On July 11, the full House of Representatives voted to approve an U.S. Department of Agriculture budget targeting $4.2 million for floriculture and nursery research. And although the Senate version of that appropriations bill is not yet finalized, it is likely the amount will be retained in the final legislation.
This funding makes for a net increase of $1 million for floral and nursery research next year. And in large part, this is all thanks to the Society of American Florists.
“We must appreciate that the reason our floral industry now has some federal research dollars dedicated to relevant research is because of the persistent and professional staff of SAF,” said Paul Ecke Jr., Chair of the Task Force for the SAF Research Initiative.
SAF began the long road toward establishing a floriculture research initiative in the early '90s. In partnership with the American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA) and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), SAF initiated a long-term effort to obtain and guide federal research dollars to the horticulture industry. The Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative is based on Dr. H. Marc Cathey's extensive survey, definition and prioritization of research needs in the 1991-1993 National Chair for Florist and Nursery Crops Review. The Initiative has also benefited from the commitment of industry, government and university leaders working together for more than a decade. The Initiative was finalized in late 1997 and presented to Congress the next year.
The political goals of the Initiative are many: improve the industry's ability to prevent the spread of pests and diseases; protect the environment; enhance environmental restoration; and maintain biodiversity through germplasm preservation.
The Initiative's actual research goals are much more clearly defined.
Improve environmental and resource management practices and strategies by:
• Reducing nitrate use, pesticide use, and runoff and improving remediation for industry wastes and other environmental problems.
• Developing systems for reduction, reuse and recycling of wastes.
Improve pest (insect, disease and weed) management practices and strategies through:
• Entomology research on thrips, mites, root weevils, acid/whiteflies, mealybugs, scale insects, and IR-4 funding.
Improve production system practices and strategies by:
• Reducing production time and maximizing plant quality and post-production performance.
• Preserving germplasm.
It almost didn't happen
Two university professors, Bob Langhans of Cornell and Harold Wilkens of the University of Minnesota first approached SAF in 1989 to enlist the association's help in lobbying Congress for federal funding for floriculture research. But SAF turned them down. A lack of resources, staff and time forced SAF's Government Relations Committee to refuse the project. However, in March of the next year, SAF decided to devote whatever resources it had to a “National Floriculture Research Initiative.”
A task force was appointed later that year and met with staff at USDA. Based on several meetings with USDA and key congressional staff, the decision was made to seek funding through the Agriculture Research Service, the in-house research agency of USDA.
ANLA began its own efforts in 1991. The association set out to educate and lobby Congress about the importance of the horticulture industry and its severe underfunding in USDA's agriculture research budget. In 1992, both SAF and ANLA began to testify before Congress. Each organization has done so every year from 1992 through 1999. Staff from both organizations also established strong relationships with individual members of Congress. In April of 1994, ANLA and SAF joined forces in their effort to lobby Congress for floriculture research dollars. Despite years of persistence, Congress again failed to include floriculture research in its appropriations bill for 1995. The efforts of SAF and ANLA also lacked support within USDA. The USDA said it wouldn't act without Congressional support and Congress said it wouldn't act without USDA support.
Finally, in June 1996, for the first time, $200,000 was included in the ARS budget specifically targeted for floriculture and nursery research. ARS asked SAF and ANLA for recommendations on which ARS research projects should receive the additional money. Congress again included $200,000 for floriculture research in USDA's budget for 1997.
After mounting a major industry lobbying effort with grassroots letters, visits to Congress and continued testimony, Congress passed a 1998 budget including $1.2 million for floral and nursery crop research in the ARS budget. Congress also specified that portions of the funding should go to universities in the home districts of certain Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee members. These designations were to The Ohio State University, University of California and Cornell University. Congress further increased the budget for 1999 to $3.2 million.
Finally, in February 2000, SAF convened the Research Initiative Symposium in Chicago. More than 60 persons representing U.S. floriculture growers, floral research foundations and endowments, as well as researchers in all disciplines supporting the floral industry, gathered to recommend and discuss specific projects to benefit from the federal money.
Spending the Money
Congress adds this yearly funding to the ARS budget and places stipulations on part of the money, naming specific universities to receive funding (North Carolina State and the University of Florida have since been added to the previous list). ARS then seeks industry recommendations from SAF and ANLA about specific research projects. The industry recommendations are based upon the original Initiative as well as suggestions generated from gatherings such as the Research Symposium. Within those priorities, the goal is to balance spending on floral and nursery crops, to balance funding for USDA and university research and to complement the research funded privately by the industry's various foundations and endowments.
SAF continues to lobby Congress and to work with industry professionals to make sure their needs are being addressed. For more information on specific research projects or on how to get involved with the SAF lobbying effort, please contact SAF at (703) 836-8700 or visit the SAF Web site at www.safnow.org.