The 2018 Farm Bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in December, includes several provisions that affect the tree fruit industry over the next five years of funding. Here are a few highlights, according to the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, Washington, and U.S. Apple Association in Falls Church, Virginia.

—The new Farm Bill continues funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, often called the SCRI, making available $25 million more per year for tree fruit competitive grants. Recent projects funded by the SCRI include development of the Berry Impact Recording Device at the University of Georgia, using birds of prey to reduce bird damage to fruit, efforts to combat the invasive brown marmorated stink bug and the use of gum acacia to prevent cherry cracking.

—The new law raises the level of priority or competitive status within the SCRI for funding mechanization and automation research projects for specialty crops.

—The Farm Bill continues funding Specialty Crop Block Grants, at $80 million per year.

—The bill continues funding for pest and disease research, at $75 million per year, and includes language to help coordinate projects. The bill also continues to fund the National Clean Plant Center, which protects the fruit industry from viruses.

—The law lumps two key trade programs, the Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops, under the new International Market Development Program, providing more certainty that both programs receive funding at existing levels of no less than $200 million and $9 million, respectively. The Market Access Program helps develop new foreign export markets, while Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops funds industry efforts to overcome nontariff export barriers, such as onerous pest and disease protocols.

—The new bill beefs up organic regulations to prevent fraud, especially by foreign producers, and allows employees of organic producers to serve on the National Organic Standards Board — instead of only company owners. It also requires a two-thirds majority vote of the board members to remove a synthetic product from a list of certified products, replacing the rule of requiring a two-thirds vote to maintain the product on the list, every five years. For example, before the new Farm Bill, the tree fruit industry lost the use of antibiotics to control fire blight in an organic orchard when only a simple majority — but not two-thirds — of the board voted to maintain those antibiotics, said Kate Tynan, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

—The bill reinforces a requirement that school districts throughout the nation purchase American produce, such as canned peaches and pears, for their school meal programs.

—The bill preserves crop insurance programs, including those that cover apples, according to the U.S. Apple Association.

—Ross Courtney

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