The 2018 Farm Bill is set to expire in 2023, so preparations are underway to craft the behemoth legislation into law sometime next year. However, it is common for negotiations to extend into the following year. Whether the new farm bill is passed in 2023 or 2024, there’s a lot of work ahead.
The farm bill was the focus of a special listening session during the recent Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Georgia. Growers packed into the room where the listening session was hosted by the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA). The association is the primary planner and host of the conference held each year in early January.
“It was truly a listening session,” noted Chris Butts, the new GFVGA executive vice president. “We wanted to hear from our members and other growers from the Southeast (about priorities for the upcoming farm bill). There were two main topics: on the supply side, the continued pressures we face from imports and also pressures from the rising costs of inputs; on the demand side, how can we as a region and industry pool our resources and collectively work together to drive and push demand for southeastern-grown fruits and vegetables? We have limited resources to do that with. It is really going to take a grassroots effort.”
High on the agenda among growers who spoke during the session was securing new protections against the imports flooding the United States during the southeastern produce-marketing window. Low labor wages and subsidization have given countries like Mexico an unfair competitive edge. Growers want to see the farm bill address these concerns, perhaps with revived country-of-origin labeling (COOL) that consumers could easily identify on packaging to help them buy American produce first.
The original COOL lost its teeth when other U.S. ag interests worked to weaken its effectiveness and intent. Bob Redding, president of the Redding Firm, answered grower questions about the farm bill process. He said specialty crop interest groups must have a unified voice as the new law is crafted. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case when growers in California have interests that differ from the Southeast.
“It is absolutely critical (that growers participate in the farm bill process),” Butts added. “We always say if we are not telling our story, someone else might be there telling their story, and it might be counter to our interest. We certainly invite our members or growers in the Southeast to reach out to us, so we can help facilitate those talks.”
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