By Robert Rodriguez
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and a group of Valley agricultural leaders urged leaders of the House of Representatives on Friday to bring the 2012 farm bill to a vote before Congress recesses in August.
At stake, Costa and others say, are millions of dollars in funding for programs benefiting farmers, including many in California and the Valley. The current farm bill is set to expire Sept. 30.
The House Agriculture Committee, which includes Valley representatives Costa and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, worked into the early hours of Thursday morning to pass the nearly 600-page farm bill.
Costa said Congress has 12 days before the August recess.
"Now is the time for the full House of Representatives to act," Costa said Friday during a meeting at the Nisei Farmers League office in Fresno. "There are lots of victories in this bill and other areas we need to work on."
Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, echoed Costa's request: "We have to get this done; it is critical."
The package, which sets farm policy for the next five years, includes contentious issues such as severe cuts to the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
But the proposed farm bill also includes a $100 million increase -- over the life of the 2012 bill -- for the Specialty Crop Block Program. The block grants help strengthen markets for fruit, vegetable and nut growers.
Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League, said improving access to foreign and domestic markets is vital to California farmers.
Last year, California's grape industry exported nearly 40% of its crop and tree fruit growers shipped 25% overseas.
Also included in the farm bill is $450 million for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and a $100 million increase -- over the life of the bill -- to help fight invasive pests and diseases. The two issues are important to California farmers.
Farm leaders say California agriculture is thriving, in part because of cutting-edge research that has helped farmers become more efficient and productive.
"We need to have the farm bill completed this year," Bedwell said. "Without it, there is no mandatory funding beyond this fiscal year."