Editor's note: This story was originally published Dec. 12, and updated Dec. 13 with passage of the Farm Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
WASHINGTON - After months of debate, the Senate approved a farm bill on Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. House approved the bill with a 369-47 vote.
The Senate voted 87-13 in favor of the legislation, the details of which were released Monday evening after months of closed-door negotiations. The bill now heads to the to the desk of President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
AmericanHort has been urging members of the horticulture industry to contact their elected officials in support of this bill. In an email sent to all AmericanHort members, director of government affairs Tal Coley said the final version of the bill that was passed included full funding for key horticulture industry programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Plant Pest & Disease Management Program.
Also, the Senate language for funding of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) was included in the final version of the bill. This language removes the $25 million citrus industry carve out from the initiative and puts it into a separate trust fund, resulting in a full $80 million for all specialty crops to utilize. The new provisions provide a $125 million increase over current law for the new five-year Farm Bill.
"AmericanHort has fought hard for this in 2018, through efforts in Washington, D.C. and at the grassroots level, and its inclusion in the final bill is a significant win for our industry," Coley wrote in the email.
The current farm bill lapsed on Sept. 30, but senators viewed the end of the year as their hard deadline, with numerous programs expiring this month.
In September, Tom Demaline, owner of Avon, Ohio's Willoway Nurseries and past chairman of the board for AmericanHort, wrote an editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer urging Ohio legislators to pass the farm bill.
In the editorial, Demaline explained how the horticulture industry fits into a bill more widely known for controversial issues such as work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or row crop and livestock programs. Many Americans do not realize that other farm bill provisions are critical for specialty crop industries – including horticulture.
The bipartisan agreement between Republicans and Democrats on this crucial piece of legislation caps a months-long debate on the bill, which covers $867 billion worth of food and agriculture programs including crop subsidies and support to growers seeking access to export markets.
The bill also includes language that will legalize hemp cultivation and production in the U.S., removing it from the federal controlled substances list. Farmers will be allowed to pursue federal hemp cultivation permits, and states may decide to regulate the industry within their own borders as they wish.
Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, released a statement praising the bipartisan effort to pass the bill.
"I’m proud that the Senate was able to come together in a bipartisan fashion today and pass a strong Farm Bill for Nebraska and all of rural America," she said in the statement. "From the beginning, I wanted to see a farm bill that protected critical risk management programs like crop insurance, improved our trade promotion programs, and deployed broadband in rural areas so agriculture producers can use precision agriculture technology."
Fischer sponsors the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which is included in the Senate version of the bill. This act would create a task force at the FCC charged with identifying gaps in high-speed internet connectivity across America’s farm and ranch land.
AmericanHort senior vice president Craig Regelbrugge commended leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on delivering and passing a bill that will aid the industry.
"This Farm Bill is a monumental win for the horticulture industry," he said in a statement. "Through provisions such as increased funding for research programs, sustained commitments to help our industry deal with pest and disease threats, improved intellectual property options, and research and development for better greenhouse crop insurance – this Farm Bill has it all."