NSAC's Blog


Weekly Update – October 11, 2008

October 11, 2008


THIS WEEK

Meltdown Raising Stimulus Chances? On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) hinted she may call the House back into a “lame duck” session after the election after all. By Friday, Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) was even suggesting a possible return to consider the stimulus package prior to the November 4 election.

When Congress left town, it appeared the Senate would be back but not the House. However, when the House adjourned, it did so “subject to call of the chair” thus leaving the door open for a possible return.

Both the House and Senate have been working on stimulus packages for months, but they have not gotten close to moving toward passage.

This week Pelosi said a supplemental appropriations economic stimulus package of about $150 billion is needed to counter the faltering economy. Pelosi indicated the package should include public works and job investments, extended unemployment insurance benefits, and increased food stamps and WIC benefits.

The annual agricultural appropriations bill for the fiscal year that started this month is not expected to be finalized until February or March, and paying for the huge increase in WIC costs resulting from food price inflation and a weak economy is the biggest single problem standing in the way of finishing the bill. Supplemental funding in a stimulus bill would have a secondary benefit of easing the way to passage of the agricultural appropriations measure.

Presidential Ag Policy Platform Forum: On Tuesday, representatives of the Obama and McCain campaigns spoke at a Farm Foundation event at the National Press Club about the candidates’ agriculture, food and rural policy platforms.

Jim Webster, current journalist and former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture during the Carter Administration, began his presentation with a long list of agricultural and rural endorsements for Obama including past presidents of most commodity and livestock associations. He discussed Obama’s support for farm bill programs including specialty crop insurance, disaster relief, COOL, and agricultural research.

John Block, current lobbyist and former Secretary of Agriculture during the Reagan Administration, represented McCain and focused primarily on the need to drill for oil in the United States, reduce government regulations on agriculture, and abolish the estate tax. In response to farmers who felt “annoyed” by McCain’s position on subsidies, Block responded that McCain wants to see ethanol move gradually into the free market economy, and expressed high hopes for cellulosic ethanol.

FARM BILL IMPLEMENTATION NEWS

USDA Remakes Rulemaking Timeline: Early this week, USDA provided Capitol Hill with revised estimates of when farm bill regulations will likely be published. The USDA table has some 50 items on it, but does not include all of the 2008 Farm Bill programs.

The new table indicates that yet this month they would likely publish:

  • a final rule for farm credit programs
  • a notice of proposed rulemaking for the Rural Energy for America program

In November 2008 they predict they will likely publish:

  • final rules on most but not all commodity program changes (including conservation compliance)
  • an interim final rule on payment limitations and adjusted gross income limits
  • an interim final rule for the Conservation Reserve Program
  • a notice of funding availability for Rural Cooperative Development Grants

In December 2008 they expect to publish:

  • interim final rules for most farm bill conservation programs, including the EQIP, CSP, WRP, etc.
  • a notice of funding availability for Value-Added Producer Grants
  • a final rule defining rural and rural areas

Later in 2009 the list includes:

  • an interim final rule for the Public Access conservation program
  • a final rule for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program
  • a notice of proposed rulemaking for Interstate Shipment of State Inspected Meat
  • interim final rules for various disaster programs.

USDA NEWS

Conservation Reserve Program Wetlands Restoration: On October 3, USDA announced additional CRP incentives to increase enrollment in the following four existing wetland practices:

Wetland Restoration, Floodplain (CP23)
Wetland Restoration, Non-Floodplain (CP23A)
Bottomland Timber Establishment on Wetlands (CP31)
Duck Nesting Habitat (CP37)

The USDA notice released on October 3 authorizes practice incentive payments and signing incentive payments plus a 20 percent soil rental rate incentive for all of the practices above, while removing the 25 percent wetland restoration incentive for wetland restoration (floodplain and non-floodplain) and duck nesting habitat. The policy changes go into effect November 3, 2008.

New CRP Public Access Incentives Announced: On October 3, USDA Secretary Ed Schafer announced that USDA will being offering incentives for farmers and ranchers who open up their land in the Conservation Reserve Program to the public for hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other recreational activities. The public access incentives pay $3 per acre, per year, for the life of the CRP contract, as long as the contract acres remain enrolled in the state public access program. To take advantage of the new payment, landowners must be in a state with a state public access program. The press release for this announcement can be found here.

Schafer told reporters at a press conference that the goal of the incentives is to double public access by providing up to 7 million acres of CRP land for public access in the next 5 years in participating states. The SAC office has not seen a White House or Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for the new incentive, but our quick calculations suggest the new announcement could add several hundred million dollars to the cost of the CRP. Since the action was taken by the Administration rather than by Congress, the increased cost does not have to be offset with savings from other programs or through higher taxes.

This new initiative is distinct from the 2008 Farm Bill program providing $50 billion in grants to states to encourage voluntary public access to farmland for hunting and recreation purposes.

Specialty Crop Research Grants Awarded: On Wednesday, USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) awarded more than $28 million for research and extension projects through the 2008 Farm Bill’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Seventeen institutions received between $350,000 and $6 million for projects addressing a wide variety of issues including marketing, food safety, and crop breeding.

Of note, researchers at Ohio State will receive over $1 million for a project entitled “Social Networking, Market and Commercialization Infrastructure for Midwestern Fruit and Vegetable Crops in Local Food System,” researchers at Washington State will have $2.25 million for “Enhancing Biological Control to Stabilize Western Orchard IPM Systems,” and Michigan State will receive a planning grant to develop a project on “Expanding Fresh Vegetable Production for the Great Lakes Market.”

A full list of the FY 2008 grants can be viewed here. The program is slated to grant $50 million in awards in FY 2009.

Proposed Revision of GE Crop Regulations: USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a proposed rule on Thursday that would comprehensively revise regulations governing the import, interstate movement, and environmental release of genetically engineered organisms for the first time in more than 20 years. Under the proposed rule, the existing notification process would be abandoned in favor of a modified permit system covering a wide range of risks.

Union of Concerned Scientists, a SAC member group, expressed concern that the proposal could risk human health by ignoring a ban on the outdoor production of pharmacrops (crops bred to produce medical drugs), and that the proposal may actually result in the weakening of existing regulations. For additional information on UCS’ objections to the proposed rule and guidance on submitting comments email jpalembas@ucsusa.org with the subject line “USDA comments.” USDA is accepting public comment on the proposed rule through November 24, 2008 and has scheduled forums in four cities across the country between now and then to discuss the proposed rule with the public.

National Biofuels Action Plan Released: On Tuesday, USDA Secretary Ed Schafer and DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman released the National Biofuels Action Plan (NBAP), a report outlining how Federal agencies will meet the President’s goal of meaningful biofuels production by 2022. Secretary Bodman emphasized the need to produce biofuels in a way is sustainable, cost-effective, environmentally responsible, science-based, and uses feedstocks primarily outside the food supply. The President has set a goal of “Twenty In Ten” — calling for cutting U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years through investment in renewable energy and fuel. The report outlines seven action areas: sustainability; feedstock production; feedstock logistics; conversion science and technology; distribution infrastructure; blending; and environment, health, and safety.

DULY NOTED

Witteman Presents at CFSC Conference: SAC staff member Aimee Witteman presented at the 12th annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference — “Restoring our Urban and Rural Communities with Healthy Food” — in Cherry Hill, NJ, this past week. Aimee spoke at a roundtable on Tuesday about linking sustainable food systems with the environmental public health movement, and on Wednesday participated in a panel presentation on applying lessons learned from the Farm Bill to the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. Keynote speaker Eric Holt-Giménez spoke about the roots of the global food crisis and the need to democratize the food system. Plenary speakers offered lessons from the UK, Brazil, and Orange, MA, on food systems and climate change. For detailed notes on the events attended by SAC staff, please email kberndtson@sustainableagriculturecoalition.org.

Crunch Time Coming? On Friday, USDA released its new crop report, predicting slightly larger corn and soybean crops and farm-gate commodity prices off $15 billion or 12 percent from its prediction just one month ago. Meantime, farm input costs continue to climb. While crop volume forecasts were steady or increasing, financial market uproar is predicted to put pressure on the commodity export market.

“Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town”: On Wednesday, a New York Times article provided a glimpse into the power of food and agriculture entrepreneurship as a rural development strategy. The article profiles Hardwick, Vermont, a rural town that is experiencing a renaissance as new food and agriculture businesses sprout up and take root. A number of the strategies that have supported this transformation are embodied in the programs SAC helped to secure in the 2008 Farm Bill including, loans for local food enterprises, support for value-added products, additional money for research and extension, and support for rural microentreprenuers.

Michael Pollan Open Letter to the Next President: On Thursday, the New York Times published Michael Pollan’s “Farmer in Chief,” a letter to the next president calling for a new American food policy. Pollan argues that good food policy will address the core of our three deepest problems — the health care crisis, energy dependence, and climate change — by promoting regional food systems powered by the sun that grow a variety of nutrient-rich food without fossil fuels and use soils to store carbon. Pollan encourages the next President to adopt a food policy that rewards farmers for sustainable agriculture and conservation through programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Save the Date! SAC Winter meeting December 9-10, 2008 in Memphis, TN

Please join us for an extraordinary SAC annual winter meeting. We will be prepping for our work with the new Administration, setting appropriations priorities, strategizing for the next round of farm bill implementation decisions, acting on our new climate change paper, and voting on the final details for the merger between SAC and the National Campaign to be effective in January. The working meeting with USDA representatives from Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education and Organic Agriculture Research & Education Initiative will be held the afternoon of December 10th in conjunction with the Southern SAWG Board of Directors and others interested in SARE and OREI issues. And please stick around for a fun outing that evening with SAC and SSAWG in downtown Memphis. Rooms will be available right at the St. Columba Retreat Center on the nights of December 8, 9 & 10. You will be able to register online on this website, starting next week.


Categories: General Interest


Comments are closed.

Archives

Receive Our Weekly Blog Roundup