NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – May 18-22, 2009

May 26, 2009


Organic Initiative Sign-Up Extended in Some States: The sign-up for the special $50 million in Organic Initiative funds offered through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) continues. Last week, states had the option to extend their sign-up periods beyond the initial three-week offering. To see whether a state has extended, see this list compiled by NRCS.

The Organic Initiative provides payments and technical assistance to transitioning and certified organic farmers who adopt NRCS conservation practices. This Initiative is available in every state and county. For more information about the Organic Initiative, see NSAC’s updated memo and our alert.

VAPG Reprieve: NSAC staff learned this week that USDA is currently conducting a review of the VAPG NOSA issued on May 6 which may well lead to an extension of the current application deadlines of June 22 (for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher applicants and for mid-tier value chain projects) and July 6 (for all other applicants). We will provide further information next week.


Supplemental Appropriations Advances: On Thursday, May 21, the Senate voted 86-3 in favor of the supplemental appropriations bill that has been working its way through Congress to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we have previously reported, both the House and Senate versions of the bills contain important supplemental funding for direct farm ownership and operating loans. Differences in those provisions and others throughout the bill will be settled in a House-Senate conference committee in June. NSAC will continue to advocate for inclusion of the much-needed credit funding.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Votes out a Climate Change Bill: On Thursday, May 21, by a vote of 33-25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee completed mark-up and approved H.R. 2454 – the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (Waxman-Markey). Only one Republican, Mary Bono (R-CA), voted to approve the bill. The bill calls for a cap-and-trade system, with most of the carbon-equivalent credits initially provided free to existing coal-fired power plants and some other major GHG emitters. But the bill has few specifics on how cap-and-trade would be implemented, including what role agricultural operations would have in providing offsets for carbon emissions from other economic sectors. The bill as approved by the Committee is intended to decrease U.S. GHG emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

During the mark-up, the most controversial issue concerning agriculture was the inclusion in the bill of a measure to include GHG emissions for ethanol and other biofuels that arise from indirect conversion of land. This is land conversion for food production that could occur within or outside the U.S. to replace food producing land diverted to biofuel production. The Committee defeated by a vote of 36-20 an amendment offered by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) to bar the use of GHG emissions from international land use changes in assessing biofuel GHG emissions.

Also introduced but then withdrawn an amendment offered by Rep. Zack Space (D-OH) that identified specific agricultural activities and practices as carbon offsets. The amendment would have covered tillage, cover cropping, conversion of cropland to grassland, increased nitrogen efficiency, and reductions in greenhouse gases from manure among others. Under the Waxman-Markey bill, before offsets are issued, EPA and a new Offsets Integrity Advisory Board will determine how much carbon will be sequestered or greenhouse gases reduced, and then issue the appropriate level of offset. Many agricultural organizations do not want to wait on those technical determinations and would prefer greater assurances that agriculture will be a prime source of offsets. Many farm groups would also prefer to have USDA making the decisions rather than EPA.

The bill has a long way to go. It has been referred to other House Committees including Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Education and Labor, Science and Technology, Transportation and Infrastructure, Natural Resources, and Ways and Means. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) stated earlier this week that he has “put a pitchfork in the sand” and wants full jurisdiction to amend any portion of the bill. Peterson has indicated he has major problems with the Energy and Commerce bill with respect to fuel standards, renewable energy definitions, and regulations to govern the trading of carbon derivatives.

Peterson is believed to have most Agriculture Committee Democrats and other Blue Dog Democrats not on the committee lined up with his positions, enough votes to potentially kill a bill on the floor. In light of his earlier criticisms of an EPA analysis comparing GHG emissions from corn ethanol and other biofuel production, it is likely that the House Agriculture Committee will move to provide any agricultural biofuel production and a variety of agricultural operations and practices with offset payments in climate change legislation. The Committee might also move to strike or reign in carbon derivative trading.

House Ways and Means Committee member and Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-CT) has offered a carbon-tax bill and Committee member and Democratic Campaign Committee Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is championing a cap-and-dividend bill. Neither had indicated that they will push their alternatives to cap and trade when the bill moves to Ways and Means. Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-NY) though has indicated all options are on the table. Rangel also declared this week he wants to deal with health care reform first before addressing the climate change legislation. And after action by multiple House committees, there will be battles on the House floor.

House Ag Committee Hearing on Low Carbon Fuel Standard: The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review low carbon fuel standard proposals on Thursday, May 21, 2009. In general, committee members and witnesses from the biofuels industry covered much the same ground and expressed similar views as the House Agriculture Conservation Subcommittee did on May 6 when it held a hearing on the proposed life cycle analysis for biofuels.

While House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) was far more restrained than at the May 6 hearing, he expressed bewilderment at EPA’s decision to include international land use effects in its greenhouse gas emission standards for renewable fuels. Ranking member Lucas (R-OK) declared that biofuels policy “must not be hijacked by the enemies of production agriculture,” and that “we must make sure EPA only administers environmental policy set by Congress, and does not formulate its own environmental policy.”

Brian Jennings, Executive VP of the American Coalition for Ethanol, argued against EPA’s model for determining international indirect land use effects of biofuels production, calling the model “untested.” He said the model’s conclusions are not borne out by empirical observations, and that it was not developed by scientists, but by Tim Searchinger, an attorney Jennings portrayed as committed to “attacking production agriculture.” EPA’s recommendations are so discordant with reality, he said, as to “invite questions of their motives and their veracity.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association, and Carlos Riva, CEO of Verenium Corporation, also testified. They echoed Jennings’s opinion that the biofuels industry is being unfairly targeted by EPA, and that EPA’s findings have not been subjected to adequate peer review. “EPA over-read the statute [the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007], and under-read the science,” said Dinneen.

Farm to School Hearing at Centers On Disease Control: On Friday, May 15 the Ranking Minority member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Committee Chairman Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) hosted a hearing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, entitled “Benefits of Farm to School Programs, Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Children.”

NSAC member organization Georgia Organics managed much of the logistics for the hearing, and the star witness was Glyen Holmes, former USDA employee and now Executive Director of the New North Florida Cooperative, which has been selling bagged collard greens and sliced sweet potato sticks to more than 72 Florida school districts since 1995.

The Coop was organized in 1995 with the help of Florida A&M University as a last ditch effort by small and limited resource farmers to save their farms. Located in an economically depressed area, the farmers focused on one stable and substantial local market — schools. With one $40,000 Agriculture Marketing Service grant they were able to build the capacity to wash, cut and bag the products (creating several local jobs) and deliver them to the schools “ready to use” at a competitive price. The Coop now includes farmers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas and Holmes estimates that their produce has fed more than one million students.

The Director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, Dr. William H. Dietz, buttressed Holmes’s arguments in favor of farm to school programs by pointing out that students in schools which serve locally-grown products select more fruits and vegetables for their lunches and four out of five programs studied showed that the young people ate more fruits and vegetables outside of school, too.


CSP Update and Letter: This week marked the one-year anniversary of passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, and still the landmark Conservation Stewardship Program has yet to hit the ground. The good news, however, is the revised program’s unveiling seems to be getting close. NSAC is continuing to engage with the agency to help work wrinkles out of the ground rules and hopefully ensure the program will live up to expectations when it is made available to farmers on a nationwide, continuous sign-up basis later this year. We hope to have more definitive news quite soon.

Many thanks to all 75 farm and conservation organizations who signed onto a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack supporting strong implementation of the CSP. The groups requested a spring start to CSP sign-up with a adequate length of time prior to the first ranking period. The groups also called for enhancement activities and payments that support and encourage sustainable and organic production and conservation systems among the letter’s eight specific recommendations.

Fruit and Vegetable Grants Available: On Friday, May 22, USDA published the Notice of Funds Availability (NOFA) for the Specialty Block Crop Grant Program. Applications must be submitted to the appropriate State Department of Agriculture. The proposal deadline is August 26, 2009. A Final Rule for the program was published on March 27, 2009.

NASS Seeking Input for 2012 Census of Agriculture: The National Agricultural Statistics Service is in the process of planning the content of the 2012 Census of Agriculture and is seeking input. Recommendations may be submitted here. Comments must be received by August 28, 2009. For Further information, you may contact Joseph T. Reilly, associate administrator of NASS at 202.720.4333 or HQ_OA@nass.usda.gov.

National Organic Program Seeking New Director: USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service is seeking a motivated individual to be the Director of the National Organic Program. To view the job announcement, click here.

USDA Schedules Additional NAIS Listening Sessions: On Friday, May 22, USDA announced that is has scheduled additional listening sessions on the National Animal ID System. Cities and dates for the sessions are: Jefferson City, MO (June 9), Rapid City, SD (June 11), Albuquerque, NM (June 16), Riverside, CA (June 18), Raleigh, NC (June 25), and Jasper, FL (June 27). Additional information, including optional pre-registration and instructions on submitting comments if you cannot attend a listening session, are provided in the Federal Register notice.


Familiar Nominee for Number Two Spot at EPA: President Obama has nominated the chief operating officer for the National Audubon Society, Bob Perciasepe, as the EPA Deputy Administrator – the agency’s number two position. He was assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water and in the air office during the Clinton administration. He also served as Maryland’s environment secretary from 1990 to 1993 and an assistant planning director in Baltimore before that.


NSAC Briefing on the Hill on USDA Programs in Action: NSAC intern Mark Hertel organized and presented a briefing in one of the House Agriculture Committee Hearing rooms on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. The event featured several farmers from Maryland and Pennsylvania who presented images of their farms and showed how they have benefited from some of the USDA programs NSAC has helped to create and works to strengthen. Attendees also enjoyed delicious appetizers made with ingredients from the featured farms.

Judy Gifford showed photos of St. Bridgid’s Farm near the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the happy dairy and beef cows she rotationally grazes there. Judy, a former lobbyist and Hill staffer, is an engaging champion of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which awarded her a grant to develop a nutrient management plan on her farm, which she continues to follow.

Catherine and Al Renzi discussed how they have created a successful farm business on just eight acres at Yellow Springs Farm in Pennsylvania. They propagate, grow, and sell many species of unique and hard-to-find native plants, and also manage a small herd of goats. They were awarded a Value-Added Producer Grant in 2008 to assess the feasibility of producing and marketing goat cheese products, which incorporate edible native plants and honey produced on the farm.

Andy Andrews, the manager of Pennypack Farm Education Center in Pennsylvania, explained the importance of the Organic Production and Marketing Data Initiative, and illustrated how CSP has enabled the farm to plant extensive cover crops, warm season grasses and flowering plants for bees and other beneficial insects.

About forty staffers from Congressional offices, the House Agriculture Committee, and USDA attended the event. Committee staff complimented us on a very successful event, and suggested we do it again soon!

Hill Briefing on Concentration in the U.S. Seed Market: On Tuesday, May 19, the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) hosted a Hill briefing on the adverse impact on farmers from concentration in the U.S. seed market. Speakers included Dr. John Boyd, Jr, President of the National Black Farmers Association, Bert Foer, President of the American Anti-Trust Institute, David Domina, a Nebraska lawyer who represents farmers, Ferd Stokes, President of OCM, and Martha Noble, senior policy associate with NSAC. Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-OH) staff assisted in arranging the briefing.

Topics included restrictions on rights of individual farmers’ to save seed, retaliation by Monsanto against farmers who speak out against the seed company mergers, and decreasing availability of seed lines and other aspects arising from seed market consolidation. The need for more public breeding positions at the nation’s Land Grant Universities and the need for publicly available seed was also emphasized. For more information on this issue, see the OCM website.

Categories: General Interest

Comments are closed.