At the 104th American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention, hosted for the first time in Puerto Rico, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R) of Puerto Rico outlined her priorities for the islands for the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. These include Puerto Rico’s transition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), increasing flexibilities for specialty crops and tropical agriculture under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, and increasing research efforts on some of the Island’s main crops.
In October 2022, González-Colón hosted a roundtable with representatives of the agriculture industry on the islands to gather their input, and listen to their concerns and ideas for consideration for the next Farm Bill legislation, which authorizes most agriculture and nutrition programs under USDA for the next five years, starting in 2023.
Some of the main issues discussed included the need to consider the particularities of specialty crops and tropical agriculture, increase Department personnel at state agencies to process applications and other types of assistance, and reinforce USDA’s disease and pest control efforts.
“Plant pest and disease research is crucial because we import a great deal of what we consume. That makes us vulnerable to foreign diseases that could spread and cause severe damage to our agriculture sector,” said González-Colón.
González-Colón also recognized the importance of the dairy sector on the islands and looking out for their specific needs.
“I understand one of the ways in which we can support the dairy sector is by fostering resiliency and improving land management. We rely heavily on imported feed since feed production is limited on the islands. We are working alongside the dairy sector to understand what alternatives and ideas fit their needs. We have the Farm Bill coming up, and hopefully, we can find some opportunities to be helpful,” the Resident Commissioner added.
On the question of ways to support young farmers, González-Colón added, “Broadening education is one of the best ways in which we can support young farmers. In Puerto Rico, we have several schools and universities that offer agriculture education courses. We need to ensure they have the resources to continue supporting and expanding educational opportunities. Just recently, Congress approved a Community Project Funding request I submitted for Fiscal Year 2023 of $942,000 for the construction of the Institute for Sustainable Biotechnology at the Inter-American University in Barranquitas. This will essentially be a laboratory that will produce in-vitro seeds to help increase crop yield and educate farmers on how to use them, and best practices. All the university level.”
Lastly, the Resident Commissioner encouraged the audience to participate in the 2022 Census of Agriculture “I encourage everyone to participate since these items and data will be used for the next 5 years when the following agricultural census is expected to be published.”