NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – December 7 2009

December 7, 2009


House Agriculture Committee Hearings on Climate Change Legislation:  Last week, the House Agriculture Committee held two hearings on climate change and agriculture. Wednesday’s hearing focused on economic impacts of climate change on the agriculture sector.  Thursday’s hearing addressed the potential costs and benefits of agricultural offsets in cap and trade schemes in pending climate change legislation.  Written statements from witnesses at both hearings are posted on Committee’s hearing website.

In coordination with the testimony of USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber at Wednesday’s hearing, USDA Secretary held a press conference to announce findings of the USDA’s final analysis of the climate change bill H.R. 2454, approved by the House early this year.  In a nutshell, the USDA analysis found that the farmers’ costs would increase if the House bill were implemented but that the increase would be gradual and would outweighed for many farmers by benefits from offsets and other features in the bill.  USDA will be releasing the analysis soon.

NSAC Submits Further Recommendations on AFRI RFA:  The 2010 Request for Applications (RFA) for USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is expected to be finalized in the next couple of weeks and released in the early new year.  NSAC submitted comments on the 2009 RFA  in September, but several changes have occurred since then, including the launch of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA; formerly the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service), the articulation of new research priorities under NIFA, and a still evolving reorganization into five “institutes.”  Last week, NIFANSAC resubmitted comments on the RFA, including recommendations to integrate sustainability throughout the RFA and building existing and new programs to further sustainable agriculture research.  For more information, contact Ariane Lotti. alotti@sustainableagriculture.net

Policy Briefing on Antibiotic Resistance:  The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing on antibiotic resistance last Wednesday, December 2.  Medical and public health experts presented.  Congresswoman Louise Slaughter gave the opening remarks, and asked for support on her legislation H.R. 1549, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.  The legislation proposes the phase-out of antibiotics given to livestock and poultry for non-therapeutic purposes.

Approximately 70% of the antibiotics produced in the U.S end up in animal feed to promote growth in cattle, hogs and poultry, and to compensate for unsanitary housing conditions.  This practice inadvertently promotes the reproduction of antibiotic-resistant strains, which reaches humans through air and soil, but most often through eating the food animals which were treated with antibiotics.

According to panelists, there are currently more deaths resulting from antibiotic resistant bacterial infections than from HIV-AIDS.  Of the 2 million Americans who contract bacterial infections which are antibiotic resistant, 90,000 will die annually.  The panelists also discussed simple actions animal producers could take, such as better ventilation, the sanitizing of animal houses, and better animal husbandry, which could reduce or eliminate the need for antibiotics.

Future Trends in Animal Agriculture Presentation Hosted by USDA:   Deputy Secretary Megan, Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-CT), and Rep. David Scott (D-GA) were among the speakers at the USDA sponsored event, Future Trends in Animal Agriculture, which took place on Wednesday, December 2. Panelists looked ahead to the year 2030 to discuss what animal agriculture will look like and what is should look like.  The discussion covered issues such as industrialized animal production, animal welfare, and the challenge of the feeding a rapidly growing population.  Several speakers presented evidence that more and more consumers are concerned about animal welfare and are willing to pay more for animal products coming from a humane environment.


GIPSA Final Regulation on Poultry Contracts Issued:  On Thursday, a final rule governing poultry production contracts between poultry growers and poultry processors was issued.  Additional information on the rule is posted on the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration website. www.gipsa.usda.gov . The rule will take effect on January 4, 2010.

New protections for contract poultry farmers include:

  • Companies must provide farmers with a written copy of the contract before that farmer makes an initial investment in his or her poultry houses.
  • Contracts with confidentiality clauses must allow farmers to discuss contract offers with federal or state agencies, immediate family members, business associates, farmers that contract with the same company, accounting services representative hired by the farmer, a lawyer or a financial advisor before signing.
  • Contracts must state that if a farmer is put on a performance improvement plan, they must be told why, what steps will be taken to help them improve, how they can regain good standing, and the factors that will used to determine when or if the contract will be terminated.
  • Farmers must be notified in writing 90 days before a contract is terminated, expired, not renewed or not replaced.

A key supporter of the new rules, NSAC member RAFI-USA, noted in a press release that the rules increase fairness, transparency and good business practices and are a positive step in redressing the imbalance in power between contract poultry growers and poultry processors.

Conservation Stewardship Program Sign-Up Update:  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service continues to work through the large-volume of applications for the 2009 iteration of the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  Contracts are expected to be finalized by January.

Of the 33 million acres worth of applications that came through the door, producers completed the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) and were determined eligible on approximately 21 million acres.  Of the 21 million acres, 12.8 million acres will be enrolled, with decisions based on producers with the highest ranking scores in the CMT.

NRCS is currently calculating the final payment rates for crop, pasture, and range land.  Those rates will then be multiplied by each farmers point total, by land use, from the CMT.

The major ranking process for 2010 sign-ups was originally scheduled for January, but will now almost certainly be delayed by several months as the 2009 contract process is completed.  We expect there to be an NRCS announcement in the New Year outlining the 2010 process and explaining program improvements for the 2010 sign-up.  Both 2009 and 2010 awardees will receive their first CSP payments in October 2010.

NRCS Selects Watersheds for the Mississippi River Basin Initiative:  On November 23, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the 41 watersheds selected to participate in the 12-state Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI).  The Initiative is administered through the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), with additional resources available from the Conservation Innovation Grant Program and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.  The focus is control of nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural land in the ten states the border the Mississippi River and Ohio and Indiana, with a goal of improving water quality in the Mississippi River Basin and helping to reduce the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  The selected watersheds cover 42 million acres.

The next step is the selection of smaller watershed projects through a competitive process under CCPI.  NRCS assistance will be leveraged with contributions from project partners, expanding the capacity available to improve water quality throughout the Basin.

Three requests for project proposals will be announced in the next several weeks, including one for CCPI.  Funding for CCPI projects will come from NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.  Two other requests for proposals will fund projects through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program and Conservation Innovation Grants.

Additional information about the Initiative is posted on the MRBI overview webpage.

BCAP Run Amok:  DTN farm reporter Chris Clayton this week spilled the beans on the hemorrhaging of taxpayer dollars to support standard operating procedures for the paper industry.  In his Market News blog from Wednesday, December 2, Clayton reports that the White House has approved a USDA request to spend $514 million before the end of March to subsidize the burning of wood waste for energy under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

When BCAP was passed as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, it was estimated to cost $70 million in total over the life of the 5-year bill and was to be aimed primarily at paying farmers to experiment with second generation biomass energy crops.  The new crop portion of BCAP is being delayed while the Farm Service Agency contracts out an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).  Meanwhile, payments for the collection and harvest of crop residues and wood waste, arguably far more ripe for an EIS than planting perennials, are being sent out the door to 285 facilities nationwide at a taxpayer-scam rate nearly 150 times greater than estimated by Congress in passing the Farm Bill.

The only good news in this travesty is the expectation by USDA and the White House that a rule to implement BCAP will be issued next spring.  Hopefully the rule will reign in the program and return it to its important original mission.

Recovery Bill Biorefinery Project Awards Announced:  On Friday, December 4, USDA Secretary Vilsack and DOE Secretary Chu announced the selection of 19 projects to receive $564 million from the economic recovery bill under the Farm Bill’s Biorefinery Assistance Program.  The pilot and commercial projects are intended to help lay the foundation for biofuels and biopower industries.

Changes in Research Grant Program Application Requirements:  Individuals interested in applying to any of the following National Institute of Food and Agriculture Programs should follow the directions in the Grants.gov Application Guide linked with the funding opportunity rather than the directions in the Request for Applications (RFA) for the “R&R Other Project Information Form”:  Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Regional Integrated Pest Management, Extension IPM, or the Potato Breeding programs.  The guidelines have been changed and are not reflected in the current RFAs.


EPA Delaying Decision on Petition to Increase Ethanol “Blend Wall”:  On Monday, November 30, the EPA informed Growth Energy by letter that the agency is delaying until mid-June a final decision on a petition to increase the allowable blend limit of ethanol with gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent.  Growth Energy is an advocacy group representing ethanol production companies, which contend that the “blend wall” is preventing expansion of U.S. ethanol production.

In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress called for the production of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, including up to 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol.  EPA acknowledged that meeting that mandate will require a higher blend of ethanol in gasoline, but the agency must also meet requirements under the Clean Air Act to ensure that engines are not damaged and air pollution limits exceeded when ethanol blends higher than 10 percent are used.

EPA wrote that the Department of Energy has not yet completed long-term tests using the 15 percent blend in 19 vehicles.  Tests to date show that engines and emission systems of new model vehicles, manufactured after 2001, may be able to use the 15 percent blend without damage.  EPA also needs to address new labels and warnings for older cars, lawn mowers, boat engines and other vehicles and equipment which can be damaged by the use of a higher ethanol blend.  The petition is opposed by some environmental groups, oil refiners, small engine manufacturers and numerous food manufacturers


WTO Panel to Consider Challenge to mCOOL:  On November 19, the World Trade authorized a dispute settlement panel to hear the challenge of Canada and Mexico to U.S. implementation of the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (mCOOL) provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.  Previous consultations among the U.S., Canada and Mexico did not resolve the dispute.  Cattle and hog producers in Canada and Mexico, as well as many U.S. meatpackers, opposed the mCOOL regulations which do not allow a product to be labeled as a U.S. product if the cow or hog was raised in Canada or Mexico.  In October, in response to Canada’s request for a dispute settlement panel, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk issued a statement noting, “Countries have agreed since long before the existence of the WTO that country of origin labeling is a legitimate policy.  It is common for other countries to require that goods be labeled as to their origin.”


Global Gaps on “Meet the Farmer TV”:  NSAC participant Steve Warshawer, a New Mexico farmer, part of La Montanita Cooperative grocery chain, and food safety coordinator for the Good Food Network, appeared this week on Meet the Farmer TV to talk about Global GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices) food safety standards.  Meet the Farmer TV, based in Virginia, features weekly shows on local food systems from “the farm to the plate.”  Watch Steve here.

Fair Food Grant:  On Thursday, December 3, USDA Under Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a cooperative agreement with the Fair Food Network for research into regional and local fresh food markets in Michigan.  Fair Food Network, a Michigan-based organization working to improve access to healthy foods, is directed by Oran Hesterman, formerly with the WK Kellogg Foundation.  The research will include a social marketing plan linking Southeast Michigan small and mid-sized farms with Detroit and other urban markets.  USDA will provide $40,000 to the project.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About… Recovery Aid:  The non-governmental watchdog organization OMB Watch on Thursday, December 3, launched a new online database on all federal spending related to the economic recovery or stimulus bill.  The site has more than 160,000 reports on the $159 billion in contracts, grants, and loans awarded during FY 2009.  The site allows the user to search, sort, analyze, and map, bringing federal spending transparency into the new information age.

Categories: General Interest

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