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Congress passes Farm Bill that benefits Monterey Bay area

December 12, 2018
In The News

MONTERY – Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill – the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday – that includes a number of bipartisan provisions that will benefit the Central Coast plus a historic move to allow hemp production. It next goes to President Trump for signing.

The bill “ acknowledges the growing importance of the specialty crop industry to American agriculture and offers a real progress on many of our top priorities, including funding for mechanization research and development, as well as improved access to crop insurance tools,” said Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and CEO, in a prepared statement.

One of the provisions was a victory  in protecting food stamps.

“There are no cuts to benefits, no changes to program eligibility, and no changes to the already-existing work requirements,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, in a prepared statement. “In addition, this Farm Bill will support local projects like the Double Up Food Bucks that expand California consumers’ access to the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in our backyard.”

Earlier this year, the House tried to include language in the bill that would change the way SNAP Employment and Training.

“Over 74,000 residents in my district on the Central Coast rely on SNAP to help put food on the table. This is a big victory for SNAP recipients,” said Panetta.

Another aspect of the Farm Bill is the Organic Agriculture Research Act which was introduced in the House in 2017 by Representatives Chellie Pingree, D-ME, Dan Newhouse, R-WA, and Panetta, and introduced in the Senate in February by Senators Susan Collins, R-ME, and Bob Casey, D-PA.

This bipartisan effort reauthorizes the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative program and increases the annual funding from $20 million to $50 million.

“Our country’s organic industry is a dynamic and growing market, but more must be done to ensure that producers are equipped with the most effective tools available,” Panetta said. “Our district is the fifth largest organics producing district in the country, home to over 400 organic producers. To remain competitive, these operations depend on innovations in research, particularly when it comes to improvements in soil health and pest management.”

The Farm Bill secures critical investments in the (OREI program), ramps up funding to $50 million a year within 5 years, and will provide economic opportunity for producers while increasing accessibility to consumers through science-based advancements, said Panetta.

“This investment and expansion of eligibility shows a greater recognition of the needs of specialty crop producers on the Central Coast,” said Panetta. “Our district alone is home to a $5 billion specialty crop industry. With a shrinking and aging workforce, producers are seeking assistance with developing mechanization technology to make up for a lack of labor, and this farm bill helps address that need.”

Nassif pointed out that besides the funding increases for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, other achievements in the 2018 Farm Bill include the continuation of funding for citrus greening research: the creation of an Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority pilot program, a private sector-modeled approach to funding high-priority research needs and improved access to rural water infrastructure funds for local communities.

But one of the most notable additions to the bill would be the legislation that would lift a decades-old ban on growing industrial hemp on American soil. It would legalize the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp, the non-psychoactive cannabis cousin of marijuana.

In 2014, hemp the federal farm bill allowed limited cultivation of hemp. Places like Colorado, Kentucky and Vermont planted the first hemp farms seen since shortly after World War II and by 2015 it was being grown in up to 16 states.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp will be allowed to propagate in all 50 states if desired.

Just what that means for the burgeoning cannabis industry on the Central Coast is anyone’s guess.

Norm Groot, Farm Bureau Monterey executive director said, “There is concern about allowing outdoor hemp production in our county due to the expanding cannabis sector and possible contamination due to pollen crossover.”

Hemp itself can have many industrial uses, is mainly grown for its high CBD (cannabinoid), and the seeds are brimming with essential fatty acids and proteins.

Cross-pollination from hemp seeds has many marijuana growers concerned that it will ruin crops. The potency and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in cannabis drop when this happens, making the strains that have taken generations to develop, practically useless.

But Dr. Bomi Joseph, Founder of Peak Health Center, ImmunAG, LLC and creator of Phyto Farmacy said, “This is going to change the world, the industry and our economy for the better. Hemp has many uses and with the passing of this bill it will make it safer for companies and investors to invest in the hemp industry.”

The provision in the Farm Bill legalizing hemp production is extremely important, according to Joseph.

“Until now there has been a stigma and pushback from the use of hemp because of its schedule 1 classification, now, with the passing of the farm bill that will all change,” said Joseph. “We know that Hemp is a weed, it grows fast and at a high volume, we will be able to extract CBD which we know has a number of benefits for humans (per testimonials), now we will be able to actually confirm those testimonials and offer medicinal alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs like opioids.”