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Floral industry heads to Capitol Hill in March to build on 2018 legislative victories

Scoring $1 million in new funding for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative, reinstating the Floriculture Crops 2018 Summary Report, and protecting floriculture innovators through the Farm Bill rank as the floral industry’s top legislative victories in 2018. Those wins fuel momentum for retailers, wholesalers, importers, suppliers and growers who will educate the 116th Congress about floriculture priorities during Congressional Action Days, March 11-12.

Here is a look at the industry’s political wins last year:

SAF2Art Van Wingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, North Carolina with Terril Nell, Ph.D., AAF, research coordinator for the American Floral Endowment and a former SAF president, told a congressional staffer about the importance of FNRI during CAD 2018.FNRI Receives Historic $1 Million in Funding

The historic increase in funding represents the largest single increase in almost 20 years for FNRI, which plays a critical role in generating scientific research on high-priority issues that affect all segments of the floral industry — including post-harvest technology, water quality and pest and disease management. This victory is a direct result of the Society of American Florists’ year-round lobbying for FNRI and came just two weeks after more than 90 SAF members took to Capitol Hill during CAD 2018 to ask lawmakers to increase Initiative funding.

“This is very big news,” said Shawn McBurney, SAF’s senior director of government relations, who called the seven-digit figure “a testament to the effectiveness of SAF members becoming directly involved in working with their members of Congress. Their work is a big reason Congress specifically wrote that floriculture would receive a funding increase in its bill, where many other industries weren’t mentioned.”

The support for additional floral research funding through FNRI “demonstrates the need for floriculture research and recognition of the value of the floral industry to the agricultural economy,” said Terril Nell, Ph.D., AAF, research coordinator for the American Floral Endowment and a former SAF president.

Nell has long been deeply committed to FNRI, which funds research, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and university scientists, focused on addressing and solving the industry’s issues and needs. During CAD 2018, he presented an overview of FNRI and how it has benefited the industry, along with the general public, by bringing some of the top academics and researchers to work on the industry’s biggest challenges.

That message took hold, resonating with SAF members and the lawmakers they met with during CAD, said Rodney Crittenden, chief executive officer and executive vice president of the Michigan Floral Association and Wisconsin & Upper Michigan Florists Association, and a longtime CAD participant.

“Our industry researchers will put this money to good use exploring ways to make the flowers and plants we sell better,” he said. “This proves our time spent in Washington, D.C., is not wasted.  Our collective voices do make a difference.”

The $1 million funding itself represents at least two years of consistent effort by SAF and its members, in four critical areas, McBurney said:

Identification of FNRI’s work and the benefits it created for the floral industry, and, with those identified, the creation of a strong, clear argument for increased funding.

Through SAFPAC, the floral industry’s political action committee, support of key members of Congress who appreciate and assist the floral industry.

Network- and relationship-building with key contacts in congressional offices.

Prioritizing FNRI funding as a top issue for SAF members to take to Capitol Hill during CAD in both 2017 and 2018.

“This is a huge accomplishment for the floral industry, and it would not have happened without the support and hard work of SAF members,” McBurney said. “This proves that conversations between SAF members and lawmakers and their staff during CAD have made a real difference.”

Farm Bill Includes Updated Language on U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act

The $867 billion Farm Bill approved by Congress in mid-December includes an update to the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act that will protect and encourage floriculture innovation. The bill also strengthens the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and includes provisions that encourage more data-based analysis in pesticide registration decisions.

SAF along with AmericanHort and the American Seed Trade Association have lobbied together for language to amend the PVPA, a 1970 law enacted to protect the intellectual property of breeders of certain agricultural products, including some flower varieties.

“The Farm Bill has amended the PVPA to protect asexual reproduction,” explained McBurney. “Essentially derived varieties, or EDVs, obtained from asexually reproduced plants that can be brought to market very quickly will now be protected by law.”

When the new rules go into effect, which may take up to a year, unauthorized parties will no longer be able to take patented plant varieties and induce a sport or mutation (EDV) without authorization, a practice that has “significantly harmed floriculture innovation,” McBurney added.

Along with the PVPA update, the Farm Bill enhanced funding for the SCRI. The change will allow all specialty crops to compete for the full $80 million annual funding for the program and $75 million annually for programs that combat invasive pests and diseases, and continued funding of Specialty Crop Block Grants.

The Farm Bill, officially titled “H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” sets a vast number of policies in the USDA and is voted on twice every 10 years.

Responses Needed by February 8 on Commercial Floriculture Survey

After working with SAF to obtain funding, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service mailed the Commercial Floriculture Survey to growers in December and responses are due Feb. 8.

The survey will be used to create the new Floriculture Crops Summary report, which SAF members lobbied Congress to fund during CAD 2018. The report is critical to the long-term health of the industry, as it contributes valuable data that can help benchmark future production decisions, said Dr. Marvin Miller, AAF, of Ball Horticultural Co. in west Chicago.

“There are many of the allied tradespeople in the industry who use these data to gauge trends, which helps these suppliers of inputs prepare adequate numbers for sale,” he explained.

“This includes everything from pots and potting media to seeds, plug cuttings and liners, and even things like greenhouse glazing, fertilizer, tags and the like. When folks know the industry trends, they prepare their inventories accordingly.”

AmericanHort, the American Society for Horticultural Science, the California Cut Flower Commission, the California Association of Flower Growers & Shippers, Certified American Grown, the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association and the Produce Marketing Association worked with SAF to lobby for the report. NASS will publish the report on May 8 at nass.usda.gov.

To participate in CAD 2019, visit safnow.org/cad.

Jenny Scala is the director of marketing and communications from the Society of American Florists; safnow.org. As the national trade association representing the floral industry, SAF is the floriculture connection to Washington.