The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, known as NASDA, put together a list of priorities for the farm bill as its members were meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.
Every kind of group tied to agriculture and nutrition is ramping up for Congress to craft a farm bill during the current Congress even though the 2014 farm bill does not expire until the end of the 2018 crop year -- Sept. 30, 2019 for fall-harvested crops. The odds of getting a farm bill between now and the end of 2018 are long, at best.
Still, groups are coming to the table with their funding priorities because lawmakers have a tendency to lock in acceptable and unacceptable program changes early in the process.
NASDA listed seven major areas to seek "enhanced funding." Those areas include:
Trade Promotion: NASDA would like to see the Market Access Program doubled from $200 million to $400 million in funding to better tout exports.
Conservation: The state ag directors stated the next farm bill "must make substantial investments in voluntary, locally-driven, flexible and efficient conservation programs." The group noted more funding is needed for conservation because of increased water-quality challenges and regulatory pressure.
Specialty Crop Block Grants: The block grants are considered an important tool for farmers of specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables. NASDA would like to see funding for the block grant program increased, as well as made more flexible to local concerns.
Invasive Species: A growing list of invasive plants and pests are affecting farmers. NASDA stated "bold action is required." Invasive species programs were added to the 2014 farm bill and should be expanded. NASDA stated "Congress should bring additional tools to bear on this serious economic threat."
Animal Diseases: NASDA didn't mention it but the U.S. has been hit with a couple of major animal-disease outbreaks that challenged the way USDA handles these situations. There was the PEDv situation in hogs that killed more than 7 million pigs, along with the avian influenza outbreak that led to the infection and euthanasia of more than 45 million commercial poultry. NASDA said the National Animal Health Laboratory network should be expanded to bring in more stakeholders to reduce the impact of major animal diseases. This should include supporting a vaccine bank and tightening controls to prevent the spread of a foreign animal disease.
Research, Education and Economics: NASDA called for "robust funding" of agricultural research and extension programs. That means providing more dollars to agricultural colleges and universities for research. "The farm bill must also ensure adequate funding for research focusing on the safety and security of the food system and improving and protecting our natural resources.
Food Safety: Looking at a separate piece of legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act, the state ag directors stated "Congress should address the variety of implementation challenges with the final FSMA rules." That would include funding ways to help producers comply with the law.
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