NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – June 15-19, 2009

June 23, 2009


House Appropriations Passes 2010 Ag Spending Bill:  Late at night on Thursday, June 18, the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote the Fiscal Year 2010 agricultural spending bill.  The bill will be on the House floor starting July 7 or soon thereafter.  The Senate appropriations subcommittee will get the Senate process started sometime after the July 4 recess.

Though approved, the House Committee-passed bill has not yet been filed and hence is not publicly available yet.  Nonetheless, based on remarks during the debate, information released by the Subcommittee, and information shared by congressional staff we can offer the following summary of results on key sustainable agriculture priorities.  Once the bill is released, we will place a new version of our appropriations bill tracking chart on the NSAC website.

As we reported last week, the bill provides $22.9 billion in discretionary funds for FY 10, an 11 percent increase over FY 09 levels, with the big winners in additional funding being the WIC program, food and drug safety, and international food aid.  No funding changes were made in full committee, hence what we reported last week about the bill remains true:

Conservation and Other Farm Bill Mandatory Programs:  The bill rejects all of the cuts to farm bill conservation programs proposed by President Obama except for a proposed $270 million cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.   All other farm bill conservation programs are fully funded.

As was the case with the House bill last year, though not the Senate bill, the new House bill contains no limitations or cuts to other farm bill mandatory programs.  Hence programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, and Farmers Market Promotion Program are kept whole at their farm bill levels.

Marketing and Rural Development:  The bill rejects the President’s proposed increases of $22 million for the Rural Microenterpreneur Assistance Program and $3 million for the Value-Added Producer Grants program, leaving the programs with $4 million and $19 million, respectively.  The House bill includes some but not all of the President’s proposed increase for the Rural Coop Development Grants program, putting the program at $8.9 million or $3 million more than this year but $5 million less than the Obama proposal.  The ATTRA program is level funded at $2.6 million.  NSAC will be pressing for RMAP, VAPG and ATTRA increases in the Senate version of the bill.

The National Organic Program would receive the full $2.8 million increase requested by the Administration, bringing it to a total of $6.7 million.  The Farmers Market Nutrition Program would get a slight bump up to $20 million, while a brand new program – Hunger-Free Communities – would get first time funding of $5 million.  Hunger-Free Communities, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, provides grants for, among other things, CSAs, community gardens, and local stores serving local farmers.  There is also report language in the bill urging USDA to aggressively carry out the Local and Regional Food Enterprise loan guarantee program and directing USDA to report on all aspects of procurement policy for local foods.

Research:  Increases are provided in the research and extension section of the bill for land grant formula funds, for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), and for Organic Transitions.  AFRI would increase by $9.5 million to $210 million.  Organic Transitions would increase by $3.2 million to $5 million.  Virtually no other research or extension program receives any increase, leaving the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program level funded at $19 million.  NSAC will pursue its proposal to increase SARE funding enough to get the SARE federal-state matching grant program started as the bill moves to the Senate for consideration.

Farm Credit:  The House bill would fund direct and guaranteed farm real estate and operating loans at the level requested by USDA.  Direct operating loans would receive sufficient appropriations for $700 million worth of loans and direct farm ownership loans would receive $393 million.  Both figures are greatly more than the FY 09 regular appropriations level but less than the total amount received for those programs this year from regular appropriations, stimulus bill, and supplemental appropriations combined, suggesting that more emergency spending may be needed next year if the financial climate is not much improved before then.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts pilot program is not funded.  The IDA program authorization was an NSAC 2008 farm bill priority and we hope to get the program funded in the Senate and then in the final House-Senate conference bill.

White House Releases Climate Change Paper Amid Congressional Negotiations on Legislation:  As part of an effort to drum up support for pending climate change legislation, on Tuesday June 16, the White House released a report entitled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.  The report precedes an expected debate on Capitol Hill next week on the American Clean Energy and Security Act reported out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has been negotiating with House Agriculture Committee Chair Colin Peterson (D-MN), who wants easier terms for agriculture in meeting criteria for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission offsets and wants USDA, not EPA in charge. Peterson also wants to eliminate indirect land use impacts from the assessment of GHG emissions from agriculture.  The EPA used indirect land use conversion in its pending proposal for revising the renewable biofuels standard, which is used to determine whether biofuels are eligible for tax incentives when blended with gasoline and other petroleum fuels under the renewable fuel standard of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Peterson has indicated that without these changes House Democrats on the Agriculture Committee and other farm state Democrats will vote against the climate change legislation.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated she will not let climate change legislation go to the floor without the support of a significant number of Democratic farm state representatives.

Climate change also came up in House Appropriations Committee action on the Interior/EPA appropriations bill last week.  The Full Committee narrowly approved language offered by Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) that would prohibit the EPA from implementing a rule requiring extremely large livestock confinement facilities to report their GHG emissions as part of a national greenhouse gas inventory.  The bill also includes language that would prohibit EPA from promulgating a regulation to require Clean Air Act permits for emissions from biological processes associated with livestock production, essentially giving large-scale CAFOs a free walk on air emissions of ammonia (a source of the potent GHG nitrous oxide) as well as other CAFO pollutants.

The Committee did, however, by one vote, reject an amendment by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) that would have prohibited EPA from considering indirect land use impacts of biofuels in determining their full GHG impacts.

Food Safety Bill Passes Full Committee:  The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a manager’s amendment to the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 at a mark-up session on Wednesday, June 17.  Incorporating a bipartisan compromise, the amendment lowers civil monetary penalties for unintentional violations and caps the penalty for an individual company in a single proceeding.  Other notable changes include adjusting the inspection frequency schedule, defining fisheries as “farms” in order to exempt seafood from traceability requirements when sold to direct markets, and exempting food, facilities, and farms that are already regulated by USDA from the new FDA regulations.

The amendment retains a flat $500 registration fee per facility, thus failing to incorporate a scaled fee system as proposed by several member organizations of NSAC and of the National Organic Coalition.  In addition, the bill fails to recognize how the regulations might affect on-farm processing operations.  The Committee has not yet indicated when the bill will go to the floor for a full House vote.  NSAC and NOC member groups remain in discussion with the Committee pursuing additional changes to the bill, while also discussing potential floor amendments with potential House champions for ensuring the legislation does not work against the interests of small and mid-sized family farms, conservation, and local and alternative food systems.

Clean Water Restoration Act:  On Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee marked up and approved an amended version of the Clean Water Restoration Act (S. 787) which would restore jurisdiction of the Act over waters put in jeopardy by U.S. Supreme Court cases and Bush administration regulations.  The compromise amendment, introduced by Senators Baucus (D-MT) and Klobuchar (D-MN), adopts a statutory definition of “waters of the United States” and deletes the term “navigable” to clarify that congressional intent in the 1972 Clean Water Act was to protect waters from pollution, not just to protect navigation channels.

As amended, S.787 includes existing regulatory exemptions from the Clean Water Act for specific farming, ranching, mining, energy development and forestry activities.  Republicans on the Committee unanimously opposed the bill, offering many amendments that were not adopted including one to exempt agriculture and livestock production from the Clean Water Act.  Another would have taken specific waters out of the Act, including streams, prairie potholes, wet meadows and mudflats.


Ferrell Appointed Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing:  On Monday, June 15, USDA Secretary Vilsack named John Ferrell Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.  Ferrell most recently served as a majority staff member on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee under Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA).  During his eight years with the Committee, Ferrell oversaw implementation of the 2002 Farm Bill and helped develop the 2008 Farm Bill.  His priorities included improving organic research and transition assistance, providing new direct-to-consumer marketing opportunities, and strengthening livestock market competition laws, all of which were key NSAC priorities as well.

Ferrell was raised on a farm in Iowa that produced cattle, hogs, corn, and soybeans.  He received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and horticulture from Northwest Missouri State University and his Master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  Ferrell and Ann Wright are the two Deputy Under Secretaries for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

APHIS GE Bioenergy Workshop:  On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Biotechnology Regulatory Services Branch of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) held a workshop on the Environmental Impacts of GE Bioenergy Crops.  The workshop included scientists from Agricultural Research Service centers around the country, academics including Alison Snow from Ohio State University, EPA staff working on agricultural issues, representatives from NGOs including NSAC staffer Martha Noble, and representatives from two biotech companies Ceres and Mendel.

The focus of the workshop was grasses and trees, including switchgrass, which the biotech industry is currently targeting to genetically engineer.  The purpose of the workshop was to give APHIS guidance on research on protocols and requirements for the introduction of GE bioenergy crops.  APHIS is preparing a summary of the workshop proceedings for release later this year.  For additional information on the workshop, contact Martha Noble at mnoble@sustainableagriculture.net.

USDA Announces Equivalency Agreement on Organics with Canada:  On Wednesday, July 17, Deputy Secretary Merrigan announced an agreement with Canada that establishes equivalency between USDA’s National Organic Program standards and the Canada Organic Product Regulation standards, which go into effect on June 30.  Under this agreement, organic-certified growers and processors in the US do not have to become certified separately under Canadian standards to sell products as organic in Canada, and the same applies to Canadian growers and processors selling in the US.  Deputy Secretary Merrigan hailed the agreement as an “important first step towards global harmonization of organic standards,” as well as an important step in expanding export markets for organic farmers and processors.

Organic Research Funds Available:  On Thursday, July 18, 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.

Public Meeting on NAIS Scheduled in Omaha, NE:  The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has scheduled an additional public meeting to gather feedback on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).  The meeting will take place on June 30 in La Vista, NE.  APHIS is seeking comments on cost, impact on small farmers, privacy and confidentiality, liability, premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracing.  Additional information is provided in the Federal Register notice.  For news on the recent Missouri NAIS listening session, click here.

USDA National Farmers Market Survey:  On Thursday, June 11, the Agriculture Marketing Service published a report on the National Farmers Market Survey for 2006.  The report shows that average farmers market sales in 2005 were about $245,000, with average vendor sales of $7,108.  The report presents data from seven U.S. regions for 2005 including the number of vendors, number of customers, types of good sold and an analysis of what factors contribute to a market’s success.  The most common request market managers had was for assistance with advertising and publicity.

USDA Report on Emerging Markets for Small-Scale Producers:  On Tuesday, June 16, the Agricultural Marketing Service released Emerging Market Opportunities for Small-Scale Producers, a report based on the proceedings of a special session at the 2008 USDA Partners Meeting.  The report summarizes a panel discussion with industry insiders about how small-scale farmers can access institutional, restaurant, and retail markets, as well as an overview of the various market channels available to small-scale farmers.  The panel included Joe Fleischman, Executive Chef for Washington County Hospital in Maryland; Erik Brown, Produce Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region of Whole Foods; and Roy Cargiulo, Sales Manager for Keany Produce, a produce distributor in the Chesapeake Bay region.


Monsanto Sues DuPont and Dupont Fights Back on Seed Patent Claims:  The two biggest players in the U.S. seed market, number one Monsanto and number two DuPont, have been locked in a legal battle for a month over patent rights.  Both companies are also major pesticide producers.  When DuPont sought to release a new soybean variety which combined resistance for a DuPont herbicide with Monsanto’s genetics for resistance to glyphosate (Round-up), Monsanto sued Dupont claiming patent infringement.

On Tuesday, Dupont counter-sued Monsanto, claiming that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean seed patents are invalid.  DuPont also claimed that Monsanto’s tactics in the seed market are a multi-faceted, anti-competitive scheme to unlawfully restrict competition.

Many farmers have been complaining for years that the concentration in the seed market is harmful to farmers’ interests.  It looks like one of the few remaining seed giants is also feeling the pain from Monsanto’s large hold over the seed market.  A chart on consolidation in the seed market prepared by Phil Howard, a professor at Michigan State University, is posted here.

Farming with Grass Online Book Available:  The proceedings of the “Farming with Grass Conference” held in 2008 in Oklahoma were published by the Soil and Water Conservation Society recently.  Farming with Grass: Achieving Sustainable Mixed Agricultural Landscapes is available online for a fee but contains several chapters which are free of charge.

New AMA Policy Supports Sustainable Agriculture:  On Wednesday, June 17, the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a policy resolution in support of a “healthy and ecologically sustainable food system” that produces foods of “naturally high nutritional quality.”  AMA recognizes that industrial agriculture can worsen public health by contributing to antibiotic resistance, air and water pollution, and climate change.  The resolution states that the AMA will “encourage the development of a healthier food system through the US Farm Bill and other federal legislation.”

Categories: General Interest

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