By Mark Chandler, Executive Director
While the Senate had passed its version of the Farm Bill, there was high anticipation that the House of Representatives would pass theirs so that the Conference Committee could hammer out a final bill. Such was not the case, as the House failed to pass their bill late last week.
Core pieces of the bill that are important to the wine industry include the National Clean Plant Network, assuring access to virus free materials to supply our ever expanding planting programs; the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Block Grant Programs, which provide cutting edge research and market development tools; the Market Access Program, a matching funds program that helps us open foreign markets and compete against highly subsidized EU competitors; and crop insurance.
Months of work on behalf of legislators, staff, advocates and constituents pointed to an opportunity for the House to demonstrate a spirit of bipartisanship on a piece of legislation that has ramifications for farmers and non-farmers alike.
The bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on a 13-5 vote. When it got to the floor some 226 amendments were filed. About half of them were dismissed by the Rules Committee, or withdrawn by the authors. The most contentious issues were related to the SNAP program (aka food stamps, where a whopping 83% of Farm Bill expenditures go), the level of cuts that would be implemented, as well as a pilot program that would have allowed states to institute work requirements to qualify for food stamps.
There was also disagreement on crop insurance, dairy programs and a myriad of other issues.
Where do we go from here? Several options exist – taking the bill back up in July, taking up the Senate version (not likely), or vote for an extension of the predecessor 2008 Farm Bill. An extension of the 2008 Farm Bill was passed at the end of last year. That extension runs through September 30, and zeroed out funding for the National Clean Plant Network and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. .
The nation awaits.