The 2018 Farm Bill, Part Six: Horticulture and Specialty Crops

by Maya Vesneske

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

This is the sixth in a series of Snapshots breaking down the $867 billion Farm Bill that was signed into law on December 20, 2018, and is effective through fiscal year 2023. Each Snapshot focuses on a particular section or topic within the bill and explains its implications for U.S. agriculture over the course of the next five years.

Policy Name: Title X of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka the Farm Bill

Location: The 2018 Farm Bill is a bipartisan, federally-enacted law containing provisions and recommendations that are effective on state and local levels.

Overview: Approximately every five years, the United States Congress passes a new Farm Bill whose purpose is to reevaluate the agricultural landscape of the country and determine new protections, procedures, and funding for the various players in this diverse and interwoven network of food producers, traders, and consumers. Read more about the the general purposes and development of a Farm Bill here.

Title X of the bill covers horticulture and the policies and programs regarding “specialty crops,” a term that refers to fruits, vegetables, flowers, and foliage. The policies detail the production, sale, research, infrastructure, and health and safety procedures and requirements under the USDA, and also deal specifically with the organic certification of these specialty crops. This article will go over various changes made to Title X in this cycle of the Farm Bill.

Program/Policy Initiated:The policies discussed here were enacted in previous versions of the Farm Bill, and any reforms or repeals made in the 2018 bill are effective for the 2019 coverage cycle. Effective dates vary from one policy to another and changes may be enacted in waves.

Food policy category:

  • Food Supply & Distribution

How it works: The primary changes made to horticultural policies of the Farm Bill include the following:

  • The Bill eliminates the $30 million in mandatory funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program and replaces it with $30 million annually in discretionary appropriations.
  • Changes to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP):
    • The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 3871) is amended to reduce qualifications for agricultural operations to be certified organic under the NOP.
    • H.R. 3871 is also amended to change the certification process for organic produce, including stricter requirements for the documentation of farming practices and improving methods for investigation and enforcement of organic agricultural practices.
    • Annual appropriations to the NOP are set to increase incrementally on an annual basis, ultimately to $24 million by FY2023.
    • To meet new electronic documentation requirements, $5 million is provided for technology improvements.
  • Also included under the Research Title of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, a USDA program intended to solve organic agricultural issues through research and education, is set to increase its mandatory spending by $101 million for this Farm Bill cycle.
  • Through a variety of amendments to different regulatory acts, regulations of pesticide use and safety management are significantly reduced. The Environmental Protection Agency is no longer required to consult with other government agencies on issues of pesticide use and their potentially negative environmental impact. Additionally, the Plant Protection Act is amended to expand the use of the chemical methyl bromide in an “emergency event.”
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Act is amended to exempt agricultural retailers from procedural requirements protecting worker and product health and safety.
  • The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 was amended to include hemp (a strain of Cannabis used to produce CBD oil) as an agricultural commodity, with a THC cap of .3 percent. This change expands on the state-controlled hemp production pilot programs established in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Evaluation: The amendments to Title X of the 2018 Farm Bill are a mixed bag. While increasing organic research and making the certification process more rigorous is positive, the loosening of the actual requirements for a product to be considered organic is a blow to efforts being made to crack down on farming practices that are potentially harmful to the environment and human health. The pesticide methyl bromide is well known to be damaging both to human health (putting those in proximity to the fumigation site at risk) and to the ozone layer. That said, the legalization of hemp is certain to increase the number of crops available to farmers and lead to economic growth in related sectors.

Progress to date: Given how recently the current bill was passed, it is too soon to know how these policy changes will specifically affect specialty crop production in the U.S. That said, the legalization of hemp production is predicted to drastically increase an already growing trend across the U.S. that began with the 2014 Farm Bill. In the years of 2015 to 2018, industrial hemp production increased by a factor of more than 13, and as of late January 2019, 41 states had removed their own barriers to hemp production .

Similar practices: To understand the context and significance of the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill, it is useful to compare it to previous versions. To learn more about how the 2018 bill compares to the 2014 version, check out the first resource in the “Learn more” section below.

Learn more:

Point of Contact:

House bill sponsor Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), Washington, D.C., office:

Phone: (202) 225-3605

Or, email his office via this form.


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