NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – April 6-10, 2009

April 13, 2009


Environmental Quality Incentives Program Comments due Soon! If we are going to make the most of our 2008 Farm Bill wins under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), USDA needs to hear from YOU! We won a new program within EQIP to help farmers make the difficult transition to organic production.  We reduced the EQIP payment limitation from a bloated $450,000 to a somewhat more modest $300,000.  We won a new set of National Priorities for EQIP to address pollinator and pollinator habitat protection; organic systems; grazing management and energy conservation.

The Interim Final Rule issued by USDA, however, falls far short of our goals and minimizes our wins.  The EQIP rule needs major changes to make it work for sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers.  An NSAC alert with suggested talking points and instructions for submitting a comment is posted here.   Comments are Due on Friday, April 17, 2009.


Payment Limitations and Cooperative Conservation Comments Filed:  NSAC filed comments with USDA this week responded to the interim rules for commodity program payment limitations and the request for proposals for the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI).

In our comments on the payment limit interim rule, we argued that the Bush Administration rule did not close the current loophole to the “actively engaged in farming” rule that allows single mega farming operations to collect hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars annually.  We urged the new Administration to close the loophole and provided specific language proposals on that issue and a variety of related concerns.  We also argued that the Bush-era interim rule, while it did not go far enough to rein in mega payments, went too far in prohibiting family farm corporations regardless of their size from receiving payments for minority shareholders.  Family farms often incorporate for estate planning purposes, for which they should not be penalized.

In our comments on the cooperative conservation request for proposals, we suggest a variety of ways in which future requests could be clearer and more in keeping with the farm bill.

We remind readers that CCPI proposals must be submitted to USDA by April 23.  Full information is available here.

Stimulus Money out the Door:  On Thursday, April 9, representatives from the Office of Management and Budget and from each of thirteen federal agencies, including USDA, discussed the status of the $787 billion authorized in the stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) that President Obama signed into law on February 17.  The White House has developed a website www.recovery.gov that is the main vehicle for providing general information and timelines and status of the funding.  There is more specific information about competitive grants at www.grants.gov, contract opportunities at www.fedbizoppsgov, and loan opportunities at www.govloans.gov.   There is currently $24 billion in competitive grants available.

The stimulus funding provided for programs administered by USDA include additional funds for the major feeding programs, rural development, and school lunch cafeteria equipment improvements.  For more information on these programs, please see the February 13 issue of the Weekly Update.

In her recap of stimulus funding administered by USDA, Cheryl Cook, Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development reported that the $173 million in direct farm operating loans administered by the Farm Service Agency has almost been entirely spent down and that half of the funding has been provided to beginning farmers and ranchers.


Catching Up with the USDA Appointments Process:  Very quietly, without much in the way of public or media notice, the Obama Administration is filling key posts at USDA.  Here is a summary of what we know so far:

On April 1, the President nominated Krysta Harden as the new USDA Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations.  For the past five years, Harden has been the director of the National Association of Conservation Districts.  Prior to that she lobbied for the American Soybean Association on conservation, environment, and energy issues and was an aid on Capitol Hill for a dozen years, including a stint as a House Agriculture Committee staffer and as chief of staff for Representative Charles Hatcher from her native Georgia.

On Friday, April 10, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the appointment of Cheryl Cook as Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development.  Cook has actually been serving in that capacity for a week or more.  A native of Pennsylvania, Cook served on the lobbying staff of the National Farmers Union in Washington before returning to Pennsylvania where she worked for Pennsylvania Farmers Union and Keystone Development Center, a coop development non-profit, as well as serving as stints as USDA Rural Development Director for the state and as Deputy Secretary for Marketing and Economic Development at the state Department of Agriculture.

Also on Friday, April 10,  Secretary Vilsack made official news that had leaked out earlier, naming Janey Thornton of Kentucky as the new Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.  Thornton has served as School Nutrition Director of the Hardin County school system, of which she is a product, for over 25 years.  She also served as national President of the School Nutrition Association during the 2006-7 school year.  Thornton expects to be very involved with the reauthorization of school feeding programs, a measure Congress takes up later this year.

On Thursday, April 9, Congress Daily revealed that Bud Philbrook will be named Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services.  Philbrook hails from Minnesota where, for the past 14 years he has been president and CEO of Global Volunteers, an organization that sends American volunteers to over 20 countries.  He is expected to concentrate on foreign agriculture, trade and food aid issues at USDA.

On Friday, April 10, Secretary Vilsack announced that Doug O’Brien will be the Chief of Staff for USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.  O’Brien has been Assistant Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, advisor to Iowa Governor Culver on renewable energy issues, interim co-director at the National Agricultural Law Center, staff attorney at the Drake Agricultural Law Center, counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee, covering competition and credit issues for Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) during the 2002 Farm Bill debate, and associate counsel with the Organization for Competitive Markets.  Doug grew up on a farm in Iowa.

Community Food RFA Released:  On Tuesday, April 7, USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) released the 2009 edition of the Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program Request for Application.  The deadline for applications is May 13.  $5 million is available in total funding with an award ceiling of $300,000. For those who may be pursuing grants, here are the essential links:

Grants.gov Synopsis

Grants.gov Application Package

CSREES Funding Opportunity Page

WIC Farmers Markets and Organic Needs Advocacy at State Level
:  The Supplemental Food Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) is beginning the process of rolling out the new food package that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, soy milk, tofu and other food products.

Each designated state agency is charged with developing an implementing new vendor rules by October 1, 2009 and has the option of including farmers markets, which would allow participants to use their new, regular vouchers as well as the Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers in markets.  The monthly fruit and vegetable benefits are $6 for children, $8 for women, and $10 for pregnant or breastfeeding women which makes it a potentially significant market for farmers.

The state agencies will also decide whether organic products, other than fruits and vegetables which have already been approved at the national level, will be permitted in the program.

It should also be noted that the WIC program received $100 million in stimulus package money to help offset state administrative costs, including the option of spending some of the funds for electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems.

NSAC encourages member groups to contact their state agency to find out what your state is doing on these issues and to send brief reports to Kate Fitzgerald at kfitzgerald@sustainableagriculture.net.  Your state agency can be found by going to: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/default.htm and clicking on WIC State Agencies.

Nominations Being Accepted for Advisory Committee on Biotech
:  ARS is accepting nominations for qualified people to serve on the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21).  AC21 provides guidance to the USDA on issues related to agricultural biotechnology and examines the long-term impacts of biotechnology on US agriculture.  Terms last up to two years.  Up to four meetings are held each year, usually in Washington, DC.  Nominations must be post marked no later than April 29, 2009.  For the Federal Register notice, click here.

ACRE – In or Out? On Thursday, April 9, USDA announced that commodity crop producers can make the election and enroll in the new Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) commodity program option starting April 27, with a deadline of August 14.  The Farm Service Agency information on ACRE is posted here.  To date, FSA has not sent detailed handbooks on ACRE rules to county offices, a step that will presumably happen shortly.

On Tuesday, April 7, USDA’s Economic Research Service issued a new report entitled Economic Aspects of Revenue-Based Commodity Support.  The report examines traditional commodity support with revenue-based alternatives for corn and finds that payment variability and revenue variability is less under revenue options.  The study also finds that high payment spikes in particular years are also lessened under the revenue support approach.


New Appointees:  The White House has announced two new nominees for top spots at EPA, which happen to be the heads of the two divisions at EPA that have the most to do with our agenda.

On April 1, the President named Stephen Owens as the next Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances.  For the past six years, Owens has been the Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.  In the early 1980s, Owen was counsel for the US House Science and Technology Committee’s Investigations Subcommittee and in the mid-1980s he served as chief counsel and then as state director of Senator Al Gore (D-TN).

On April 3, Peter Silva was nominated to be the next Assistant Administrator for Water Programs.  Silva, a civil engineer, is currently Senior Policy Advisor for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and previously served as Vice-Chair of the California Water Resources Control Board.  President Clinton appointed Silva to the Board of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission.


Walker Succeeds Falconer:  New Zealand has held on to the chair of the world trade agricultural negotiations, with their new WTO Ambassador, David Walker, taking over from his countrymen and predecessor Crawford Falconer.  The announcement was made on Wednesday, April 8.  Falconer, who chaired the so-far unsuccessful talks since July 2005, has become Deputy Secretary of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  There was one other candidate for the post – Uruguay’s WTO Ambassador Guillermo Valles Galmes, but his nomination was strongly opposed by India and other countries that backed a robust special safeguard mechanism to protect their sensitive domestic agricultural production, a position that Uruguay and the U.S., as exporting countries, opposed.


CDC Report Worries about Food Safety Plateau:  On Thursday, April 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 10-state report that finds that after several years of progress, the incidence of foodborne illnesses has reached a plateau for the past three years.  Based on data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), the report says little or no progress has been made in reducing campylobacter, cryptosporidium, listeria, e-coli 0157, and salmonella outbreaks in recent years.  Significant progress was made in the 1996-2003 period.A CDC spokesperson said, “We recognize that we have reached a plateau in the prevention of foodborne disease and there must be new efforts to develop and evaluate food safety practices from the farm to the table. The foodborne division at CDC is planning to increase the capacity of several health departments so that outbreaks can be better detected and investigated.”

The full report appears in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (April 10, 2008) and is available online at www.cdc.gov/mmwr.

A New York Time’s story on the report that suggests it will deepen the existing tensions between FDA and USDA is available here.

29,000 Coops Strong:  On Wednesday, April 8, USDA released a multi-year study on the economic impact of cooperatives.  The study found over 29,000 coops in the US, with revenues totaling over $650 billion and employing more than 2 million workers.  The project was undertaken by the USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Cooperative Business Association.

Categories: General Interest

One response to “Weekly Update – April 6-10, 2009”

  1. pligg.com says:

    National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition…


    Environmental Quality Incentives Program Comments due Soon! If we are going to make the most of our 2008 Farm Bill wins under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), USDA needs to hear from YOU! We won a new program within E…