8 Things You Need to Know About the 2018 Farm Bill
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Congress sent its approved 2018 Farm Bill legislation to the desk of President Trump, who has until Dec. 22 to sign it.
It’s expected that Trump will enact the legislation into law, and once that happens, the 2018 Farm Bill will be the first to pass in the same year it was legislated since 1990, when President George H.W. Bush signed the 1990 Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill cleared by overwhelming bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate. The Senate voted 87-13 on Tuesday, Dec. 11, and the House passed the legislation on Wednesday, Dec. 12, by a 369-47 vote. The bill, once signed, will be in effect until 2023.
The 2018 Farm Bill includes some big wins for horticulture. AmericanHort, the floriculture and nursery industry’s largest national organization, commended Congress for the legislation’s swift passage, calling it “a monumental win for the horticulture industry.”
Some of the biggest wins of the 2018 Farm Bill for horticulture include expanded research funding, greenhouse insurance, and improved intellectual property rights options. Here are the highlights, broken down by AmericanHort Senior Vice President Craig Regelbrugge:
1. Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI): This allows for specialty crops to compete for the full $80 million for specialty crop research. It was achieved by moving $25 million in dedicated citrus industry funding, which was previously taken from the overall funding, into a separate trust fund. The new provisions provide a $125 million increase over current law for the new five-year Farm Bill.
2. Specialty Crop Block Grants: These provide continued funding at $85 million per year, representing a significant increase in total funding for the program over the five-year lifespan of the Farm Bill from $375 million to $425 million. The legislation also works to help ease existing hurdles in current law that have made the funding of marketing and multi-state projects more difficult.
3. Pest and Disease Funding: Fiscal year 2018 funding has been maintained at $75 million per year for pest and disease prevention and mitigation initiatives. Overall, this is an increase of $50 million over the life of the 2018 Farm Bill. It also reauthorizes the National Clean Plant Network, which protects key sectors from pathogen threats by providing access to pathogen-tested accessions of the newest varieties of tree fruit, berry, roses, and other high-value horticultural crops.
4. Greenhouse Crop Insurance: This provision initiates research and development into potential expansion and improvement of greenhouse crop insurance coverage.
More Significant Priorities for Horticulture
5. Plant Intellectual Property Rights: The 2018 Farm Bill would update the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) to protect the intellectual property of plant breeders, according to the Society of American Florists’ Senior Director of Government Relations Shawn McBurney. The provision will change PVPA to offer the same protection for asexually reproduced (vegetative) varieties from being exploited by essentially derived varieties (EDV) – mutations or sports of protected varieties – that sexually reproduced seed varieties receive in the U.S. The PVPA was enacted in 1970 to protect the intellectual property of agricultural plant breeders, and amended in 1994 to add EDV protection, but at the time it was limited to sexually produced seed varieties. Since the early 90s, asexual or vegetative propagation has become a common method of introducing new varieties to the marketplace, but these varieties were not protected under PVPA from EDVs being introduced by unauthorized parties. As a result, plant breeders have had to resort to protecting plants through costly utility patents, which often amounts to two to three times more than a plant patent.
6. Automation Research: Due to the labor-intensive nature of specialty crop production and the lack of availability of a stable workforce, there is language throughout the 2018 Farm Bill supporting the prioritization of research into labor-saving automation and mechanization. Two research and Extension programs – SCRI and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – will help ensure proposals addressing advanced technologies will be considered for funding, according to the House Agriculture Committee.
7. Next Generation Growers: The Farm Bill maintains provisions to help beginning farmers to establish themselves in agriculture, enhancing access to crop insurance and establishing a scholarship program at Land Grant universities designed to assist students interested in careers in agriculture. Due to the generational shift agriculture is facing, the new Farm Bill establishes the “Commission on Farm Transitions – Needs for 2050,” to examine additional policy changes needed to ensure a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply in the U.S.
8. Infrastructure: The Farm Bill also authorizes substantial appropriations for broadband infrastructure loans and grants, to connect rural communities to the global economy; gives rural communities access to credit to finance critical infrastructure such as public water systems; incentivizes regional infrastructure and economic development projects; and provides $100 million per year to rebuild rural dams and flood protection infrastructure.