Even More Words from Washington

As I write, the Society of American Florists (SAF) just finished its 31st annual Congressional Action Days. Representatives from every type and size of floral business (growers, retail florists, designers, wholesalers, suppliers, importers, and more) visited Washington to meet with their Congressional representatives and senators – and present the floral industry’s views on issues of key importance to their businesses. OFA not only helped sponsor the event, but was ably represented by CEO Michael Geary, who wore out shoe leather walking the halls of Congress along with us.

Certainly, the presence of the floral industry brightened up Washington and helped counter the negative cloud that seems to surround the city these days! So if you’re still reading this – what is the word from Washington?

Farm Bill 2012

Typically, a new Farm Bill, authorizing all of the various programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is passed by Congress every five years. The last one should have been passed in 2007. It was actually, finally, passed over President Bush’s veto in 2008. When the 2008 Farm Bill was finally passed, as a result of SAF’s participation, along with the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, it included several provisions of importance to ornamentals growers. The Alliance efforts resulted in a first-ever inclusion of a “specialty crops” portion of the 2008 Farm Bill, which was a significant recognition of the key role that specialty crops play in our agricultural economy.

Now, the Alliance is again meeting to agree on priorities for the specialty crop industry in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill. SAF and ANLA will participate fully in this effort on behalf of the ornamentals industry. Both organizations are on the Alliance Steering Committee, giving us a very strong voice in the group’s decisions.

We are, for example, active participants in the Alliance subgroup which is reviewing the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). We hope to strengthen this and other research components of the Farm Bill by making them more responsive to industry concerns, and by focusing more attention (and dollars) on such industry-driven efforts as the Floriculture & Nursery Research Initiative. As a result of our efforts, we hope that the 2012 Farm Bill will continue funding for an SCRI program and that that program will be greatly improved.

Another of the very significant portions of the 2008 Farm Bill was new funding to USDA-APHIS for improved pest and disease management. This provision directed APHIS to create a program to help identify and prevent pest and disease threats to U.S. specialty crops. SAF and ANLA continue to work very closely with APHIS officials as they allocate this funding: $12 million mandatory funding for FY 2009; $45 million for FY 2010; and $50 million/year for FY 2011-2017.

The major goal for this funding is to enable better predictive planning by APHIS, working with the industry. Once a pest reaches the United States, it is much more difficult, not to mention costly to the industry, government, and the environment, to eradicate. With better predictive efforts, including a stronger scientific base, advance planning can help both APHIS and private industry to avoid costly quarantine actions.

Much of our effort over the next two years in Washington is going to be devoted to ensuring that, even in these very tight fiscal times, we maintain funding for our researchers, continue programs to help growers manage pests and diseases and avoid quarantines, and improve USDA’s ability to support our industry. Stay tuned!

Immigration Reform

A major disappointment last year was Congress’ failure to address this very urgent need – especially for agriculture. Now that the dust of the 2010 elections has settled, it is abundantly – and unfortunately – clear that there is no hope in this Congress of passage of comprehensive immigration reform, covering all workers in the economy. However, we must continue to work for agriculture, which has unique needs and is in a unique situation.

Enforcement and audit efforts are increasing and are focused on employers. As many as 75 percent of U.S. agriculture’s workers are unauthorized. The new H-2A guestworker regulations are unworkable. Employers are having a more difficult time finding workers, and still have no reliable way of verifying documents. Agriculture across the U.S. is feeling the pain.

Our most urgent need, as I write this article, is to avoid passage of “enforcement only” legislation, without the other “two legs of the three-legged stool”: guestworker reform and a way to authorize those workers who are already here. All three components are necessary for an effective solution to our current crisis. Mandatory enforcement without a way to maintain our current workforce and to obtain new workers will rob agriculture of most of its workforce.

We, of course, support secure, well-managed borders and effective enforcement. SAF, as part of the Agriculture Coalition on Immigration Reform (ACIR) is willing to work with Congress and the Administration on an effective, improved E-Verify (electronic verification of documents) program – but only if the solution also includes realistic legal ways to maintain and obtain a productive, legally authorized workforce.

The electronic verification program, “E-Verify,” is currently voluntary in most states, and an estimated 5 percent to 11 percent of employers used it in 2010, although the number of users continues to grow. A small number of states (including Arizona) have made it mandatory. The program could eventually be useful, but questions have been raised about its accuracy. In addition, identity fraud remains a problem, because employers may not be able to tell if employees are presenting genuine documents that are borrowed or stolen.

Our nation’s food supply and its agricultural economy (plus the three to five jobs that are supported in communities as a result of agriculture) are at risk. At this writing, we are working both in the House and the Senate to try to forge a solution for agriculture. Stay tuned – and please be prepared to communicate with your representatives in Congress on this issue. It’s difficult to generate support for immigration reform amid the noise of the anti-immigrant forces. But for one politician or radio talk show host grandstanding about the evils of illegal immigration, there are hundreds of thoughtful Americans who are actually interested in working to solve the problem. Congress needs to hear from them.

Certification of Production Facilities – Onshore and Offshore?

As global trade increases, the pressure on the ornamentals industry has become intense to avoid or control the movement of invasive plants and of invasive pests which can travel with plants and flowers. The ornamentals industry is often singled out, because it moves its products around the nation and around the world – and often establishes them in the environment. In some instances, fairly or not, the ornamentals industry is targeted by other agricultural sectors, who blame us for importing and/or moving pests or diseases which might harm, say, cotton or potatoes. In other instances, environmental groups target the ornamentals industry.

As the topic of “invasives” gains traction, more attention is being focused on the possibility of regulating plant movement through certified or approved “systems approach” programs, rather than by inspection of individual shipments.

Many such approaches are currently under discussion, and it is imperative that the ornamentals industry be involved in order to prevent imposition of unworkable schemes on the industry.

Essentially, a systems approach is modeled on the concept of the “HACCP” approach which is used in many segments of the food industry. “HACCP” (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points) relies on targeting specific, key points in a production process, to control or mitigate the risk of a problem passing through one or more of those points without being detected and/or eliminated.

This regulatory topic is still relatively in its infancy – but growers need to be thinking about it. A systems approach will only work if it is based on the realities of crop production and designed with thoughtful grower input.

By the time you read this, USDA will likely have published the next phase of the Quarantine-37 regulation revision. Q-37 is the regulation governing the import of “plants-for-planting,” including seeds. Watch for alerts from SAF and ANLA, because new proposals are likely to raise questions on which we need grower input. Again, stay tuned!

Get to Know Congress!

The efforts of the industry in putting a face on floriculture are really “worth their weight in gold.”  Congress must hear the voice of business – and Congress listens best when it is hearing that voice from business owners themselves – sitting in Capitol Hill offices, right there on the spot.

And if you can’t actually come to Washington, that doesn’t mean your voice can’t be heard. E-mails, attending district office meetings, and just paying attention to what your representatives are saying and doing is important. Log onto www.safnow.org and click on “Write to Congress.” It’s easy. Enter your zip code and find out who your congressman or congresswoman is. Then, log onto www.house.gov or www.senate.gov, go to their web page, and find out more about them. It will help you to better communicate and it will help our Congress to do a better job.

Pictures are usually worth far more than a thousand words. Inviting a lawmaker to visit your business is extremely helpful in creating more understanding of how businesses operate and creating channels of ongoing communication. Getting your information from reliable sources is increasingly important. And, of course, staying in touch with your trade associations – SAF, ANLA, OFA, and others – makes our voice louder, clearer, and more effective.  It’s not rocket science – it’s just common sense and hard work!

Reprinted with permission from OFA – The Association of Horticulture Professionals. Columbus, Ohio. www.ofa.org

Lin Schmale

Senior Director

Lin Schmale is Senior Director of Government Relations for the Society of American Florists Contact her at [email protected]