March 1, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Reana Kovalcik, 202-547-5754
Farmers Fly-in to Fight for Sustainable Ag Funding
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Helps Farmers Share Their Stories with Legislators
Washington, DC, March 1, 2016 – This week the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), one of the nation’s leading voices in food and agriculture policy, kicks off a month-long series of “farmer fly-ins” in an effort to raise legislators’ awareness around the importance of funding sustainable agriculture programs and policies in the FY17 budget. Farmers, ranchers, and advocates from across the country will be flying into the capital to speak on four budgetary priority areas: food safety training, outreach to veteran and minority farmers, sustainable agriculture research, and farm bill conservation programs.
“In our view, there are no better advocates for these critical sustainable agriculture programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) than the farmers who use and benefit from them,” said NSAC Policy Director, Ferd Hoefner. “Each year, as Congress prepares to develop its annual funding bills, we bring farmers and ranchers from NSAC member organizations to Washington to speak with their congressional delegations about what matters most to them. This year we are honored to host a great group of farmers and program leaders from across the country who can testify first-hand as to the importance of these USDA programs.”
Farmer Food Safety Training
As President and CEO of Dirigo Food Safety in Cumberland ME, military veteran and veterinarian Dr. Michelle Pfannensteil is an industry leader in and excellent resource on food safety training. Through Dirigo, Pfannensteil helps bring the food safety skills she honed while serving in the US Army Veterinary Corps to producers and processors across the country.
“Food safety doesn’t have to be a chore,” Pfannensteil says on her business’ website. “It can be an awesome way to grow… It empowers the local food chain and makes us less vulnerable.”
In light of the significant $26 million increase in the proposed request for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation funding, NSAC strongly encourages Congress to correct an unfortunate oversight in the Administration’s budget and provide a parallel increase for farmer food safety training. The Food Safety Outreach, Education, Training, and Technical Assistance (FSOP) competitive grants program helps small and mid-size farms and small processors comply with FSMA’s new and complex food safety regulations. At the current funding level of $5 million, USDA will be able to reach only a tiny fraction of the producers, processors, and wholesalers that will be impacted by the new regulations. In order to ensure that small and mid-size producers can succeed under, and not be unduly burdened by, NSAC supports a doubling of the current budget for FSOP to $10 million.
Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Producers
If Charlene Glover, CEO of Healthy Living Farms, could tell legislators one thing, it would be how critical funding from programs like the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers program (“Section 2501”) has been to her work.
“The 2501 program is an essential and beneficial resource for socially disadvantaged farmers,” said Glover. “As a result of this program, we have gained valuable information about sustainable and organic food systems. We feel it is our duty to advocate on behalf of other southwest Georgia rural farmers to ensure that they too be made aware of and can experience the benefit of USDA services.”
NSAC is very pleased that the President’s budget request includes $10 million in discretionary funding for the Section 2501 program. When combined with the $10 million in mandatory funding that is currently provided through the 2014 Farm Bill, the additional appropriated dollars would restore total funding for the Department’s keystone for farmers of color and military farmer program to its historic level of $20 million per year. With funding restored to its pre-2014 Farm Bill level, the program would be in a significantly better position to meet the increased demand for outreach and technical assistance by historically underserved producers.
Competitive Grant Funding for Sustainable Agriculture Research
Montana rancher Jodi Pauley has been working in agriculture her entire life. She and her family raise cattle, sheep, hogs, and hay on their Deer Lodge, MT ranch, and have had the opportunity to work with the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program on multiple occasions.
“SARE has been very beneficial to my work,” says Pauley. “SARE grants are a great opportunity to bring research to producers at a reduced cost, to help them implement new practices and to develop conservation methods. For me, one of the best parts of programs like this is working together with other ranchers, farmers, and producers. We need programs like SARE for the viability and sustainability of agriculture and everyone involved in it.”
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is the only USDA competitive grants research program with a clear and consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research. This is the first time in several years that the Administration has requested an increase in funding for SARE, from $24.7 million to $30 million, representing an acknowledgement of the importance of cutting-edge research that is easily accessible, regionally appropriate, and farmer-tested. Due to high demand and insufficient funds USDA has only been able to fund 6 percent of eligible SARE proposals in recent years. NSAC encourages Congress to retain the President’s increased funding request for this important program.
Farm Bill Conservation Programs
For years Mark and Melanie Peterson have been experimenting with cover crops, no-till farming, and a number of other conservation methods on their Iowa farm. As President of the Board of Directors of Practical Farmers of Iowa, Mark Peterson is looking forward to being a part of his second NSAC fly-in, where he will have the opportunity to speak with legislators about the importance of encouraging farmers to employ conservation methods through training, information sharing, and resources like federal conservation programs.
For the first time during this administration, the President’s budget request included no cuts to farm bill mandatory funding for private lands conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). CSP is the nation’s largest working lands conservation program, supporting farmers and ranchers as they introduce and expand conservation on their land in agricultural production. Combined with EQIP, which provides financial cost-share assistance and technical assistance to implement conservation practices, these two represent the heart of America’s sustainable agriculture programming.
By leaving funding for CSP and EQIP intact, the President’s budget proposal also provides for full funding of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which promotes coordination between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to farmers and producers.
NSAC ardently opposes any suggestion in Congress’ budget negotiations to re-open the farm bill and reduce conservation program assistance to farmers and ranchers.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net