WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted 64-35 to approve the 2012 farm bill, a victory for specialty crop producers who held onto gains from the 2008 farm bill in research, nutrition and market promotion funding.
The Senate waded only through eight amendments June 21 before casting the final votes on passage in early afternoon.
"I hope my friends in the House see what we've done," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor before the final vote.
The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to take up its version of the 2012 farm bill on July 11. Sources say the Senate vote will help spur the U.S. House to take up the bill once the committee completes its action.
The Senate-passed bill maintains 2008 funding levels for the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program and secures funds for Specialty Crop Block Grants, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Plant Pest and Disease Program, Market Access Program, Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Section 32 specialty crop purchases. The bill also fully funds the DoD Fresh program at $50 million a year.
The produce industry praised Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) for moving the bill through to a final vote.
"This success would not have been a reality without the leadership of Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and chair of the Senate's Agriculture Committee, who continued the breakthroughs for specialty crops made in the last farm bill, but in a far more difficult budgetary environment," said Produce Marketing Association President and Chief Executive Officer Bryan Silbermann.
"We congratulate the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate leadership for prioritizing this legislation which is so important to the nation's produce providers," said Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association president and CEO. "The bill supports fruits and vegetables in ways that will boost consumption and help provide healthful options to Americans through block grants, nutrition programs and pest and disease research. We're looking forward to working with the House to preserve funding for these critical fruit and vegetable programs."
"For specialty crop producers across the country, the farm bill represents an opportunity to create a healthier life for Americans and reduce burgeoning healthcare costs through a public-private partnership," said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers Association and co-chair of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance. "This is an opportunity to help our industry in the short and long term as well as help secure the jobs of millions of American workers who support agriculture and reduce the federal deficit."
"Besides preserving jobs, it helps to ensure access to a plentiful supply of healthful specialty crops, said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and co-chair of the alliance. "What's more, this bill addresses some of the continual significant challenges specialty crop growers face in the production and marketing of their crops in an increasingly global marketplace."
All eyes now are on the House Agriculture Committee to pass a bill as the number of legislative days dwindles before party conventions and the Presidential election.
"The Senate has sent a strong signal to the House that this legislation deserves to be acted on quickly, and we encourage the House to move forward as soon as possible," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh.
After the vote, House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas (R-OK) issued a statement hinting at the challenges to come for the legislation.
"Although there will be differences between the Senate approach and our own, I hope my colleagues are encouraged by this success when we meet on the 11th to consider our own legislation," he said. "The House Agriculture Committee will consider a balanced proposal that saves taxpayers billions of dollars, recognizes the diversity of American agriculture, respects the risks producers face, and preserves the tools necessary for food production."