NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – June 22-26, 2009

June 29, 2009


VAPG NOSA Update:  A revised Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program Notice of Solicitation of Applications (NOSA) has received upper-level USDA approval and we expect it to be published soon.  The new application will have a 90 day proposal period.  USDA will rescind the original NOSA and will be in touch with applicants who submitted proposals, not aware that the original grant application deadlines of June 22 and July 6 had been suspended, and their applications will still be considered.  NSAC and other groups were concerned the original NOSA did not fully implement 2008 Farm Bill provisions to support local food, mid-tier value chains, small and mid-scale farms, and beginning and minority farmers.


NSAC FY2010 Appropriations Chart:  Last week we reported on the House Committee-passed agriculture appropriations bill for FY 2010, but we held off sending our appropriations chart until the Committee report was made public and we could double check all the numbers.  Download a copy of our updated chart.

House Bill Weighs in on Variety of Topics:  Several topics that may be of interest to our readers are included in the report accompanying the House bill:

  • Indirect Land Use Change – “EPA’s modeling of indirect land use changes has not been published nor has it been peer reviewed.  The Committee recognizes that this controversial type of modeling and analysis may have misstated the impact of indirect land.  The Committee directs the Secretary of Agriculture through the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, in conjunction with the Office of the Chief Economist, to do an independent study of significant indirect land use changes for renewable fuels and the feedstocks used to produce them.”
  • National Animal ID – “The Committee recommendation eliminates funding for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).  After receiving $142,000,000 in funding since fiscal year 2004, APHIS has yet to put into operation an effective national system that would provide needed animal health and livestock market benefits.  The Committee is aware that USDA is conducting a public listening tour around the country for several months to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how to design and deliver a successful animal identification system.  Until USDA finishes its listening sessions and provides details as to how it will implement an improved animal identification system, continued investments into the current NAIS are unwarranted.”
  • Commodity Subsidy Overpayments – “The Committee is concerned about well-documented reports of overpayments in the direct and countercyclical farm payments program.  A recent USDA study identified roughly $50,000,000 in improper payments to farmers who were ineligible for these payments.  Therefore, the Committee directs UDA to submit to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations an official estimate of overpayments made to ineligible farmers.  In addition, the Committee directs USDA to include in such report a plan to prevent future improper payments and to recoup all improper payments that have been made prior to October 1, 2009.”
  • Urban REAP – “The Committee is aware that the Department of Agriculture is currently considering a redefinition of eligibility for the section 9007 REAP program for agricultural producers in urban areas and encourages the Department to design rules for fiscal year 2010 that allow agricultural producers to participate in the program regardless of their geography as authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill.
  • Local & Regional Food Enterprise Loans – “The Committee notes that the 2008 Farm Bill authorized section 6015, locally or regionally produced agricultural food products.  This section provides that in addition to rural areas, urban communities are eligible for this purpose and that five percent of the guaranteed business and industry loan program shall be made available to carry out section 6015.  The Committee directs the Department to provide direction to the state offices for solicitation of loan applications that meet this new eligibility and to more effectively utilize this new authority to maximize opportunities to serve food insecure regions.
  • Farm to School – “The Committee directs the Department to report to the Committees within 180 days on the national demand for farm to school programs.  Farm to school programs enable children to have access to nutritious food while benefiting community and local farmers by providing a consistent, reliable market.”
  • New Program Start-Up for Urban Ag – “The Committee provides $5,000,000 to implement Hunger-Free Community grants as authorized in Section 4405 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.  These funds will be used for competitive grants that focus on promotion, outreach, demonstration projects and technical assistance to community gardens, community-supported agriculture programs, and linkages between farmers and local markets.”


House Approves Climate Change Legislation:  On Friday, by a vote of 219 to 212 (with 3 not voting), the House voted to approve H.R. 2454 – the American Clean Energy and Security Act.  The Act is comprehensive legislation intended to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  The bill totals more than 1,500 pages and includes provisions ordering major industrial sources of greenhouse gases to enter into a cap-and-trade program that requires a 17 percent cut in domestic emissions by 2020.  The bill also directs utilities to supply 15 percent of their power sales from renewable sources of electricity by 2020.

The bill that went to the floor for debate included significant revisions that resulted from negotiations between House leadership and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chair of the House Agriculture Committee.  Chariman Peterson had threatened to keep a core group of Democrats from voting for the bill unless it included changes giving USDA primary authority over the development of a carbon credit offset program for agriculture.

The extensive Peterson amendment includes sections on the definition of renewable biomass, an agricultural offset program to be run by USDA, and a USDA Advisory Committee on greenhouse gas reduction and sequestration.  The full text of the amendment is available on the House Agriculture Committee website.

Eight Republicans voted for the legislation and 44 Democrats votes against the bill.  Twelve of the 27 Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee voted against the bill, including Rep. Childers (MS), Costa (CA), Dahlkemper (PA), Ellsworth (IN), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Holden (PA), Kissell (NC), Marshall (GA), Massa (NY), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID), and Pomeroy (ND). See the full vote tally.

The bill now goes to the Senate.  Latest word on the Senate timeline is that Committee chairs with jurisdiction over the bill are expected to complete action on the bill by mid-September, with the debate on the Senate floor by October.

Senate Committee Markup of FY2010 Interior/EPA Appropriations Bill:  On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee in its markup of the FY2010 Interior/EPA appropriations bill rejected, by a vote of 18-12, an amendment offered by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) that would have prevented EPA from assessing the greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s largest concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  The Committee Chair Senator Diane Feinstein, who opposed the amendment, read into the record a letter from environmental, conservation and sustainable agriculture organizations, including NSAC, which urged Senators on the Committee to reject the amendment.  A similar amendment may be offered when the bill goes to the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, the full House approved its version of the $32.3 billion Interior/EPA bill on Friday, June 26.  The EPA funding in the bill rises by an extraordinary $3 billion or 38 percent, from $7.6 billion this year to $10.6 billion next year.  The House bill would provide EPA with $84 million more than the President’s request.  Included in the total is nearly $4 billion for clean water projects through Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and State and Tribal Assistance Grants.

Unlike the Senate Committee action on CAFOs, the House bill bars EPA from requiring largest factory farms to report their greenhouse gas emissions.  That provision was introduced as an amendment by Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) and approved by the full Committee.


Office of Advocacy and Outreach:  Assistant Secretary for Departmental Administration Pearlie Reed brought together an advisory group on June 25 and 26 to discuss the function and structure of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach.  The new office, created by the 2008 Farm Bill, was designed to coordinate policy and programs for two broad areas: minority farmers and farmworkers, and small farms and beginning farmers.

The group that met for two days at USDA included eighteen USDA agency representatives (both from the field and headquarters), eight representatives of minority farmer organizations, two representatives of farm workers, and several university extension representatives.  NSAC’s Ferd Hoefner was also part of the group.

Assistant Secretary Reed and Deputy Assistant Secretary Alma Hobbs told the group the Department has decided to lodge the new Office within Departmental Administration.  This decision differs from the statutory placement of the office in the 2008 Farm Bill, which envisioned the Office as reporting directly to the Secretary and not under any of the USDA Under Secretaries or Assistant Secretaries.  How the difference between the statute and the new plan will be reconciled was not made clear.

Last month, NSAC joined with the Diversity Initiative in a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack asking that the Office be established in accord with the Farm Bill.

The farm bill established two divisions within the Office, one for minority farmers and farmworkers and one for small farms and beginning farmers.  As tentatively envisioned by the Department, the Office might also include five other divisions, one each for the 1890 land grants, 1994 land grant tribal schools, Hispanic-serving institutions, rural development, and the USDA visitor’s center.

The advisory group members worked in small groups to develop a myriad of ideas of how each of these divisions might be structured and staffed.  Those ideas will be used by the Department as it refines its plans.

The House Committee-passed appropriations bill for FY 10 includes the $3 million requested by USDA to establish the new Office.  The Senate Subcommittee will be working on its bill after the July 4 recess.

ERS Local Food Study Workshop:  Representatives from non-profits, government, and industry gathered to discuss local food systems at a day-long workshop hosted by the Economic Research Service on Friday, June 26.  Researchers presented a number of case studies on the market performance of local foods and outlined the environmental, social, and economic impacts.  Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director of NSAC, served on a discussion panel highlighting policy opportunities and barriers to the development of local food systems.  The proceedings and video from the event will be posted on the ERS web site.

During the 2008 Farm Bill, NSAC worked with the offices of Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Feingold (D-WI), and Harkin (D-IA) on a bill instructing USDA to conduct a study on the economic and environmental impacts of local food systems.  The bill was withdrawn after ERS said that plans for such a study were already in the works.  NSAC would like to see specific policy recommendations come out of the forthcoming ERS report so that Congress can address some of the production and distribution barriers to local and regional food system development.

NOFA Issued for Rural Coop Development Grant Minority Set-Aside:  On Thursday, June 25, the Rural Business-Cooperative Service announced the availability of $1.463 million in grant funds for cooperatives or associations of coops to assist small, socially-disadvantaged agricultural producers.  This grant program is now known as the Small and Socially-Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program.  Applications may be submitted electronically or on paper by August 10, 2009.

USDA Recovery Act Website Launched:  On Friday, June 26, USDA launched a new website — www.usda.gov/recovery — to share information about implementation of the USDA portions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (sometimes referred to as the stimulus bill).  USDA programs account for $28 billion of the recovery package.  When accounting for the value of loans and loan guarantees, the USDA recovery package totals $52 billion.

Of significance to NSAC, the new website does provide basic information for the Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) program, the Rural Community Facilities program, and the Business and Industry (B&I) loan program.  However, the B&I section still fails to reference the Local and Regional Food Enterprise Guaranteed Loan program that NSAC helped secure in the farm bill and again in the stimulus bill.  Some $250 million in loan guarantees are available for local and regional food businesses and coops this year and next, but the Department has not yet fully implemented the program and has yet to promote it.

ERS Releases Study on Food Deserts and Their Consequences:  On Thursday, June 25, the Economic Research Service released a report entitled Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food — Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences:  Report to Congress.  The report includes findings from a national assessment of the characteristics and prevalence of food deserts, an analysis of their consequences and connections to diet-related diseases, and a discussion of options for how to alleviate the effects of food deserts through policy.  ERS found that nearly 6 percent of all households experience food access-related problems.  Congress requested in the 2008 Farm Bill that USDA conduct this study.

ERS Examines Manure:  On Thursday, June 25, the Economic Research Service also released a study examining manure use for fertilizer and energy production, also requested by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill.  The report found that just 5 percent of US cropland is currently fertilized with manure and corn ground accounts for over half of the total.

Tiny Fraction of Farmers Signing Up for ACRE:  At a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management on Thursday, USDA Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller testified that only 946 farmers out of the 1.3 million farmers who participate in USDA crop commodity programs have signed up for the new average crop revenue election (ACRE).  ACRE gives farmers payments based on rolling market season average prices and state yields but to receive ACRE payments farmers must give up 20 percent of direct payments and 30 percent of marketing loan rate.  It was not clear if farmers did not understand ACRE, did not like ACRE, or were waiting to near the signup deadline of August 14, 2009 to decide whether to signup for ACRE.

2010 CRP General Sign-Up Now Undecided:  At the same hearing where ACRE was discussed, Under Secretary Jim Miller also testified that USDA is undecided on whether to hold a general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in 2010.  Earlier this year, Farm Service Agency Conservation Office Director Bob Stephenson had told the conservation subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee that there would be a 2010 general sign-up.


Minnesota Project Webinar on BCAP:  On Thursday, June 25, the Minnesota Project hosted a webinar on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).  Speakers included Ryan Stockwell Manager, The Minnesota Project; Joel Tallaksen, Gasification Project Coordinator, University of Minnesota Morris; Gary Radloff, Director of Policy and Strategic Communications, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection; and Kelly Novak, Planning and Analysis, USDA Farm Service Agency.  The presentations and audio from the webinar, along with additional information will be posted.

Where’s the Local Beef? New Report from Food and Water Watch:  Food and Water Watch has released a new study that documents changes in the livestock slaughter and processing industry across the country, including the disappearance of small processing plants, and examples of next generation processors as well as policy recommendations for rebuilding the small-scale processing sector.

New USGS Water Quality Report:  The US Geological Survey this week released Factors affecting water quality in selected carbonate aquifers in the United States.  USGS sampled for 151 chemical constituents or physical properties in wells and springs across 20 states, primarily ones that are drinking water sources.  Carbonate aquifers account for about a fifth of groundwater-supplied drinking water in the US.

While the study found these aquifers generally provide water acceptable for human use, it also found that nitrates from fertilizer, manure applications, and septic tanks was the most common containment and one that exceeded federal drinking water standards in 5 percent of wells sampled, primarily in agricultural areas.

Hypoxic Zone Large Again:  On Monday, June 22, Science Daily reported that the US Geological Survey found that spring nutrient delivery to the Gulf of Mexico is 23 percent lower than 2008, but still 11 percent above the 1979-2009 average and among the highest on record.  The amount of nutrients transported by the Mississippi River Basin to the Gulf during the spring is the major factor controlling the size of the hypoxic or dead zone that endangers important fisheries.  Nutrient runoff from farms is the largest single source, with total flow dependent in large part on the amount of precipitation and the resulting amount of non-point runoff and stream flow.

Categories: General Interest

One response to “Weekly Update – June 22-26, 2009”

  1. […] NAIS are unwarranted.” (Via the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s excellent weekly newsletter) Home / Digest, NAIS / NAIS-ness in a nutshellSHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “NAIS-ness in a […]