July 10, 2019
Last week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) brought in over a dozen farmers and advocates for the Coalition’s second “farmer fly-in” of 2019. Fly-in advocates from ten different states across the country came to DC to champion the federal programs important to them and their communities before congressional appropriators. Currently, Congress is negotiating federal spending levels for the fiscal year (FY) 2020 funding package – which is responsible for funding the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and all other federal agencies. While the House has already passed their bill – which contains significant support for key sustainable agriculture programs and policies – the Senate has not yet begun debate.
As part of their “ag-vocacy,” NSAC staff and fly-in participants spent time thanking House appropriators for their hard work on delivering such a strong appropriations “minibus” and encouraged them to keep up their support for sustainable agriculture when the two chambers ultimately conference their draft bills. In the Senate, ag-vocates used NSAC’s FY 2020 appropriations recommendations to highlight for the Senators and their staff the food and farm programs that most deserve and need additional support in the coming year.
In their efforts to advance a strong FY 2020 agriculture appropriations bill, ag-vocates made the following funding requests of Congress:
Coming to D.C. from Southwest Georgia, Program Director at Southwest Georgia Project (SWGP) Amber Bell and George Hall of Geo Hall Farm Ministries thanked Representative Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-GA) during their visit for his continued support of farmers of color and his help securing $10 million for FOTO in the House agriculture appropriations bill. Section 2501 provides funding for workshops, one-on-one site visits, and technical assistance to a network of 120 farmers who participate in programming at the SWGP. Thanks to this support, SWGP can provide grassroots community education and technical assistance to farmers like George Hall Jr. in southwest Georgia.
Hall, a third-generation farmer who is using the arts to help youth become passionate about agriculture as a viable career path, is the first of his family to bring their land back into agricultural production. Hall credits 2501 and the programming at SWGP with building the first bridges between his operation and local markets and industry allies.
“In southwest Georgia, 2501 has been instrumental in bringing people in the industry together,” said Hall. “For us rural farmers, we don’t travel that much. The people I’m growing for right now, I would never have met if it weren’t for Southwest Georgia project. Our first contact was at their 3rd annual conference, which was partially funded by 2501.”
Sisi Cho and her daughter, Yae Mae Popo came from Kansas City, KS to speak with their representatives about FOTO’s other sub-program, BFRDP, which allowed their family to start and sustain a small-scale farming business in the heart of Kansas City. Katherine Kelly, who runs the New Roots for Refugees Program at Cultivate KC, attended the NSAC fly-in as well to advocate for BFRDP along with Cho and her daughter. Cultivate KC’s New Roots program relies on BFRDP funds in order to provide entrepreneurs like Cho with farming education, food safety trainings, and access to capital as part of a 4-year long certificate program.
BFRDP is the only federal program exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers. For over a decade, this highly successful initiative has provided competitively awarded grants to community organizations, state extension services, academic institutions, and producer groups to support and train new farmers and ranchers across the country. Once projects are funded and established, aspiring and/or beginning farmers and ranchers can then contact the project directly to find out how they might participate.
Like FOTO, LAMP was also created in the 2018 Farm Bill and combines and strengthens two long-standing programs: FMLFPP and VAPG. FMLFPP itself supports two different subprograms: the Famers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). LFPP has been a critical source of support for fly-in participant Silvia Cuesta, the Farm Business and Distributor Manager at Adelante Mujeres in Grove, Oregon. Adelante Mujeres relies on support from LFPP to operate their Empresas Small Business Development program, which supports small business development within the local Latino community through training, networking, technical assistance, and by providing access to capital.
Thanks to support from LFPP, Adelante Mujeres has helped Latino farmers develop a CSA program that provides culturally-appropriate local food and expands the farmers’ market access. While meeting with Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) office, Cuesta underscored the central role LFPP had played in the organization’s outreach and training programs. Given the high and growing demand for these services, Cuesta urged Senator Merkley to fight for increased funding for LAMP and LFPP in the Senate’s agriculture appropriations bill.
Patti Manes, co-owner and operator of From the Ground Farm LLC, came to DC from Louisiana to advocate on behalf of FMLFPP’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). At the Alexandria Famers Market in Central Louisiana, Manes has leveraged support from the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA), which through FMPP funding, provides advertising, marketing, vendor support, education, and improved market access for farmers and vendors.
“It started out as a mid-week market for local farmers 4 or 5 years ago,” said Manes. “We did not have anywhere to take our produce, and CLEDA was managing the Alexandria Farmers Market and they were doing farmer trainings to help us create more revenue for ourselves without financial loss… As vendors and as farmers, we would not be farming if we had not got a market close enough to us. The market that is 20 miles away from us gets no advertising. And as vendors, we tried to get the word out and market, and it was more effort than we as farmers could put in to raise awareness, and the market does not have a manager, so for us we rely on the Alexandria Farmers market for our income.”
Like most of the other farmers advocating as part of the NSAC fly-in, Caitlin Frame – owner and operator of the Milkhouse in Monmouth, Maine – has benefitted directly from federal conservation programs. Frame left her operation in Maine to come to DC and ask Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) to support working lands conservation (among other critical programs) in the final FY 2020 appropriations bill by ensuring that no cuts were made to program’s farm bill funding.
During her visit, Frame in particular highlighted the role that EQIP has played in helping her – as a beginning farmer – build a successful dairy business. Beginning farmers like Frame can utilize EQIP cost share rates up to 90 percent for projects like more environmentally friendly animal waste management systems, building water pipelines, and more. In her meetings with congressional leaders, Frame praised the environmental and financial benefits that conservation programs can have for small dairy businesses and for their communities.
“The dairy crisis has hit folks across the sector, milk market options are shrinking and prices keep falling,” said Frame. “My partner and I really value dairy farms and feel they bring a lot of value to rural communities. The money invested in programs like EQIP and others for beginning farmers and for local/regional food systems stimulates growth at so many levels – those funds don’t just support us farmers who receive them, they also indirectly boost rural economies and neighboring businesses. The funds from these programs create jobs, they drive economic development beyond just our operation.”
Over the past two decades, EQIP assistance has been used across the country to help farmers conserve natural resources in many ways. Between 2009 and 2018, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) obligated over $13.8 billion in financial and technical assistance through EQIP cost-share contracts. Over 384,000 farmers and ranchers received contracts to support conservation efforts on more than 115 million acres over that same period.
CSP – EQIP’s more comprehensive sister program – covers more acres of working farm and ranch lands on a multi-year basis than any other federal conservation program. It is a working lands conservation program designed to help farmers and ranchers protect and improve natural resources and the environment on productive and profitable farms. Through CSP, farmers and ranchers receive technical and financial assistance to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in agricultural production.
Over the last 30 years, farmers’ involvement in on-farm research through SARE partnerships has led to innovations in cover crop application, soil health management, and some of the most important advancements in sustainable agriculture. During NSAC’s farmer fly-in, several advocates shared their experiences with SARE and SARE projects, including: Anna Johnson of the Center for Rural Affairs (Nebraska), Eugene Schriefer of Rolling Hills Stock Farm (Wisconsin), and Adam Montri of Ten Hens Farm (Michigan).
Montri’s SARE project included his farm along with two other farms in Michigan. The goal of the project was to look at weed control and post-harvest handling in root crops, mostly to maximize winter storage. All three farms had high tunnels for year-round growing, and realized that if they could sell more root crops alongside their winter greens, they could substantially increase their farms’ revenue. The problem was, however, that Montri and his neighbors had to find a way to increase root crop production without substantially increasing labor costs – root crop weeding, for example, is notoriously time consuming. SARE provided the project participants funds to experiment with different types of equipment and tools, including washing equipment and storage equipment, which ultimately led to increased yields and winter sales of root crops.
“We would not have been able to trial the equipment we needed for this weeding work – and ultimately find the best option for our needs – if we did not have SARE funds,” said Montri. “SARE lowered the risk barrier and allowed us to experiment, take risks, and ultimately come out the better for it.”
SARE has been funding sustainable agriculture research for 30 years. It is a regionally based, farmer driven, and outcome-oriented competitive research program that involves farmers and ranchers directly in research as the primary investigators or as cooperators in larger research and education projects. SARE is also currently the only USDA competitive grants research program that focuses solely on sustainable agriculture.
Kali Fereisel of the Community Alliance with Family Famers (CAFF) – an NSAC member organization – joined the fly-in to speak with Congress about the importance of helping producers and processors understand and come into compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) . The FSMA rules are being implemented for the first time in 2019, yet the 2018 Farm Bill provided no dedicated funding for the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), which provides food safety training and outreach to small and mid-sized farm and processing operations
“There’s about 100,000 farmers across the country that are going to need to come into compliance with FSMA, and many have never heard of those rules before or – if they have – they barely understand them,” said Fereisel. “You can’t just read a pamphlet and know what to do. This is the first major food safety overhaul in decades, the first time we’ve had national food safety regulations at the farm level. This is not something that farmers are used to yet.”
Fereisel urged appropriators to support this critical food safety training and outreach by providing $10 million for FSOP. As a part of CAFF, Fereisel has seen first-hand the impact food safety programming has had on the many small and mid-sized farmers in California who are seeking to come into compliance with FSMA for the first time. With support from FSOP, Fereisel and CAFF are able to provide small farmers with support in navigating the complex world of food safety regulations.
With the House Agricultural Appropriations bill now finalized, NSAC will be focused on ensuring the same wins for family farmers and sustainable agriculture are included in the Senate’s draft bill, and ultimately in the final FY 2020 package. Given that a deal on overall spending caps has still not been reached, however, the Senate has not yet moved forward with any of their FY 2020 appropriations bills (including agriculture). While the House has now passed 10 of their 12 spending bills, the Senate and White House have not agreed to the House’s topline figures. All the House’s included funding levels, therefore, are subject to change depending on the results of any budget deal and negotiations between the House and Senate-passed bills.
NSAC has urged Congress to substantially raise the non-defense discretionary spending caps and to provide support for pressing food and farm needs. We will continue to work with our allies in Congress and with our grassroots ag-vocates to ensure that the needs of America’s family farmers and food producing communities are given a priority in the upcoming budget negotiations and the final FY 2020 spending bill.