By TRAVIS DAY
New Mexico Chile Association
Recently, you may have heard discussions coming out of Washington, D.C., regarding the farm bill and it poses the question: What is the farm bill? In general, the farm bill is an omnibus law that relates to agricultural and food issues. Specifically, it allocates funding and sets policy for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its programs for 5 to 10 years.
These programs are essential to our everyday lives as they include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Price Loss Coverage Program (PLC), and many others that are meaningful to us as producers and consumers. The current farm bill is set to expire Sept. 30 of this year highlighting the need for consumer education on the different portions of the farm bill and how to get involved in the process.
The New Mexican Chile is the heart and soul of our state’s culture and is the state’s iconic agricultural commodity. Under the farm bill, chile is considered a specialty crop. Specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture.
The USDA provides a list of plants that fall under the specialty crop category and their eligibility for USDA programs. Specialty crops fall primarily under Title X: Horticulture; however, other titles of the farm bill include provisions that support specialty crop production. Within the horticulture title, specialty crop support includes funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG), market data collection, food safety initiatives, and pest management. Specialty Crop Block Grants provide funding through state departments to eligible entities to increase market competitiveness of specialty crops.
This program is administered by the state’s Department of Agriculture and allocates approximately $500,000 annually for specialty crops in New Mexico. Through market data collection, the Farm Bill lines out the processes of sharing specialty crop market information in a timely manner to assist in national and international commerce. Also, within this title, it authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to plan and implement a food safety initiative to educate consumers of the fresh produce industry, specifically reduction of pathogen and cross contamination through proper food handling.
Lastly, the horticulture title allows for cooperative agreements with state Departments of Agriculture to minimize the spread of pests and disease in specialty crop transportation. Specialty crop initiatives are identified in other farm bill titles such as the Research Title (Specialty Crop Research Initiative), Nutrition Title (Nutrition Assistance Programs), Crop Insurance Title and Trade Title.
Specialty crops play a vital role in New Mexico’s economy and the success of those crops is highly reliant on the farm bill and its support for our industries in our state. Producers and consumers, whether we understand it or not, feel the impact of the farm bill every day. We now have the opportunity to influence our federal delegates to ensure that the 2023 farm bill includes initiatives and provisions that support our agricultural communities in New Mexico.