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Farm bill's effects on floricultural programs

The Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the farm bill, will affect the nation’s Christmas tree growers in addition to other floricultural programs.

Once it is signed by President Obama, the bill will create a check-off program to fund a national Christmas tree promotional board. A provision in the bill adds a 15-cent surcharge on the cost of each tree sold by larger farms. This money will go into a specific program of research and marketing for live trees. It is similar to other check-off programs that led to such slogans as “The incredible edible egg,” “Got Milk” and “California grown.”

Jennifer Greene of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association said the program can help growers combat the influx of artificial trees. "It is estimated that the assessment can raise $3 million a year for promotion," said Greene. "We want to promote the American farmer and American products like the live trees."

Although the legislation did pass Congress, there remain opponents who maintain that it is a tax on unwilling Christmas tree farmers that would be passed down to consumers.

Al Wilson, who runs Al’s Hidden Valley Tree Farm near Eugene, OR, said it’s hard enough to make a living by growing and selling Christmas trees without adding to their cost. “If you can sell enough trees just to break even and try to keep going, you’re very fortunate,” Wilson said. He also expressed wariness about more governmental interference with his livelihood.

The bill will also affect other aspects of floriculture.

The critical pest and disease research program coordinated by USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service was increased from $50 million per year to $62.5 million in each of the next four years, and $75 million in 2018, with a minimum of $5 million targeted to the National Clean Plant Network. The APHIS research has targeted research dollars to study impatiens downy mildew, chrysanthemum white rust, gladiolus rust, boxwood blight and new invasive insects. These are just a few of the research projects that have benefitted the floriculture industry.

The bill provides $80 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, an increase from the previous level of $50 million, with new provisions providing for increased industry participation in review of research proposals to ensure that industry priorities are addressed.

Specialty crop block grant funding is increased from $50 million per year to $72.5 million per year for the next four years, and to $85 million per year in 2018. Block grants have provided funding for important state initiatives to increase flower and plant promotion in states like Hawaii, Alaska, California, Texas, Michigan and others.