The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year authorizing legislation that sets policy for an array of agricultural and food programs. The farm bill is renewed every five years, with some exceptions.
The current farm bill, The Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 7, 2014, and allows for continuation of key programs for specialty crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implements the many programs funded by the farm bill.
Farm bill programs of interest to the almond industry include:
Tree Assistance Program (TAP) — Qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers who experienced losses from natural disasters that occurred on or after Oct. 1, 2011, can sign up for TAP. TAP provides financial assistance to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — Funding to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce erosion on fields and other conservation efforts is available through EQIP.
National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program — Funding is available for USDA-certified organic producers and handlers for certification-related expenses they incur from Oct. 1, 2013, through Sept. 30, 2014. Payments cover up to 75% of an individual producer’s or handler’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 per certification.
California High-Speed Rail Project
The California high-speed rail project was first approved by California voters in 2008 with the passage of Proposition 1A authorizing over $9 billion in general obligation bonds to partially fund the project. In June 2012, the California legislature approved construction financing for the initial stage of the project and Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, which allowed the state to begin selling $2.6 billion in bonds and triggered an additional $3.2 billion in matching federal funds. The expected cost of the project today is $68 billion.
The 2014–2015 State budget includes $250 million from the Cap and Trade program to help finance the project. In subsequent years, a fourth of the auction money will go to the train. While pre-construction activities are currently under way, actual construction has been delayed by a multitude of lawsuits.
In November 2013, a Sacramento judge ruled that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had failed to comply with 2008’s Proposition 1A. His decision has been appealed and the appellate court is expected to rule this summer. There have been several environmental lawsuits filed, including one claiming the state is failing to comply with prohibitions on taxpayer-funded operating subsidies and requirements on the bullet train’s end-to-end travel times.
ABC will continue to monitor the progress of the high-speed rail project. The high-speed rail project is of interest to California Almond growers as routes under consideration pass through areas where almonds are grown.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in more than 70 years. Signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011, it aims to ensure the US food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. The ABC has worked with industry members to craft comments on several issues of importance to the California Almond industry. They include:
Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food
Standard for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption
Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals
Designation of High-Risk Foods for Tracing
Foreign Supplier Verification Programs for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals
Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration
Governor Brown’s Drought Task Force, composed of the Governor’s Office, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board and Office of Emergency Services, publishes a “Weekly Drought Brief” that highlights current conditions, key action items from the past week, and links for more information.