Weekly Update – July 13-17, 2009
July 20th, 2009
NSAC Releases Agriculture & Climate Change Position Paper: NSAC has finalized our climate change position paper entitled Climate Change and Agriculture: Impacts and Opportunities at the Farm Level. The paper details the superior performance of sustainable and organic agriculture systems in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequestering soil carbon. It provides detailed NSAC recommendations for implementing the 2008 Farm Bill to ensure that these systems are promoted and recognized for their ability not only to mitigate GHG emissions but to provide a number of other significant conservation benefits. Sustainable and organic agricultural systems also offer farmers the most resilience in coping with the changes in precipitation, pest regimes, growing seasons and other factors which may occur rapidly and in unpredictable ways in response to rapid climate change. No matter what policy framework is ultimately adopted for enlisting agriculture in GHG mitigation, sustainable and organic agricultural systems are the best that agriculture can offer.
House Agriculture Committee Hearing on Food Safety: On Thursday, July 16, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to address concerns with H.R. 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, which recently passed the House Energy & Commerce Committee. The hearing began with testimony from eight individuals representing farm, processor, and consumer interests. A list of witnesses and their written testimony can be found here. The most widely-held concern by both witnesses and committee members was how H.R. 2749 might change or expand FDA’s role on the farm, especially with respect to livestock and grain operations. Sam Ives, representing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, requested that the bill language “clarify that the FDA does not have regulatory authority on our farms, ranches or feedlots.” Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) pledged to meet with the Energy & Commerce Committee in order to clarify the relative roles of USDA and FDA in the bill.
Several issues related to NSAC‘s food safety work were highlighted during the hearing. Kent Peppler, a fourth generation farmer representing the National Farmer’s Union, expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on small and midsize family farmers and on environmental conservation practices. Nick Maravell, an organic farmer with 170 acres in Maryland, testified that small and diversified farms and value-added operations have not been associated with major food safety issues and should be given “incentives, not barriers, to continue their growth.” He noted that organic standards already require strong food safety measures and detailed recordkeeping, and that an additional program would be “cost and time prohibitive.” Both Peppler and Maravell spoke out against the $500 facility registration fee, respectively deeming it “woefully deficient,” and “fundamentally unfair.” Representative Jeff Fortenberry (D-NE), who said he had been contacted by a number of concerned farmers before the hearing, including organic farmers, echoed Maravell’s concerns about the registration fee, burdensome traceability requirements, and the jurisdiction of FDA.
The second part of the hearing featured testimony from Jerold Mande, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA, and Mike Taylor, Senior Adviser to the Commissioner at FDA. Taylor stated that there is “nothing new” about FDA’s role on the farm, highlighting regulation of animal drugs and shell eggs as examples. He pointed out that farms are exempt from registration and fees, but failed to recognize that many farms also qualify as facilities, which are required to pay the fee. Taylor faced some grilling from committee members as to why FDA would be the best agency to develop and regulate on-farm performance standards. Chairman Peterson emphasized that the bill should require FDA to consult with USDA.
Senate EPW Committee Climate Change Hearing on Ag & Forestry: On Tuesday, July 14, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on Economic Opportunities for Agriculture, Forestry Communities, and Others in Reducing Global Warming Pollution. The focus of the hearing was to consider the role of agriculture in providing offsets for industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the costs to agriculture if the costs of energy and agricultural inputs increase because of measures to reduce GHG emissions. The witnesses included Bill Hohenstein, Director of USDA’s Global Climate Change Program; Fred Krupp, Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Fund; Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation; and a principal advisor to the mega-mining company Rio Tinto.
Stallman and the Republican members of the Committee argued that the costs of required GHG emissions reductions in the House-approved American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) would be too high for the agricultural sector. Hohenstein and Senate Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Committee, countered that even if there are higher energy costs, farmers would benefit economically when other sectors whose GHG emissions are capped seek offsets from farmers. The archived webcast of the hearing and witness statements are posted here.
Senate Agriculture Committee Announces Subcommittees and Members: Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) announced new Subcommittee Chairs and membership last week. What was formerly known as the Nutrition and Food Assistance, Sustainable and Organic Agriculture, and General Legislation Subcommittee has been reborn as the Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and Family Farms, chaired by Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Senator Brown’s staff reached out to NSAC several weeks ago to say that they look forward to working with member organizations on a variety of issues. For a complete list of subcommittee membership please go to http://agriculture.senate.gov/
Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing on Agriculture and Climate Change: The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, July 22 from 1-3 pm on The Role of Agriculture and Forestry in Global Warming Legislation. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is a confirmed panelist as are: Bob Stallman, President of American Farm Bureau; Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union; Jo Pierce, tree farmer from Maine representing the Forest Climate Working Group; Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center; Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Committee has indicated that he will take as a starting point for his Committee’s contribution to Senate climate change legislation the agricultural provisions in the House-approved American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), but he also plans to modify those provisions. A link to the live webcast of the hearing will be available on the Committee’s website http://agriculture.senate.gov/.
$760 Million Now Available for Direct Farm Ownership and Operating Loans: On Wednesday, July 16, Secretary Vilsack announced the availability of $760 million for Direct Farm Ownership loans and Operating loans through the Supplemental Appropriations Act. $400 million has gone to state offices for direct operating loans, which may be used to purchase livestock, feed, seed, equipment, chemicals, insurance and other operating expenses. $360 million is available for direct farm ownership loans, which can be used to buy farmland, promote soil and water conservation and repair or construct buildings. Farmers interested in applying for loans should visit their local FSA offices.
Reminder – Organic Research Funds Available, Deadline July 24: Last month, USDA-CSREES released the RFA for the Integrated Organic and Water Quality Program (IOWP). IOWP combines the Organic Transitions and the National Integrated Water Quality Programs. Approximately $2.5 million is available for projects that enhance water quality in organic systems or explore changes in water quantity and/or quality associated with organic farming. The program solicits research, education and extension projects of up to $220,000 per year (projects may last 1-3 years). The application deadline is July 24.
NRCS Makes Amendment to WHIP Rule and Reopens Comment Period: On Wednesday, July 15, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced in the Federal Register that it had amended the Interim Final Rule for the Wildlife Habitat Quality Incentives Program to include a broader definition of “agricultural land” for the purposes of WHIP. Comments are solicited to this amendment and must be made by August 14.
NRCS Awards FY 2009 Conservation Innovation Grants: On Monday, July 13, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced the award of $18.4 million to 55 recipients of Fiscal Year 2009 Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs). The CIGs are competitive grants funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. They are intended to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. Non-Federal governmental or non-governmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals are eligible to apply for CIGs.
Six of the grants were awarded for projects in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, including an award to NSAC member the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, which is partnering with The Food Alliance to introduce The Food Alliance sustainable agriculture certification program in Pennsylvania.
Four of the awards focus on pollinators, including two awards to the Xerces Society. In addition, six grants, valued at $1 million, were awarded to assist Native American tribes and limited resource producers address natural resource issues, energy efficiency, and market-based approaches to conservation. A full list of the awards in posted on the CIG website.
Obama Administration Rural Tour Dates and Locations:USDA is encouraging participation in the Obama Administration’s “Rural Tour” this summer and fall and has stated that questions will be welcomed on any relevant subjects, not just those listed as the primary topic for the day.
Upcoming Rural Tour community forums:
AUGUST 12 – Secretaries Tom Vilsack Steven Chu, Shaun Donovan, Arne Duncan, and Ken Salazar will travel to Bethel, AK, to discuss rural infrastructure, green jobs and a new energy economy, as well as climate change.
AUGUST 16 – Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Ken Salazar will travel to Zanesville, OH, to discuss green jobs and a new energy economy, with a focus on renewable energies.
AUGUST 17 – Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Arne Duncan will travel to Hamlet, NC, to discuss rural education.
SEPTEMBER 28 – Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Ken Salazar will travel to Scottsbluff, NE, to discuss production agriculture.
SEPTEMBER 30 – Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Shaun Donovan will travel to Las Cruces, NM, to discuss rural infrastructure.
Next Meeting of EPA Farm, Ranch & Rural Communities Advisory Committee: The next meeting of the EPA Farm, Ranch & Rural Communities Advisory Committee will be in Sacramento, CA. This will be the first meeting with the new EPA Agriculture Counselor Larry Elworth.
The purpose of the FRRCC is to provide advice to the EPA Administrator on environmental issues and programs that impact, or are of concern to, farms, ranches, and rural communities. The meeting will include: (1) discussion of the impacts of Agency agriculture-related programs, policies, and regulations regarding climate change and renewable energy; (2) identification and development of a comprehensive environmental strategy for livestock operations; and (3) development of a constructive approach or framework to address areas of common interest between sustainable agriculture and protection of the environment.
The open meeting will be held on Tuesday, August 25, 2009, from 8:30 a.m. (registration at 8 a.m.) until 6 p.m., and Thursday, August 27, 2009, from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. A copy of the meeting agenda, including times for public comments, will be posted here. On August 26, the Committee members will go on a farm tour organized by EPA Region 9. NSAC Senior Policy Associate Martha Noble is a member of the Committee. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Confirmed: Last Friday, July 10, by voice vote the U.S. Senate confirmed Peter S. Silva as EPA Assistant Administrator for Water. Silva is a civil engineer with 32 years of experience in water and wastewater treatment. Most recently he served as a policy advisor to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the nation’s largest public water suppliers. Silva’s confirmation had been put on hold by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who wanted to meet with him to discuss EPA’s oversight of Army Corps of Engineers’ permits allowing mountaintop removal by coal companies.
Environmental Working Group Analysis of House Climate Change Bill: The Environmental Working Group has issued an analysis of the House-approved climate bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R.2454). The report notes two major flaws with the House bill’s provisions for agricultural offsets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from other sectors: 1) the legislation allows polluters to take credit for meeting their required pollution reductions by paying farmers not to put new conservation practices in place, but simply to keep doing what they were already doing, and 2) the legislation provides no guarantee that key conservation practices that are generating credits for polluters will actually stay in place over the long-term. This analysis, along with EWG recommendations for improving the role of agriculture in reducing GHG emissions, is available on the EWG website.
Researchers “Reach Consensus” on Biofuels: After a year of high-profile controversy on the role of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, high-profile scientists have published an article in Science (link requires subscription) with recommendations for how to balance emissions reduction, food security and biofuel production. Biofuels, they conclude, must come from five major sources of renewable biomass: crop residues, double crops and mixed cropping systems, perennial plants grown on degraded lands abandoned from agricultural use, sustainably harvested wood and forest residues and municipal and industrial wastes. For a summary, click here.
Capitol Hill CAFO Briefing Available Online: The Clean Water Network has made available the June 5th Capitol Hill Briefing on the environmental and public health impacts of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The online archive includes presentations from NSAC‘s Senior Policy Analyst Martha Noble, Keeve Nachman PhD from Johns Hopkins University, and Eric Schaeffer with the Environmental Integrity Project.
Proceedings from USDA Local Food System Workshop Now Online: The proceedings from the June 26 Local Food System Workshop organized by the Economic Research Service at USDA is now available online. NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner presented at the workshop where he provided a list of the key research tasks that will be needed to inform policy discussions on local and regional food for the next several years.
Farm and Food Policy View From Above: Popular blog U.S. Food Policy uses stunning images from Google Maps to show how food and farm policies affect our landscape and natural resources. Click here to visit the world’s largest pork slaughterhouse, the heartland of Iowa, phosphate strip mines in Florida, and other destinations of interest. U.S. Food Policy is authored by Parke Wilde, Associate Professor at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.