ASTA Farm Bill Priorities
ASTA 2023 Farm Bill Priorities
Farm Bill programs play a pivotal role in ensuring certainty for producers across all regions and sectors of U.S. agriculture, and provide for a more nutritious and food-secure future both at home and abroad. Resiliency and prosperity in agriculture starts with seed. Better seed produces better crops for a better quality of life. ASTA offers the following considerations for the 2023 Farm Bill, in the following priority areas:
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The seed industry plays a unique and critical role in supporting conservation programs by developing and providing diverse, locally and broadly adapted, high-quality seed, enabling farmers to both increase agricultural productivity and conserve natural resources. Farmers and landowners need quality, professionally produced seed, including cover crop seed, to meet their conservation and business goals. Due to the nature of the years-long seed production process – which is high risk and research intense – the seed industry faces a significant challenge in meeting rapidly-changing farmer demand. As demand for conservation seed continues to rise, the ability to meet the specific variety needs of farmers in the future requires clear and predictable long-term policies and collaboration among the seed industry, farmers and government. For more details on seed industry conservation priorities, see ASTA’s written testimony submitted to the House Agriculture Committee.
ASTA Farm Bill Recommendations:
- Provide New Approaches to Expand Cover Crop Adoption: With over 50% of NRCS Conservation program applications going unfunded, new approaches should be considered to provide streamlined enrollment, planning, and financial assistance to growers seeking to plant cover crops. This could include financial incentives for growers through a tiered structure by designating payment by number of cover crop species planted in seed mixes.
- Ensure Access to the Highest Quality Cover Crop Seed: Better cover crop seed helps farmers achieve their conservation goals, leading to a more secure and sustainable food supply and a healthier environment. Professional cover crop seed is grown for seed from the start, using improved genetics and the latest agronomic standards. To ensure farmers get the highest quality, resilient seed to meet production expectations while minimizing the chance for invasive species and other weeds and diseases, all cover crop seed should be tested by an accredited and audited seed lab and accompanied by a label conforming to state/federal laws.
- Offer Flexibility in Conservation Program Delivery: Clarification is needed in NRCS program planning and decision making related to cover crop seed selection. Local field staff, crop advisors and others need flexibility to make real time decisions to modify cover crop seed selection in a manner that allows growers to meet the goals of the conservation program contract and to recognize the dynamics of local seed availability. That critical decision-making period results from the convergence of harvest dates and access to the field, weather, USDA processing of program applications and fiscal year deadlines, all leading to cover crop seed selection during a few weeks in late summer and early fall.
Local field staff, crop advisors and others need flexibility to make real-time decisions to modify cover crop seed selection in a manner that allows growers to meet the goals of the conservation program contract and to recognize the dynamics of local seed availability. When seed demand is high, growers should have more choices in seed selection due to limited local availability and price management.
- Enhance Carbon Sequestration, Land Resilience by Harnessing Plant Diversity: To achieve greater greenhouse gas (GHG) sequestration, resiliency, and biodiversity, more practices should be offered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for agricultural producers to increase legumes, forbs, and pollinators in grazing systems. Additionally, producers who implement grassland restoration and improvement practices should qualify for the cost-share and technical assistance. Within the rental and easement programs, USDA should utilize mid-contract management authority to improve carbon mitigation, resiliency, sequestration, and biodiversity, including plant diversity. CSP should offer cost-share assistance for improving plant diversity.
Efficient and productive agriculture systems start with seed. The U.S. seed industry relies on the support of Farm Bill funding and programs to ensure continued leadership as the provider of the best seed to the world. U.S. seed companies, public and private scientists, and U.S. producers will continue to innovate to improve crops and production practices, thanks to ongoing and future cutting-edge research. Strong investments in research from discovery through development lead to better seed, which means better outcomes for farmers, consumers, and the environment, in the short and long-term. See testimony from U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee for more details on ASTA’s research priorities.
ASTA Farm Bill Recommendations:
- Support Robust Funding for Primary USDA Research: The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and the Economic Research Service (ERS) provide foundational research for the seed industry, including critical funding resources for plant breeders and important data products on trade and economic trends that inform policy priorities. Competitive grants programs, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), provide critical funding to address growing challenges in agriculture. The Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) also plays an important policy coordinating role and ensures that research priorities are elevated within U.S. government-wide initiatives.
- Increase Appropriations for National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS): ASTA worked closely with Congress during the 2018 Farm Bill to mandate that the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) develop and implement a national strategic germplasm and cultivar collections assessment and utilization plan for the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS). As a key priority for ASTA, we look forward to the publication of this plan, which will be instrumental in establishing a roadmap for the sustainability of NPGS for years to come, allowing scientists access to critical plant germplasm, and enabling the development of new varieties and hybrids that resist pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. A strong and healthy national germplasm collection is valuable to the public and private sectors, especially with new technologies, such as genomic prediction, that enable us to fully utilize these collections. To support modernization of the seed storage, characterization, data resources, and distribution capacity of the NPGS, ASTA advocates for increasing the authorization of appropriations for the National Genetic Resources Program.
- Reauthorize the Agriculture Genome to Phenome Initiative: In the seed sector, we are challenged to respond quickly to new production challenges with new seed of hybrids and varieties. The Ag Genome to Phenome Initiative (AG2PI), enhanced in the last Farm Bill, generates knowledge that bridges genomics, phenotype, and the environment to support more responsive, and predictive plant and animal breeding programs. This initiative strengthens interdisciplinary collaboration among public and private research communities, which will ensure farmers have ready access to the best varieties of seed to meet their specific needs.
- Continue Support for University Research: Land-Grant Universities are essential partners in agricultural research. Continued support is needed for the Hatch-Act, Smith-Lever, and McIntire Stennis Farm Bill authorities, which are key to U.S. research and development. According to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), more than 69% of research and education facilities at land-grant universities colleges of agriculture are at the end of their life cycles. Robust support is needed through the Research Facilities Act for these critical infrastructure needs.
- Gather and Provide Access to Needed Cover Crop Data: To help producers and the seed industry plan ahead to ensure the availability of high-quality cover crop varieties at the right place and the right time, the NASS Prospective Plantings survey should include data on cover crops – including acres and types of species planted last season, and intention to plant next season. Additionally, to provide farmers, crop advisors, technical service providers, and government agencies with needed information on the efficacy and benefits of different varieties or mixes of cover crops, ASTA supports the creation of a NIFA-funded clearing house for cover crop variety evaluation.
- Reauthorize, Fully Fund the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AGARDA): AGARDA was established in the last Farm Bill to allow USDA to drive high-risk and long-term research to address challenges that threaten the stability and economic viability of agriculture in the U.S. Modeled from the success of other advanced research and development authorities such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), AGARDA was established to support transformative advances that industry by itself is not likely to undertake because of technological or financial uncertainty.
- Assess Domestic Vulnerability of U.S. Agricultural Production Areas: U.S. crop production is under increasing pressure from climate change and evolving pest and disease pressures. For example, unprecedented droughts in California and the Mississippi River basin, unseasonably warm winters, late frosts, wet springs, and unique phytosanitary issues like High Plains Virus and the Spotted Lantern Fly are changing how farmers plant seeds and manage agricultural production nationwide.
The Federal government should commission and fast-track an assessment of threats to domestic crop production, to inform how to invest and prioritize R&D in the agricultural sector over the next 20 years As part of this vulnerability assessment, the report could identify opportunities to diversify U.S. agricultural production and partner with the private sector to increase investment in U.S. seed development to meet these needs. These activities could complement ongoing federal and state efforts to assess water- and land-use. The assessment could be managed by an independent authority, such as the National Academy of Sciences, and draw upon diverse scientific and national security expertise in the context of the crop sciences.
Exports are a vital part of the U.S. economic engine, and agricultural exports, including seed, continue to be among its strongest components. To continue to expand U.S. agricultural exports, protect and create American jobs, strengthen farm income, and help offset the government-supported advantages afforded to international competitors, the Farm Bill must include investment toward public/private partnerships designed to support these efforts.
ASTA Farm Bill Recommendations:
- Increase Funding for Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation: As public/private partnerships designed to promote the exports of U.S. products, the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program are two proven tools U.S. agriculture has to compete in the international marketplace, and are even more important today. MAP and FMD have been tremendously successful and cost effective in helping maintain and expand U.S. agricultural exports, protect and create American jobs, strengthen farm income, and help offset the government-supported advantages afforded to international competitors
For ASTA and its members representing the U.S. seed industry, MAP and FMD funds have supported U.S. leadership in key international venues to influence customs, intellectual property, labeling, marketing, phytosanitary, and biotechnology regulatory policies. Sustained, long-term capacity building with international partners through these funds, which the seed sector has matched with investments and in-kind contributions to amplify impact, is critical to the development of new markets.
- The Emerging Markets Program (EMP), designed to develop, maintain, or expand exports of U.S. agricultural commodities to emerging markets worldwide, has been a critical tool in supporting these efforts through cost-share funding in technical assistance activities. Additionally, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program has been instrumental in addressing export barriers for specialty crop commodities and is necessary in continuing to address sanitary and phytosanitary issues and technical barriers to trade that prohibit or threaten exports of U.S. specialty crops.
- Robust and increased funding is needed for USDA’s Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation Programs. Sustained, long-term capacity building with international partners through these funds, which the seed sector has matched with investments and in-kind contributions to amplify impact, is critical to the development of new markets.
Continued innovation in plant breeding and seed-variety development are crucial to ensuring long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability. The seed industry is founded on innovation, and innovation is a part of everything we do – from plant breeding and seed treatments, to soil health and habitat restoration. See Dr. Margaret Leigh Worthington’s testimony to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics and Research for more details on the need for innovation.
ASTA Farm Bill Recommendations:
- Create Systems that Foster Innovation in Plant Breeding: ASTA continues to support the strong role that USDA’s Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP) plays in coordinating policies that affect crop protection tools. Continued investments are needed to support process improvements and staffing shortages in the three agencies responsible for regulating innovative biotechnology products under the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. EPA, FDA, and USDA should improve coordinated efforts to address regulatory inefficiencies that continue to delay the commercialization of products developed through innovative breeding methods.
- Provide Clarity around Biostimulants: Biostimulants are emerging and promising tools to help mitigate or reduce GHG emissions, conserve and replenish soil health, and improve water quality. However, without a clear definition, the regulatory path to market is unclear. To fully realize the value of these tools, the Farm Bill should establish a federal definition for biostimulants.
To ensure economically sustainable domestic agriculture production, ASTA supports maintaining and strengthening Farm Bill commodity programs. We look to our grower partners in the commodity organizations and general farm organizations as they identify specific recommendations on policy.
ASTA Farm Bill Recommendations:
- Protect, Preserve, and Strengthen Farmer Safety Nets: Crop insurance enables farmers to rebound quickly after disaster and allows producers to continue to meet their credit obligations and to purchase ag inputs such as seed to plant a crop another year.
- Offer Crop Insurance Rebate for Cover Crop Use: Building on the successful Pandemic Cover Crop program, the Farm Bill should establish a formal program providing a $5 per acre rebate on crop insurance premiums for the use of cover crops. This program would allow growers to self-certify that they planted one or more cover crops and report acreage to FSA to be eligible for the premium discount.