MODESTO, Calif. — The Farm Bill is important to the California almond industry in the areas of trade, conservation, bioenergy, technical assistance, research and block grants, Almond Alliance of California President Kelly Covello told a Farm Bill listening session in ModestoSaturday. “It is essential that we increase 2018 Farm Bill program funding levels,” she said. “We have seen no funding increases in several important titles in the last two Farm Bills while the challenges facing agriculture have exploded.”
Covello offered her comments to members of the House Agriculture Committee, including Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Rep Jeff Denham (R-Modesto), Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) and Dwight Evans (D-PA.) Non-Committee member David Valadao (R-Hanford) also sat in for the session. Conway kicked off the session by noting: “I don’t know if there’s anything you don’t grow out here.”
Here are the highlights of Covello’s comments:
Covello said a particularly important program for almond growers is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) which provides funding to meet increasing environmental standards, which are particularly stringent in California. “The almond industry has used EQIP to upgrade agricultural motors to help the San Joaquin Valley comply with federal air quality standards,” she explained. “EQIP is historically underfunded and always over-subscribed. Additional funding for EQIP would help the California Ag industry meet increasingly strict air quality regulations.”
California almond growers export about 70% of their crop and programs such as the Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Market Development program (FMD), and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) are crucial for continued economic growth. “Despite the importance and success of these programs, funding under the Farm Bill to the MAP program has not increased since 2006 and FMD funding has not increased since 2002,” pointed out Covello. “We urge you to increase MAP funding from $200 million to $400 million annually and FMD funding from $34.5 million to $69 million annually.”
Covello told the panel the almond industry believes it can eventually produce almonds with zero waste, but current economic and environmental challenges along with bioenergy technological hurdles have slowed the development of bioenergy outlets for almond biomass and byproducts. “An outlet such as open burning is no longer a viable option given air quality and environmental concerns,” she said. “Cogeneration and biomass energy options are increasingly unavailable due to economics and environmental regulations which are causing biomass plants to close.”
Woody biomass produced in orchards and orchard removals can be used as a feedstock for biofuels or bioenergy. However, USDA bioenergy programs have traditionally focused on row crops for ethanol production and did not take into consideration the biomass generated from specialty crops. “It is imperative that biomass produced in fruit and nut orchards be eligible for the USDA’s bioenergy programs,” she said.
Rural Business Development
The Alliance is in full support of the Farm Bill’s rural business development programs but there is a need to redefine “rural”. Without a re-definition, most truly rural areas of California do not have access to programs to these programs.
There is also a need to expand job training programs. “We are at a critical time in California with regards to labor in rural California,” pointed out Covello. “In the next five years, we’re going to see a change in the agricultural job landscape of California. With the adoption of labor laws including a new minimum wage and new agricultural overtime laws along with the rapid changes in science, technology and mechanization the ag jobs of today will not be the jobs of the future.”
Gross Income Caps
Covello encouraged NRCS and the FSA to modify grant criteria for disaster program income limits and other program participation income criteria for specialty crops in the 2018 Farm Bill. “The value of California specialty crops is higher than most production ag commodities, limiting their participation in these programs,” she explained. “However, growers in California turn to high value crops to be profitable given the regulatory environment in which they operate and criteria for these programs should take these costs into consideration.”
Conaway said at the conclusion of the three-hour session they would seek to ready a Farm Bill for House consideration late this year or early in 2018, as he has previously pledged.
Click Here for the full Almond Alliance Farm Bill comment document.
The Almond Alliance of California is a trade association representing the interests of the California Almond industry including almond growers, hullers/shellers, and processors. For more information, visit almondalliance.org
—Almond Alliance of California
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