The 2018 Farm Bill impacts agriculture, one of California's key economic engines.
California's 77,500 farms and ranches produce 50 percent of the nation's fruits, nuts, and vegetables, 20 percent of the milk, and more than 400 different agricultural commodities, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The state leads the country in the production of numerous crops, such almonds, apricots, honeydew melons, grapes, herbs, carrots, and many other crops.
The Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill passed overwhelmingly, 86 to 11. The bill will eventually be returning to the House of Representatives for reconciliation and to resolve the differences between the bills.
California, as the nation's agricultural leader, stands to benefit from the passage of the Farm Bill. Here are five “wins” California received when the Senate passed their version of the 2018 Farm Bill.
1. The dairy risk management program
California dairies are receiving more help from the 2018 Farm Bill. Dairy is a top commodity and export for California. It comes in at number three on the top exports list and leads California revenue with cash receipts over $10.4 billion in 2016.
Regional areas like San Joaquin County and Stanislaus County have milk as a top commodity within their crop reports. Stanislaus County had milk as the second highest ranking commodity with a 2016 value of $611,894,000. San Joaquin County also had milk as the second highest ranking commodity in 2016 with a value of $362 million.
While dairy has been a strong commodity for California, dairy farmers have experienced a nearly 12 -percent decrease in cash receipts as compared to 2015. In addition, dairy farmers have been experiencing depressed milk prices, more supply than demand, and high production costs exceeding milk prices in previous years.
According to the California Department of Agriculture, 32 dairies were lost in 2015 and 46 were lost in 2016. Small to midsize dairy operations either sold out or moved out of state to find cheaper land, water, and less state regulation. According to Western United Dairymen, 99 percent of California dairies are still family owned and operated.
In the Senate’s 2018 Farm Bill, dairy farmers can receive refunds on premiums paid under the old program that did not work for them. Dairy insurance and risk coverage will also be seeing an additional $100 million.
2. Conservation funding is increased
The Senate Farm Bill sees a 100-percent increase in funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Funding for the program increases from $100 million to $200 million. This is a program that promotes locally led conservation practices that improve working landscapes and rivers.
One example of such a project is the Audubon California Tricolored Blackbird Protection Project. The breed is found almost exclusively in California, according to Audubon California. Back in 2017, Audubon California, Western United Dairymen, Dairy Cares, California Farm Bureau, and Sustainable Conservation saved 200,000 birds in the preceding four years. 75,000 were protected during the 2017 nesting season in Kern, Merced, and Tulare counties.
Audubon California claims that the Farm Bill has the potential impact conservation practices on two-thirds of U.S. land that is privately owned for the next five years.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture made conservation one of their requests when the Farm Bill was being discussed. They sought more flexibility in program delivery and implementation through partnerships to address areas of concern, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
3. Re-authorized export programs that open new markets
California is the largest agricultural producer and exporter in the nation, and, according to the California Department of Agriculture, making sure that farmers can be competitive domestically and internationally is of key interest to California. The state called on legislators to continue the safeguard marketing and trade programs like the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.
The Almond Board of California was also invested in the continuation and development of the Market Access Program. Stanislaus County’s top commodity is almonds, and San Joaquin County had almonds as their third highest commodity for 2016. According to the Almond Board’s website, programs like the Marketing Access Program have been used to open new markets, address trade barriers, and build consumer demand.
The Farm Bill re-authorizes key export programs like the Market Access Program and the Foreign Development Program. These programs help California producers export more products and gain market share in foreign countries.
4. Organic Farming Research for the Country’s organic leader
“California is the nation’s organic leader and our bill promotes that rapidly growing industry. Organic farming received an enormous boost in funding and the bill permanently funds organic research. Developing healthier growing methods, for both organics and specialty crops, helps our farmers stay competitive and gives families more options at the grocery store,” said United States Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- California).
This translates to a total of 2,637 organic farms in California, according to a statement from the University of California Office of the President.
According to the California Department of Agriculture, 40 percent of organic agriculture grown in the United States and organic production in the state tops values of $2.2 billion. The state called for the new Farm Bill to retain funding for national organic programs.
Adding to the acclaim, the Organic Trade Association commended the Farm Bill for the positives it shows for organic farming. Some of their top priorities came through as they saw the Organic Research and Extensive Initiative program funding increased to from $20 million per year to $50 million per year by 2023. This is the largest increase to the program in over a decade, according to the Organic Trade Association.
5. Rural communities high speed internet access
According to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the bill strengthens rural communities by expanding high-speed internet access.
The issue was high enough priority for the California Department of Food and Agriculture to include it in their letter to Congress. Even though California has a more urbanized population, there are rural areas throughout the various counties. The lack of broadband connectivity and high-speed internet access is a big issue for rural businesses, community service districts, health care providers, education, and workforce development and public safety.
California called on the bill to re-authorize and increase funding for programs involved with broadband and communications.
In the Senate Farm Bill, it states that cost savings and productivity benefits of agriculture cannot be realized with reliable broadband internet service in agricultural areas and adds that service is not consistently available where it is needed for agriculture.
According to the bill text, there will be efforts to develop policy recommendations to promote rapid and expanded deployment of broadband internet access on unserved agricultural land.