Last year around this time I was in Nashville at the Commodity Classic listening to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack rail on how we desperately need a new farm bill. At that time there looked to be hope, as the Senate, led by Michigan's own Sen. Debbie Stabenow, was making strides to develop a program that gave farmers tools to reduce risk, increase trade opportunities, protect the environment and grow yields for both food and bio-products.
Most of you know the story. The Senate did pass what most ag groups were hailing as a very acceptable bill, but the House, with all its partisanship and political wrangling, effectively killed it by doing nothing. The best the legislature could do, in the waning hours of 2012, was pass a band aid by extending the existing farm bill.
So it appears that everything is status quo… at least for now, correct? The extension of the 2008 farm bill leaves most everything in place, whether you agree with some of the support programs or not. The key word in that last sentence is "most."
What we did lose in the extension was funding for key specialty crop priorities that did not have a baseline in the budget. In Michigan, where farmers grow with more than 200 different commodities, that's a big deal. Particularly devastating is the loss of dollars for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The program is known by the acronym SCRI and includes multi-state research projects. It was authorized at $100 million over 10 years but is not funded in the new bill.
That means there is no funding for research on stuff like the brown marmorated stink bug. This critter may potentially cripple fruit and vegetable growers as it shows no preference to one particular fruit or vegetable – sucking each one dry of water, protein and carbohydrates.
The stink bug is native to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but probably hitched a ride in a crate of something and made its way into the United States in September 1998. It has already devastated many mid-Atlantic crops. Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee says, "It damages apples, peaches, pears – it really doesn't care what it's consuming." The bug has been found in eight counties in Michigan and even our harsh winters won't kill it off because it overwinters in homes.