NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – March 13, 2009

March 14, 2009

Tom Frantzen, New Hampton, Iowa

Tom Frantzen, New Hampton, Iowa

Photo: At this year’s Organic Conference in LaCrosse, WI, Tom Frantzen and his wife Irene were named MOSES 2009 Organic Farmers of the Year.  The Frantzens manage a diversified farm in New Hampton, Iowa where they grow crops for animal feed on 300 tillable acres, and sell soybeans as a cash crop.  Their farrow-to-finish hog operation produces 600 head for market and 40 brood sows.  They also keep 50 beef brood cows.  The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) is a NSAC member and each year announces an Organic Farmer of the Year at their annual Organic Conference in LaCrosse, WI.  This year, MOSES had a record 2,600 conference attendees!  Congratulations, Tom, Irene, and MOSES!


More Time To Submit Environmental Quality Incentives Program Comments:  On Thursday, March 12, USDA issued a notice that the comment period for the EQIP Interim Final Rule has been extended to April 17, 2009.  So if you did not respond to or circulate an action alert before now, you have a reprieve!  An NSAC Action Alert with talking points and information on submitting comments is posted here.

Note:  USDA has also extended the comment period on the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program until April 17, 2009.

Reminder: USDA has extended the deadline for submitting Conservation Innovation Grant project proposals until March 20 and the deadline for Agricultural Water Enhancement Program project proposals until April 1, 2009.


Read below under USDA News subhead for announcements that grants are now being accepted for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, the Rural Energy for America Program, and Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, four NSAC priority farm bill programs!  And nominations are open for the National Organic Standards Board.


FY 09 Appropriations Finally Passed:  After months of negotiation, the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill finally was sent to President Obama for his signature.  On Tuesday, the Senate approved the bill on a voice vote after voting 62-35 to cut off debate, with 60 votes needed to end debate.  Senate Democratic leaders won the needed support of Sens. Menendez (D-NJ) and Nelson (D-FL), who both were hesitant to support a bill that loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba.  Those two were critical because three Democrats – Sens. Feingold (WI), McCaskill (MO), and Bayh (IN) — opposed the annual spending bill and only eight Republicans supported it.  The Senate defeated a dozen amendments to the omnibus, in the end passing the an identical bill to the House-passed version.  More on the spending levels in the bill for sustainable agriculture programs are available in the February 27 Weekly Update.

Under Secretaries for Department of Agriculture Announced
: On Friday, President Obama announced that he intends to nominate Jim Miller to be Under Secretary of Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and Dallas Tonsager to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development at USDA.  Miller is currently Chief of Staff for the National Farmers Union and previously served on the Senate Budget Committee staff, as Chief Economist for the National Farmers Union, and as Vice President for Government Relations for the National Association of Wheat Growers.  Tsonager is currently a board member of the Farm Credit Administration and was previously the Executive Director for the South Dakota Value-Added Agriculture Development Center and was appointed by President Clinton as the South Dakota State Rural Development Director.

National Animal Identification System Hearing:  On Wednesday, March 11, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry held a hearing on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).  Proponents of such a system, including Subcommittee Chairman David Scott (D-GA), maintain that it would prevent the spread of disease, save the government money, and strengthen national security in the event of bio-terrorist attacks.  Ranking Subcommittee member Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) and others expressed concern over the cost of implementing such a system, and over potential government invasions of privacy and unwarranted interruptions of operations.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN7) urged that NAIS be mandatory, to ensure that any contagious disease could be reliably traced back to its source.  If a mandatory system is not implemented and there is an epidemic, “I will do everything I can to make sure government doesn’t bail you out,” said Peterson to farmers and feedlots opposed to NAIS.

Subcommittee Chairman Scott asserted that small and mid-size ranchers would need government assistance to comply with a mandatory system, which would cost roughly $3-$5 per animal, and this was not disputed.

Don Butler, president of the National Pork Producers Council, emphasized the benefits of mandatory NAIS for strengthening the security of the livestock industry and maintaining access to global markets.

Bill Nutt, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Max Thornberry, president of R-CALF USA, each testified in favor of voluntarily implemented, market-driven animal identification systems in his operations.  They maintained that mandatory NAIS would cost much more than the $200 million proposed to be budgeted for it, would unnecessarily burden US trade, and flatly stated that such a system has no connection to food safety.  Chairman Scott responded that the problem with a voluntary system is that those producers who opt not to participate may harm society as a whole.

Antitrust Nominee Says Agriculture will be a Priority at DOJ
:  During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 10, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) discussed his grave concerns about slumping dairy prices and the Bush Administration’s failure to take action against anti-competitive behavior in the agriculture industry.  Under questioning from Feingold, Christine Anne Varney, nominee to be Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice, made a commitment that that, if she is confirmed, agriculture will be a priority in the Antitrust Division.  She indicated that she will examine questionable antitrust decisions of the Bush administration and order a thorough review of slumping farm-level dairy prices, which do not appear to be reflected in retail prices paid by consumers.


Budget Resolution Mark-ups and Votes Coming: Next week the House Budget Committee will consider the FY 10 Congressional Budget Resolution, setting out broad spending goals and caps for both mandatory and discretionary spending. The full House is likely to vote on the budget the following week, with Senate Budget Committee action, and perhaps floor action, also occurring by April 3, the last day before a two week Easter recess. Under normal rules, Congress does not begin working on annual appropriations bills until the budget is finalized, setting an overall cap on dollars available for the annual spending bills.

Of particular interest to NSAC will be whether the budget proposals include a “reserve fund” for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization bill which funds school feeding programs. Reserve funds are often used when an authorizing committee (in this case the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee) will be considering a bill during that particular budget year in which an increase in mandatory funding is anticipated over what would otherwise be available under a simple extension of current law.

President Obama has called for a reserve fund of $10 billion over ten years for Child Nutrition reauthorization, and proposes to pay for it by reducing direct commodity payments to farmers who gross more than $500,000 a year. The latter proposal is generally viewed as dead on arrival in Congress, although other variants on ways to raise needed funds from farm programs may still be considered.

Anti-hunger and nutrition advocates have called for a $20 billion increase over five years (which would be over $40 billion over ten years) for the child nutrition bill. They have not indicated where the funding “offsets” would come from.

While NSAC’s pursuit of at least $10 million a year in mandatory funding for Farm to School project grants is very small in comparison to the these numbers, it is nonetheless true that the bigger the overall number, the easier it will be to secure funding for Farm to School.

Drawing far more attention than the relatively speaking small child nutrition item this week has been the huge mega-reserve fund numbers proposed by the President for health care reform (paid for by tax increases for the wealthy) and low and middle class tax cuts (paid for by auctioning climate credits). Look for those debates to get a lot of ink in the coming weeks.


It’s Here! Beginning Farmer Request for Applications Announced: On Friday, March 13, the Request for Applications for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was posted to Grants.gov. The due date for applications is May 13, 2009. We expect the RFA will appear in the Federal Register early next week. About $17.3 million is available.

BFRDP is a competitive grants program that funds education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance initiatives directed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers. A synopsis is here. The application package is available here.

The BFRDP was conceived by NSAC, championed by Sen. Harkin (D-IA), and included in the 2002 Farm Bill. However, the Bush Administration never requested any money for the program. In the 2008 Farm Bill, however, NSAC members campaigned for and won mandatory funding, the first tranche of which is now being made available.

More Good News! Farmers’ Market Promotion Program Funds Available: On Friday, March 13, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced in the Federal Register the availability of $5 million in competitive grant funds for expanding direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.

AMS will grant awards for projects that aim to improve or expand farmers’ markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agri-tourism activities, and other direct marketing of agricultural commodities from farmers to consumers. Ten percent of the funds available will be used to to support electronic benefits transfers (EBT) projects to aid low-income shoppers using CSAs and farmers markets.

FMPP grant sizes are between $2,500 and $100,000. Applications must be post-marked no later than April 27, 2009.

The FMPP was conceived by NSAC and included in the 2002 Farm Bill as a discretionary program, and for several years received an annual appropriation of $1 million. NSAC members campaigned for mandatory funding in the 2008 Farm Bill, winning $5 million a year for starters and rising to $10 million in future years. For more information see the FMPP Guidelines.

Rural Energy for America Program Energy Audit and Technical Assistance Grants: On Wednesday, March 11, USDA issued a Notice of Solicitation of Applications (NOSA) in the Federal Register for Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants for energy audits and renewable energy development assistance for agricultural producers and rural small businesses. Applications for the grants must be submitted no later than close of business on June 9, 2009. The maximum grant award is $100,000 and parties seeking energy audits under projects funded by the grants must pay 25 percent of the audit costs.

Many non-profit organizations, including several NSAC members, have a solid track record of providing technical assistance to agricultural producers and businesses for energy conservation and renewable energy development. The NOSA, however, limits eligible entities for the grants to state, tribal or local governments, land-grant colleges and universities, or other institutions of higher education, rural electric cooperatives, and public power entities. NSAC and other non-profit organizations emphasized, in comments submitted to USDA on REAP, the successful record of non-profit assistance and urged that the Secretary use the discretion provided in the 2008 Farm Bill to designate non-profits as eligible entities for these REAP grants.

NSAC contacted USDA officials about the omission of non-profits from the NOSA and was given assurances that non-profits will be included in a proposed rule for the REAP grants which will be issued in calendar year 2009, and subsequently will become eligible in the 2010 NOSA.

AFRI Request for Proposals Out: Back in December, USDA issued a “program announcement” with most of the details about the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grants program for research, education and extension. There was a delay until this week in issuing the actual request for applications (RFA) proposals due to IT problems with the government’s grant website. The full RFA is now available. Over $200 million in total is available, including at least $60 million for projects that integrate research with education or extension.

Please note that some deadlines have changed relative to what was written in the program announcement. Individual national program areas with AFRI have different proposal due dates, ranging from April through August 31. For a full list of national programs, due dates, and national program leaders, click here. Among NSAC’s high priority AFRI national programs are Agricultural Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms, Managed Ecosystems, Enhancing Ecosystem Services from Agricultural Lands, Markets and Trade, and the classical breeding portion of Plant Genome, Genetics, and Breeding.

USDA Invites Nominations for National Organic Standards Board: USDA is requesting nominations to fill 5 upcoming vacancies on the NOSB: two farmer positions, one retailer position, one handler position, and one environmental position. Each appointment will be for a 5-year term, from January 2010 to January 2015. USDA especially encourages members of minorities, women, and persons with disabilities to apply.

NOSB, established by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, is a 15-member board that is responsible for developing and recommending to the Secretary a proposed National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and also advises the Secretary on all other aspects of the National Organic Program. More information about submitting a nomination is available here.


EPA Issues Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: On Tuesday, March 10, EPA issued a notice of availability for public review for the Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks from 1990-2007. Public comments on the draft are due April 9, 2009.

The inventory contains estimates of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride emissions. The inventory also includes estimates of carbon fluxes in U.S. agricultural and forest lands. There is a chapter devoted solely to agricultural emissions.

The technical approach used in this report to estimate emissions and sinks for greenhouse gases is consistent with the methodologies recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and reported in a format consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reporting guidelines. The Inventory is the latest in a series of annual U.S. submissions to the Secretariat for the UN Framework.

A copy of the draft report is posted at EPA’s Climate Change website.

Grant Available to Quantify Carbon Sequestration through Improved Pasture Management: EPA has issued a request for proposals for a demonstration study to quantify changes in soil organic carbon resulting from improved pasture management practices. Eligible entities with experience in implementing soil carbon measurements studies are encouraged to submit proposals. Grant proposals must be received by April 20, 2009. The full announcement with additional information on proposal format is posted here.

Proposed Rule for GHG Emission Reporting Includes Very Large Manure Management Facilities: On Tuesday, March 10, EPA announced it is issuing a proposed rule that would require mandatory greenhouse gas emission GHG reporting under the Clean Air Act by 2011. The only agricultural operations included in the proposal are large manure management systems that emit methane and nitrous oxide in amounts equivalent to 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide or more per year. EPA estimates that fewer than 50 large livestock operations will exceed the reporting threshold. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day comment period. A prepublication copy of the proposed rule and additional information is posted on the EPA website.

Categories: General Interest

One response to “Weekly Update – March 13, 2009”

  1. Rhonda Janke says:

    I’ve been reading some contradictory statements on listervs (including SANET) and blogs about recent food safety bills that are still in committee; specifically HR 875, HR 814, HR 759 and S 425. Some state that these are simply designed to improve food safety in the aftermath of the peanut butter problem, and others say that these bills will drive small farmers out of business and outlaw backyard gardening. I’ve read the Consumers Union and Food and Water Watch statements on these, and was wondering if NSAC wanted to weigh on on this, or have something in your next newsletter pointing us in the direction of the most accurate information, dates of hearings on these bills, etc. Thanks.