by TIM CRAIG
Central Florida farmers may expect the extension of research funding dollars and support programs after the U.S. Senate passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 in July, which would re-authorize the Farm Bill for five years.
The Senate-passed bill and a similar House version, will now go to conference. As of August 1, the bipartisan committee was finalized and will begin the work of moving the bill toward passage.
Embedded in both versions of the bill is the continuation $25 million of research funding annually focused on citrus greening. As growers, jobs, and even processing plants dwindle due in part to greening — and at a cost of an estimated $2 billion to the state — it is this research that works to diminish the effects of citrus greening while a cure and long-term solution is being worked on.
“It is crucial to maintain this level of research as we work toward finding a cure,” says John-Walter Boatright, the National Affairs Coordinator for the Florida Farm Bureau. “While a cure will take some time, it is good to see lawmakers realize that research is important and it looks like it will be secured for the state.”
Citrus greening is just one of threats to Florida agriculture that the Farm Bureau sees. Since many crops move first through Florida to get to the rest of the country, there are a lot of Florida-specific dangers that are unique to agriculture in the state, said Boatright.
“Florida is a sentinel to these types of infectious diseases because a lot of product moves in and out of the ports,” said Boatright. “Support for fighting, researching and preventing these occurrences is what the Farm Bill hopes to provide.”
Boatright pointed to the 2016 outbreak of the screwworm that posed a potential threat to livestock and the June 2018 reoccurrence of the Oriental Fruit Fly as examples of how the Farm Bill has provided research and prevention funds.
Other programs in the legislation that may impact central Florida farmers include the continuation of the Noninsured Assistance Program (NAP) as well as the pilot program Whole Farm Revenue Protection, both of which can provide financial assistance and coverage.
“Many producers cannot find actuarially sound crop insurance,” said Boatright. “Particularly many of the specialty crop producers in the state.”
Florida produces over 300 different commodities, according to Boatright, so small farms with more than one commodity may be helped by these programs.
Water is another key portion to the Farm Bill, which reauthorizes the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This programs offers grant assistance to farmers who partner with nearby water utilities and local stakeholders on joint water projects. Both the House and Senate Farm bills contain reforms to the RCPP, including streamlining the application process, expanding in-kind matches. and robust funding. These changes may pique the interest of some farmers in the state, who have typically turned to state initiatives over federal programs due the drop in funding levels and the amount of paperwork in the application process, according to Charles Shinn, the director of Grant and Community Affairs at the Florida Farm Bureau.
“Farmers, ranchers and foresters have actively participated in the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program),” said Shinn. “Because we have a lot of state-sponsored cost-share opportunities, the federal programs usually are not as popular.”
Shinn noted that conservation and environmental concerns are important to agriculturalists in Florida.
“We want to leave the environment both on and surrounding the farm better for the next generation than our current generation,” he said. “This often takes extra efforts that are afforded through federal and state programs.”
Additionally, another water-related aspect of the bill would extend funding through 2023 for the USDA’s water, waste disposal, and wastewater facility grant program. This program offers grants and loans to small water utilities to upgrade their drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.