Warnock bill would expand Tree Assistance Program
Posted on Aug 08, 2023 at 20:00 PM
On July 27, U.S. Sen. Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) introduced the Protecting America’s Orchardists and Nursery Tree Growers Act, which would reform the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), a critical disaster recovery program administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.
TAP provides financial assistance to qualified orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by a natural disaster. To be eligible, the trees, bushes or vines must produce an annual crop grown for commercial purpose. Nursery trees include ornamental, fruit, nut and Christmas trees.
Warnock and Tillis’ bill would expand eligibility for TAP by lowering the mortality threshold and allowing farmers to use TAP funding to replant alternative breeds of trees or bushes.
TAP currently does not allow growers to replace destroyed bushes or trees with breed varieties that are more resilient to disease or environmental changes, which may even provide higher yields.
“We appreciate Senator Warnock introducing the Protecting America’s Orchardists and Nursery Tree Growers Act, which will provide Georgia farmers a helping hand when they need it the most—after a natural disaster,” said Georgia Farm Bureau President Tom McCall. “This legislation will make impactful and reasonable changes to the Tree Assistance Program to improve farmer’s flexibility replanting while also reducing regulatory hurdles.”
In a June Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Warnock questioned witnesses about the limitations of TAP and reaffirmed his commitment to exploring how small, technical changes would help these programs work more efficiently, improve margins for producers, and help them compete with foreign imports.
“When Georgia specialty crop farmers lose trees or bushes because of a storm or a freeze, it only makes sense they should be able to replant with more resilient breed varieties,” said Senator Reverend Warnock. “This legislation is good for Georgia’s economy and will help make the agriculture sector more resilient to climate change. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort with my friend and fellow Agriculture committee member, Senator Tillis. I’m going to push to make sure this critical legislation is included in this year’s Farm Bill.”
The importance of the specialty crop safety net programs were brought into focus this year as the state’s peach growers lost more than 90% of their peach yield.
The legislation is endorsed by Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, USApple, Michigan Apple, North American Blueberry Council, Michigan Farm Bureau, American Farm Bureau, Michigan Nursery & Landscape Association, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Cherry Marketing Institute and Michigan Agri-Business Association. A section-by-section summary is available here and the bill text is available here.