NSAC's Blog


Weekly Update – May 11-15, 2009

May 18, 2009


ACTION NEEDED

Sign On Now for a CSP Sign Up:  NSAC is circulating a sign-on letter to Secretary Vilsack urging prompt implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program.  The letter seeks program improvements and a spring sign up for the new nationwide, continuously available CSP.  The cutoff date for sign-ons is close of business on Tuesday, May 19th.  If your organization has already signed on, thank you!  If not, email Annette@sustainableagriculture.net to join the more than 60 farm and conservation organizations from all across the country who have already signed on.

Organic Initiative Sign-Up Extended in Some States:  The brief (May 11 – May 29) sign-up for the special $50 million in Organic Initiative funds offered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) continues.  As of May 15, however, States may opt to extend their sign up period by up to two additional weeks.  States will have to decide by May 22nd whether and for how long to extend their sign up.  Information about which states choose to extend will be included in the next Weekly Update.

The Organic Initiative provides payments and technical assistance to transitioning and existing organic farmers who adopt NRCS conservation practices used in organic production systems and will be available in every state and county.   For more detail about the Organic Initiative see this memo and our alert.

Farmers Market External Reviewers:  At a meeting of the Farmers Market Consortium this week, staff of the Agricultural Marketing Service announced that they will be accepting applications for external reviewers for the Farmers Market Promotion Program.  If you are interested in serving on the review panel, please contact Branch Chief, Carmen Humphrey: Carmen.humphrey@usda.gov by Friday, May 22.  In particular, they are looking for farmers and economic development experts to sit on the review panel.

THIS WEEK

Farm Credit Funds Included in FY 2009 Supplemental:  On Thursday, May 14, the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed their own versions of the FY 2009 supplemental appropriations bill.  The House voted to approve the $96.7 billion supplemental on a vote of 368 to 60 after a short debate.  The 60 members who voted against the bill included 51 Democrats and 9 Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved their $91.3 billion version on the same day but with Republicans promising to offer amendments once the bill goes to the floor of the Senate next Tuesday, May 19.  Given the likelihood of amendments introduced by Republicans to eliminate funding to close the Guantanamo detention center, conferencing the bill before the Memorial Day recess is growing more improbable.

Both bills include supplemental farm credit funds.  The final House bill left intact the credit funding we reported on last week: $360 million in Direct Farm Ownership loans, $400 million in Direct Operating Loans, and $50 million in guaranteed non-subsidized operating loans, at an estimated cost of $71.3 million.

A Managers amendment by Agriculture Appropriations Chair Herb Kohl (D-WI) was included at the last minute in the bill reported out by the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The Senate version includes the same amount as the House bill — $360 million — for Direct Farm Ownership loans, but just $225 million in Direct Operating loans and no guaranteed loan funds.  Both the Senate and House would offset the additional funding from rescissions to unobligated balances from FY 2008 in a variety of rural development program accounts.

NSAC strongly backed the additional funding for direct lending and will urge the conferees to include the credit funds in the final bill to help address the growing backlog.

In addition, the Senate bill also includes language to make available $77 million to the Emergency Conservation program for flood recovery in the Midwest.

FY2010 Appropriations Testimony:  On Monday, May 11, NSAC staff delivered its Senate appropriations testimony for FY 2010 to Senate Appropriations members, as well as a revised version of its House testimony to House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee members.  Both testimony documents are available on the NSAC website’s homepage.

House Ag Food Safety Hearing:  “One size does not fit all,” was the refrain on Thursday, May 14, 2009, when the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a hearing to review food safety standards for organic agriculture.  The members of the Subcommittee and witnesses at the hearing offered few specifics on how this maxim would be put into practice, however.

Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) argued that the standards embodied in California’s Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement should be nationalized, but he was quick to add that “one size does not fit all,” and said that standards should be tailored to accommodate organic producers.  He also stated that there should be a single food safety agency.  “A patchwork is unacceptable,” he said.

Jim Costa (D-CA) argued that farmers should not have to bear the brunt of the costs for needed improvements in consumer protection.  Furthermore, “one size does not fit all,” he said.

David Acheson, Associate Commissioner for Foods at FDA, explained that FDA’s food safety efforts focus primarily on gathering data to assess sources of risk so that it can be determined where resources should be invested.  He pointed out that large processing facilities are not the only ones that can pose threats to public health, but also said that to him, “common sense says, ‘One size does not fit all.'”

David Shipman, Acting Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, reminded us that “AMS is not a food safety agency,” but then proceeded to outline AMS’s involvement with “requests from producers to support their product quality control efforts for use as marketing claims.”

Joseph Pezzini, Chairman of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, testified to what he considers the benefits of the LGMA.  Steve Hirsch, a member of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association, offered a somewhat more nuanced view of industry efforts at self-regulation, and argued for standards that take into account different geographical conditions and different farming practices.  “My point, of course,” he added, “is that a single national, one-size-fits-all structure will not work.”

Nick Maravell, a diversified organic farmer from Maryland, discussed an important component of food safety not mentioned by other witnesses – not using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and parasiticides.  He also discussed direct marketing to consumers or other farms as the ultimate form of accountability and traceability for the customer.  Maravell noted that organic certification requires five years of  records with “one up, one down” traceability for all inputs and products – a ‘field to fork’ audit trail.  His testimony provided an excellent set of recommendations related to both direct marketing and organic farming.

The complete testimony of the nine witnesses at the hearing is available at   http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/statements.html.

White House Food Safety Working Group Launch:  With a parade of Administration officials and members of Congress addressing lobbyists and congressional staffers, the White House announced the launch of its interagency Food Safety Working Group on Wednesday, May 13.  To read more about the Working Group and to submit electronic comments, go to the new website for the Group at http://www.foodsafetyworkinggroup.gov/.

To read USDA Secretary Vilsack’s comments from the launch event, see this page.  To read DHHS Secretary Sibeluis’ statement, go to this page.  Members of Congress addressing the assembled interest groups included Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Dingell (D-MI) and DeLauro (D-CT), each of them touting their own particular food safety bills.

Obama USDA Budget, Part II:  For the big stories on the President’s budget requests to Congress, see last week’s edition of the Weekly Update.  This week we want to provide a few other items we could not squeeze into last week’s story.

CRP – The Administration’s budget request projects Conservation Reserve Program acreage will drop from 34.6 million acres in FY 08 to 33.9 million acres in FY 09 followed by a big drop off to 30.4 million acres by the end of FY 10.  The 2008 Farm Bill capped the CRP at 32 million acres starting in FY 10.  Curiously, the budget says nothing about holding a general CRP sign-up in FY 10 despite testimony from USDA’s Farm Service Agency earlier this year before the House Agriculture Committee indicating there would be a 2010 general sign-up.  Instead, the budget explanatory notes indicate further small drops in CRP acres in 2011 and 2012.  We are making inquiries seeking explanation for the seeming contradiction.

Pesticide Survey
– In the proposed budget for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) the Administration is requesting $5.75 million to restore the agricultural chemical use data series that had been terminated by the Bush Administration.  This important data series provides the only free publicly available agriculture chemical use report and is used by USDA, EPA, and NGOs to research and understand pesticide trends and possible effects on the environment.

Office of Advocacy and Outreach – The new Office of Advocacy and Outreach, created by the 2008 Farm Bill and backed by NSAC, is slated to receive an initial allocation of $3 million for 2010.  The budget documents correctly list of OA&O within the Executive Operations of the Department, on a par with the Office of the Chief Economist, Office of Budget and Program Analysis, and the National Appeals Division.

Resource Conservation & Development Program – Like the Bush Administration, the Obama budget would terminate the $51 million a year RC&D program.  Congress has repeatedly rejected this USDA termination request and will likely do so again.

Rural Energy for America Program – The budget would combine mandatory and discretionary spending for the REAP program, the loan and grant program for on-farm energy conservation and production.  The budget proposes to retain the full mandatory funding provided for REAP by the farm bill, dividing the $60 million between grants ($31 million) and loans ($29 million for a loan volume of about $213 million).  On top of the mandatory dollars, the budget proposes that Congress appropriate an additional $68 million for the program (considerably more than the program’s $25 million authorization for appropriation) and divide that amount in half, $34 million for grants and $34 million for loans (for a loan volume of $246 million).

Peterson, Lucas Strike Out Against Accounting for Indirect Land Use:  On Thursday May 14, House Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), along with 40 of their colleagues, introduced a bill (H.R. 2409) to reverse a provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act that requires the EPA to account for indirect land use changes when calculating lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for various renewable fuels.  The bill would also change the definition for renewable biomass in the Energy Bill, substituting the broader definition included in the 2008 Farm Bill.  A House Agriculture Committee hearing on this new bill and related subjects has been scheduled for May 21.

USDA NEWS

New USDA Appointments:  This week saw the announcement of another batch of political appointments at USDA.  While there are still several major posts yet to be named, including the Under Secretary for Food Safety, the line-up card is now much closer to being filled out.  We are now, therefore, putting a list of all the appointments to date on our website, and we will periodically update the list as more information becomes publicly available.  The new names for this week include:

Rayne Pegg has been appointed Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, and will begin serving in July.  Pegg most recently served as the Deputy Secretary of Legislation and Policy for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where she was the principle advisor to both the Secretary of the Department and the cabinet of the Governor of California on the Department’s legislative and policy issues.  As an advocate with the California Farm Bureau Federation, Pegg analyzed California agriculture’s foreign market opportunities and competition and participated in the World Trade Organization and US-Korea FTA negotiations. She has worked with USDA to resolve phytosanitary barriers that restrict the movement of California products to foreign and domestic markets.  Pegg was also a principal in the creation of the California Leafy Green Product Handler Marketing Agreement, which was established in 2006.

Mary McNeil
, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, served as the Transition Advisor to the National Congress of American Indians and on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition. McNeil worked for the Potlatch Fund in Washington State and provided consulting services to tribal and other organizations.  During the Clinton Administration, McNeil served as USDA’s Director of Native American Programs and as a Search Manager in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.  McNeil worked as a Staff Assistant to Senator Brock Adams (D-WA), and as a Planner for the State of Alaska.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stanford University and a law degree from Stanford Law School.  She is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

Victor Vasquez, Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development, served as Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Transitional Assistance for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Previously, Vasquez worked in Washington as the Director for both economic development and Workfirst programs, and he also served with the Department of Defense as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Military Community and Family Policy Office in the Office of the Secretary.  Vasquez also spent more than five years working in rural development, serving as USDA Assistant Administrator in the Office of Community Development with responsibility for launching the Rural Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community program.

Julie Paradis, Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, served since January 1995 as deputy counsel of the minority staff of the House Agriculture Committee, where she oversaw legislation concerning such matters as nutrition and domestic feeding programs.  From 1991-94 she was the assistant majority counsel for the House Agriculture Committee and served as staff director for the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations, and Nutrition from 1989-91.  From 1983-89 Paradis worked as a senior attorney in the Legislative Division of the Office of the General Counsel, after having been a staff attorney in OGC’s Food and Nutrition Division from 1979-83, where she specialized in FNS’s Food Stamp Program. She is a member of the Texas Bar.

EPA NEWS

EPA Extends Comment Period on E15 Gasoline:  On Friday May 15, the EPA announced it has extended the comment period on a request to increase the upper limit on the amount of ethanol blended into a gallon of gasoline from 10% (E10) to 15% (E15).  The comment period, scheduled to end on May 21, is extended 60 days to July 20. Growth Energy – an association formed by POET, ICM, Hawkeye Renewables –  and other ethanol manufacturers submitted the request on March 6, contending that the ethanol market is reaching a “blendwall” that will limit increases in ethanol blended with gasoline.  The request could result in increased use of corn ethanol and is supported by the National Corn Growers Association and the American Corn Growers Association.

EPA must determine that the use of the E15 gasoline will not result in increased air emissions or harm vehicle engines.  EPA has until Dec. 1, 2009 to make a decision on the request.   More information and instructions for submitting comments.

DULY NOTED

ERS Beginning Farmer Report:  On Friday May 15, USDA’s Economic Research Service released a 32 page report on beginning farmers and ranchers.  Authors Mary Ahearn and Doris Newton examined the data gathered about beginning farmers in the 2007 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) as well as in the 1978 through 1997 Census of Agriculture.  Among the findings: beginning operators (operating 10 years or less) make up about a quarter of all operators and account for about 10 percent of total production; beginning farmers are more likely to be female, non-white, or Hispanic than more established farmers; beginners are younger than established farmers though nearly a third of them are 55 or older.

ERS Report on Federal Tax Policies and Farmers:  Also released on Friday May 15 is a new ERS study written by Ron Durst entitled Federal Tax Policies and Farm Households.  The report examines changes in income and estate taxes over the past decade that have reduced the average tax rates for most farm families and reduced the number of farm estates subject to estate taxes to a very small fraction of farms.


Categories: General Interest


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