CIRS Blog about Rural California

California’s prune producers, winemakers and almond ranchers can take the new farm bill to the bank.

Following several fallow years, the House on Wednesday gave final approval to a 900-plus page farm and food stamp package that sustains California’s famed specialty crops, commodities and university researchers. The nation’s largest and most unique farm state, California gets multi-faceted attention in the long-stalled bill.

“For my home state of California, this farm bill is a dramatic investment,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said Wednesday, adding that “this debate has gone on for far too long.”

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Earlier this year, it was hard to be optimistic about any progress in Congress on the farm bill. Fiscal cliff legislation on New Year’s Day extended the current farm bill through September, buying time for more delays. And, there was so much on the legislative agenda—from budget sequestration to appropriations and more. But after watching sequestration take hold in March, Congress addressed appropriations for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2013 and moved on separate budget resolutions for FY2014. 

Still, when both the Senate and House agricultural committees announced plans for farm bill markup, no one could have expected the speed of deliberations in committee and the quick movement to floor consideration. On May 14, the Senate Agriculture Committee marked up the farm bill legislation in little more than three hours. The following day, the House Agriculture Committee took about nine hours to get the job done. 

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For anyone who follows what goes on (or what doesn’t) in Washington, it’s a well-known fact that significant pressure on members to act is a major ingredient for the success of any legislation, regardless of merits. Now, with the number of legislative days quickly waning for the 112th Congress, agriculture leaders are facing internal and external pressures that are driving their recent efforts to finalize a bill, which also gives more shape to the potential fates of a 2012 farm bill.

First, agriculture leaders understand the need to act. They have heard the increasingly concerned calls to action from many constituents in the food and agriculture system, and share those concerns. After the 2008 farm bill was allowed to expire on October 1, without current authority, agriculture programs are set to revert back to permanent law which includes a portfolio of outdated and impractical commodity pricing and subsidy programs. The fact that the farm bill was allowed to expire was never because any of the agriculture leaders thought this was in itself a good idea, but rather that it could lead to significant and necessary pressure on congress to act and achieve a bicameral compromise before any real consequences are realized. That time is quickly approaching. With the expired dairy provisions, consumers would start to see a spike in milk prices in the new year. This is important. While only a fraction of legislators include agriculture as a major priority for their legislative decisions, every legislator cares about the price for a gallon of milk just as they care about the prices their constituents are paying for a gallon of gas.

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Cross-posted from the Colorado Health Foundation’s Health Relay blog and the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Coalition blog

In the United States, and increasingly around the world, it’s easy for consumers to find high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, including sugar-sweetened drinks, fast foods and highly processed snack foods — they’re abundant, easily accessible and perceived as more affordable than healthier foods.

The Farm Bill renewed every five years or so, plays a significant role in shaping this food environment by influencing what foods get produced, how they are produced, who has access to them and, in some cases, how foods are marketed.

The majority of dollars in the bill primarily support the production of agricultural commodities (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton) and food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP], formerly called Food Stamps) for low-income Americans.

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Weeding out one little word from a farm bill might mean real money for raisin growers and other purveyors of dried fruit.

But a wording change that expands a federal fruit and vegetable program to include dried, canned and frozen foods also could sour key lawmakers and spark a Capitol Hill fight. The conflict adds one more challenge for a Congress struggling to finish its farm bill work this year.

“It’s going to be a battle royale,” predicted Dan Haley, a lobbyist for Sun-Maid Growers and other California specialty crop clients.

Many such complications come together next Wednesday, when the House Agriculture Committee is expected to take up its newly released 557-page farm bill proposal. The package setting agricultural policy for the next five years markedly differs from a Senate version approved late last month.

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