December 14, 2009
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Each week the NSAC staff attend hearings and mark-ups and sift through the Federal Register, agency notices from the USDA and EPA, and Capitol Hill updates to bring you the most up-to-the-minute information about federal farm, food, and environmental policy along with critical, expert analysis. The finished product is the NSAC Weekly Update. We provide this service to you because we know you need information to meaningfully engage in the policy-making process to ultimately bring change to our farms, rural communities, public markets, and dinner tables.
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Women Farmer Bill: On Thursday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Equality for Women Farmers Act to attempt to bring justice to the estimated 43,000 woman farmers who have been discriminatorily denied more than $4.6 billion in farm loans and loan servicing from USDA over the years. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA). The bill includes provisions to notify those who may be potential claimants for discrimination from 1981 to the present and a process to resolve the cases with financial awards when discrimination is found, remedial measures prohibiting USDA from foreclosing on women farmers who are eligible claimants and automatic approval of loans to claimants unless USDA can prove that the loan does not meet lending criteria, and mandates a GAO audit of FSA farm loans and benefit programs to ensure that the Agency will collect the data necessary to ensure there will not be discrimination in the future.
NSAC Hosts Webinar on Climate Change and Agriculture: Last Tuesday, NSAC presented a webinar on climate change and agriculture featuring presentations from Jeff Schahczenski of the NSAC member group National Center for Appropriate Technology and Jeanne Merrill of the California Climate Action Network, as well as NSAC senior staff members Martha Noble and Ferd Hoefner. If you are interested in the presentation powerpoints, please email Aimee Witteman. firstname.lastname@example.org NSAC’s policy position paper on climate change and sustainable agriculture is here.
Help for Small Meat Plants: On Monday, December 7, USDA announced its new Food Safety and Inspection Service small meat plant help desk. Small plant operators and state and local regulatory agencies can call 1-877-FSISHelp (1-877-374-7435) between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm EST, Monday through Friday can have their questions about meat, poultry and egg processing regulations answered by FSIS staff. Customers can also contact the help desk by email at email@example.com. This is part of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local and regional food systems by reducing the time and expense to small processors of dealing with agency requirements. Over 90 percent of the 6,000 meat plants inspected by FSIS are small or very small. The help desk is designed to be a one-stop shop for plant owners and operators seeking information and guidance.
Minority Farmer Project Grants Announced: On Wednesday, December 9, USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan was in Pine Bluff, Arkansas to announce the award of $14 million dollars in grant funds to universities, cooperatives and nonprofit organizations to provide training and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers under the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program (also known as Section 2501). FY 2009 recipients of project awards include NSAC members Farm to Table, National Center for Appropriate Technology,California FarmLink, and Michigan Food and Farming Systems. Congratulations also to Rural Coalition, Federation of Southern Coops, Minnesota Food Association, Farmers Legal Action Group, Growing Power and the other NGO recipients as well as the numerous college and university recipients.
Office of Advocacy and Outreach Start-up: On Wednesday, December 9, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the opening of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach. NSAC played a key role in helping establish the Office in the 2008 Farm Bill with the goal of improving access to USDA programs for small, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and to create cross-cutting agency objectives for increasing the number and viability of these farmer populations.
In his announcement on Wednesday, Vilsack said Terry D’Addio has been appointed the interim director for the Office of Advocacy and Outreach and that additional staffing announcements would still be made this month. Prior to a recent assignment helping to resolve civil rights cases at USDA, D’Addio served as program manager for the Resource Conservation and Development Program at NRCS.
Beginning, Minority and Limited Resource Farmer Conservation Report: Last week, USDA’s Economic Research Service released a report examining the participation and enrollment trends of beginning, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged operators in conservation programs. The report compares the conservation costs and resource characteristics and costs by these “targeted” farmers with those of other farmers who participate in conservation programs.
The report finds some evidence to suggest that targeted farmers have different conservation priorities, work on more environmentally sensitive lands, and receive different payment levels than other farmers. Beginning and limited resource farmers, but not minority farmers, were found to participate in the EQIP program at lower rates then the rest of the farm population. Average EQIP payments to beginning farmers were found to be significantly higher than average, while limited resource farmers were significantly lower. All targeted farmers who enrolled in land retirement programs (CRP and WRP) were found to enroll a higher percentage of their total land, but received smaller per acre payments than the norm.
Mississippi River Basin Initiative Coming Soon: Last week we reported on the watersheds selected in a 12-state region for the new Mississippi River Basin Initiative through NRCS’ Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI). The MRBI will support conservation systems to manage nitrogen and phosphorus runoff.
At a briefing this past week, NRCS released a tentative timeline, which calls for the release of a Request for Proposals in late December with a 60-day period following release for project submissions. Selected projects would be announced in April, with farmer sign-up to follow through early summer. In addition to the list of watersheds on the MRBI webpage, NRCS also made available at the briefing a list of core and supporting conservation practices approved for the MRBI.
AMA Final Rule: On Tuesday, December 8, NRCS released the final rule for the conservation portion of the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program. The AMA provides conservation assistance (including organic conversion), organic certification cost share, and crop insurance subsidies for farmers in the Northeast states plus Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Hawaii. More information on the conservation portion of the program is available here.
EPA Finds that Greenhouse Gases Threaten Public Health and Environment: On Monday, December 7, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its “endangerment” finding and “cause or contribute” finding under the Clean Air Act with respect to greenhouse gases (GHGs), which the U.S. Supreme Court classified as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act in 2007. EPA found that GHGs threaten public health and welfare and that on-road vehicles contribute to that threat by emitting GHGs. These findings allow EPA to regulate emissions of six GHGs: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perflourocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The findings are also a prerequisite to finalizing GHG standards for new light-duty vehicles that EPA proposed earlier this year.
FDA, FSIS Explore Traceability Options: On Thursday and Friday, December 10 and 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service held a joint two-day public meeting to discuss food traceability policies. Several prominent food safety officials spoke at the meeting, including deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA, Jerold Mande, and Michael Taylor, adviser to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. In their remarks, both Mande and Taylor said that current food traceability methods are not adequate and do not allow the government to effectively trace tainted food products.
Taylor went further to say that traceability systems should extend from “farm to table,” and that ultimately traceability mechanisms must extend beyond “one up, one down.” No doubt in response to the position NSAC and other sustainable and organic farm advocates have promoted, Taylor tempered his comments somewhat by adding that the future traceability mechanisms must be scale appropriate and take into consideration the diversified farming systems.
NSAC, along with the National Organic Coalition has been recommending exemptions from traceability requirements in both the House and Senate bills for farmers selling directly to a consumer, restaurant, or grocery store, and was successful in getting that provision into the House bill, HR 2749. NSAC has also opposed the notion, contained in the House bill, that farmers not selling directly to consumers should be required (and for that matter capable) of meeting farm to table traceability requirements. The Senate bill (S. 510) would limit farms that do not engage in on-farm processing to “one up, one down.” NSAC supports limiting traceability requirements for all farms to one up, one down, in addition to the exemption for direct sales.
New UCS GMO Report: This past Wednesday, December 9, NSAC member, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report on the biotechnology’s inability to improve nitrogen efficiency in agricultural crops. The UCS report entitled, “No Sure Fix: Prospects for Reducing Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollution Through Genetic Engineering,” assesses the prospects of genetic engineering in solving this critical environmental issue. Pollution from nitrogen overuse in agriculture is the largest domestic, human-caused source of nitrous oxide, a global warming gas that is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The biotechnology industry has tried to create commercial crops which are able to thrive with less oxygen; however a decade of research has provided no results. The report also states that traditional plant breeding and practices such as planting cover crops have proven to reduce the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers.
Community Food Enterprises and Local Food Systems Report: Last week, NSAC member organization the Wallace Center announced a new publication “Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace,” produced in cooperation with the Business Alliance for Local Living Communities (BALLE). The report profiles 24 locally-owned food businesses from around the world and provides detailed analyses of their financial, social, and environmental performance.
Categories: General Interest