the importance of renewing the Farm Bill and SAF’s focus on priorities that will impact specialty crops during SAF’s Congressional Action Days, March 20-21.
Katie Butler is the senior vice president of the Society of American Florists.