The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture revealed its priorities for the next farm bill as lawmakers begin hearings on the legislation. 

The group's 10 priority policy areas include animal disease, conservation and climate resiliency, hemp, invasive species, local food systems, maintaining specialty crop block grants and trade promotion, NASDA CEO Ted McKinney said at the group's winter policy conference.

Programs in the 2018 farm bill generally expire in 2023. The House Agriculture Committee recently began hearings on the legislation. 

McKinney said NASDA’s focus on animal disease comes amid both concerns about avian flu and “African swine fever, the threat that’s there.” The association is recommending funding and developing an early detection plan for pathogens that will connect government and industry for a “One Health” approach.

NASDA is pursuing a three-pronged approach to tackle environmental and conservation concerns, including increased funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, as well as incentive programs for farmers implementing climate-friendly practices.

On hemp, a sector that McKinney called the “wild wooly west,” NASDA is advocating for amending the federal definition of hemp to increase the allowable THC concentration in plants to 1%. The association said hemp should also be extended eligibility for specialty block crop grants through dual designation for its intended use or horticultural use.

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NASDA is also focused on addressing equity in the food system. 

In a written statement, McKinney said the bill must secure "a commitment to American agriculture and the critical food and nutritional assistance programs for those who need it most.”

To expand access to food systems, NASDA is advocating for the next farm bill to include provisions to create increased equity for the socially disadvantaged and people of color in the ag community, a farm-to-school grant program, and a program for more farmers markets and local grocers to accept SNAP benefits. 

NASDA is also advocating for increased funding for USDA’s Market Access Program to help expand commercial export markets for U.S. goods and pushing for additional funding to the plant pest and disease management and disaster prevention program at APHIS and the National Clean Plant Network, to address invasive species. 

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