NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – November 2, 2009

November 2, 2009


Farmer Input Needed for EQIP Organic Initiative Survey:  The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is seeking the input of conventional and organic farmers to help improve the 2010 Organic Initiative – a program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  Offered first in 2009 as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the program distributed $50 million to support farmers’ transition to certified organic production and to existing certified organic farmers for transitioning additional acres to certified organic production.

OFRF wants to hear from conventional and organic producers; from producers who applied to the Organic Initiative and from those who didn’t.  All survey responses are confidential and will be used to provide feedback to NRCS on how to improve the program.  Click here for more information and here to complete the survey.  And please distribute the link among your farmer members and urge them to complete the survey by November 10th.

Beginning Farmer Comments Due:  Comments on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Interim Final Rule are due Tuesday, November 3.  A copy of the Federal Register notice of proposed rulemaking is here.

You can submit comments by email to: RFP-OEP@csrees.usda.gov or at www.regulations.gov.  Be sure to include the Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 0524-AA59 in the subject line of the message.  You can also fax comments to: 202-401-7752.

A copy of NSAC’s comments on the BFRDP interim final rule are here.


Senate Hearings on Climate Change Legislation:  Last week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a three-day marathon hearing session, with 54 witnesses, on the Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act (S.1733).  This climate change bill is sponsored by the Committee chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA).

USDA Secretary Vilsack, who was out of the country, was not among the Obama cabinet Secretaries testifying in person although he did submit a statement for the record.

The only agriculture sector witness testifying at the hearing was Bob Stallman President of the American Farm Bureau Federation.  He stated that the Federation is opposed to both S. 1733 and the recently passed House climate change bill H.R. 2454 because the cap-and-trade proposal in the bills will not offset higher energy costs to farmers.  Roger Johnson, the President of the National Farmers Union, submitted a statement criticizing the bill for lacking a “robust and flexible” agriculture offset program but also emphasizing that climate change legislation is needed to help the agriculture sector deal with some of the potential severe effects of climate change.

Webcasts of the hearings and witness statements are posted here.

Senator Boxer has scheduled a markup of S.1733 for next Tuesday, November 3 but the markup may be blocked by Republicans.  All seven Republicans on the Committee have reportedly agreed to boycott a markup session pending completion of the EPA’s economic analysis of the bill.  The Committee rules require that at least two Republicans be present for the markup in order to establish a quorum for the Committee.

Meanwhile, other Senate committees, including the Agriculture Committee, are moving forward with proposals within their jurisdiction for the bill.  Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), taking the lead for the Agriculture Committee, is drafting an agriculture and forest title for the bill which would establish agriculture and forestry allowances to help fund projects and activities and agricultural offsets for a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.  No date has yet been set for incorporating this measure and other measures from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Finance Committee.

House Agriculture Committee Hearing on Biofuels:  On Thursday, October 29, the Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research of the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review the future of next generation biofuels, i.e biofuels from feedstock other than corn ethanol.  The hearing focused primarily on federal subsidies for construction of next generation biofineries provided in the 2008 Farm Bill and other legislation.

Dallas Tonsager, USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development and Rajiv Shah, USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics testified as did an number of representatives from companies looking for funding for next generation biofuels research and financing.  Most of the company representatives stated that credit for any biofuel venture is tight, especially with recent bankruptcies of a number of corn ethanol enterprises, including Vera Sun the largest corn ethanol producer. Under Secretary Tonsager noted that some applications for federal loan guarantees in the Farm Bill’s Section 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program were denied because no lender would back the project.  In addition to having the USDA shoulder more of the financing costs, some company representatives called on Congress to extend the cellulosic fuels production tax credit to cover all fuels produced before 2022 instead of the current 2012 cutoff.


Deputy Secretary Merrigan to Announce BFRDP Awards:  On Tuesday, November 3, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will be the announcing the recipients of the first round of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program awards.  Her announcement will be made from a farm in Wabasha County, Minnesota, that is the home to Eric and Lisa Klein, graduates of the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program.  Among the FY 2009 BFRDP award recipients are NSAC members California Farmlink, Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), Land Stewardship Project, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).

NSAC was a key advocate in helping to create the BFRDP program in 2002 and then secure $75 million in mandatory funding for the program over the next five years in the 2008 Farm Bill.   BFRDP provides competitive grants to community-based organizations, non-profits, universities, and local and federal governments that provide training, mentoring, land-link, and other forms of support for beginning farmers and ranchers.

For more information about the program, visit the NSAC Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill.


Conservation Stewardship Program Comments:  The public comment period on the Interim Final Rule for the new Conservation Stewardship Program closed Wednesday, October 28.  We will report in a future edition about the number and type of comments received.  In the meantime, you can read the comments submitted by NSAC here.

Organic Research Awards Announced:  On Friday, October 30, Deputy Secretary Merrigan announced $19 million in awards through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Integrated Organic and Water Quality Program.  The grants are directed towards projects that research various aspects of organic farming systems, ranging from barriers to the sector’s growth to impacts of organics on water quality. Winning mandatory funding for OREI was an NSAC 2008 Farm Bill priority.

Among the awards: $1.2 million to North Carolina State for farmer-driven assessment and support for public plant breeding for field crops; $1 million to Washington State for extension and applied research on dryland grain, forage and intercropping systems, and $1 million to Iowa State for a 3-state (IA, KY, PA) integrated project on pest and pollination concerns with cucurbits.  A full list of awards with abstracts is available here.
USDA Looks at Rural – Urban Linkages: USDA co-sponsored a workshop on Friday, October 30, with International Partners for Sustainable Agriculture and Heifer Project to discuss ways to increase food security while supporting sustainable production at home and abroad.  The emphasis was on the need to develop regional food systems to counter rising food prices as a result of volatile and rising energy costs and reduce agriculture’s contribution to greeenhouse gas emssions.  The primary audience was USDA agency personnel.

Several international speakers emphasized that there will be serious pressures on food production with  increasing urbanization, anticipating that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

Domestically, planning for regional food systems is increasing as more areas develop Food Policy Councils and professional planners begin to understand that food systems are integral to a community’s health.  Speakers also emphasized the potential that public health and nutrition programs, including the Women’s, Infant’s, and Childrens’ Program (WIC) and National School Lunch Program, have to support the growth of regional agriculture if benefits are targeted to local food products.

There was considerable discussion of the need to improve rural infrastructure and increase small and mid-scale processing for regional food systems to be able to scale up to meet the food demand of cities.  Unfortunately, there were no representatives from USDA’s Rural Developement Agency to discuss the Value-Added Producer Grant program’s new 10% reserve fund ($1.8 million in FY 10) to support the development of mid-tier value chains or the $85 million in Business and Industry Loan Guarantees for FY 2010 to support regional food system businesses.

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan closed the meeting with a request that the participants continue to talk with the Department and to share their knowledge of successful projects so that they can be added to the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website.

Beginning and Socially Disadvantage Farmer Loans in 2009: Congress responded to the financial crisis in farm lending by substantially increasing funding for farm operating and ownership loans through emergency funding in the economic recovery and supplemental appropriations bills for 2009.  Funding was also increased for 2010 in the recently passed agricultural appropriations bill.  For a table of appropriations levels, see the NSAC appropriations chart.

Despite the economic downturn, Down Payment Loans for first-time land acquisition by beginning and minority farmers took a big upturn since passage of the 2008 Farm Bill.  The farm bill lowered the interest rate and the new farmer down payment amount and also increased the value of land which could be financed, all of which combined to send the loan program skyrocketing.  The program has financed 1,100 farmers with a total of $147 million in loans in 2008 and 2009, compared to the nearly 3,000 beginning farmers assisted with $131 million in loans in the previous 14 years of the program’s existence combined.

The program continues to perform best in states that have State first time farmer loan and tax programs.  For instance, the top three states – Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas – accounted for nearly 50 percent of the total number of loans, and are followed by Ohio, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Indiana, of which only Ohio does not have a state program.  Those top ten states accounted for 83 percent of total down payment loan borrowers these past two years.

In FY 2009, the Farm Service Agency made or guaranteed about $4.5 billion in loans to 34,210 farmers, including over 20,000 farmers receiving direct operating loans.

The farm bill targets a percentage of loan funds to beginning and to minority farmers — details are included in the NSAC farm bill guide.  About 14,500 beginning farmers received loans totaling $1.5 billion.  Nearly half of all direct operating loans and over 70 percent of direct ownership loans went to beginning farmers, just shy of the farm bill targets of 50 and 75 percent, respectively.  While direct loans were close to the target rates, guaranteed loans were off by nearly half the 40 percent target rate.

Socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, including minority and women farmers, received over 5,600 loans in FY 2009, including over 4,400 direct operating loans.  In dollars, these loans equaled 14 and 15 percent of total direct operating and ownership loans, and 7 and 9 percent of guaranteed operating and ownership loans, respectively.

NSAC has advocated for credit funding and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer credit programs and targets since the late 1980s.


Food Safety Updates: On Sunday, November 1, the Department of Health and Human Services announced in the Federal Register that the FDA in collaboration with the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service will be holding a joint public meeting on traceability (tracing foods along their supply chains).  The meeting will be held December 9 and 10 at the USDA in Washington D.C. and is open to the public.

Also, later this week, NSAC expects the FDA to announce a 60-day extension for comments on the new food safety guidance for melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

EPA Issues Regulation for Greenhouse Gas Reporting with Livestock Operations Included:  On Friday, the EPA issued a final Clean Air Act regulation for the mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would require reporting of GHG emissions from manure management activities of very large livestock operations.  A livestock facility that emits 25,000 metric tons of COs equivalent or more per year from manure management systems must report.  EPA estimates that about 100 very large livestock operations would meet the threshold for reporting.

The regulation becomes effective on December 29, 2009.  Congressional action, however, may block the rule’s application to livestock manure management.  On Tuesday, House and Senate conferees on the FY2010 Interior and EPA Approriations bill agreed to include language in the bill that would place a one year moratorium prohibiting the EPA from requiring mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting from manure management systems.

EPA Issues Clean Water Act Enforcement Plan with Emphasis on CAFOs:  On October 15, the EPA issued a Clean Water Act Enforcement Action Plan in conjunction with testimony of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Both the Report and Administrator Jackson’s testimony targeted pollution from CAFOs as a threat to the nation’s surface waters and to drinking water sources. The Action Plan is short on detail but does state that EPA will pursue “new strategies to enforce existing rules limiting pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), especially where they occur in areas close to imperiled waters.”

The House Committee also heard from other federal agencies and individuals representing communities adversely impacted by water pollution. Witnesses included Wisconsin resident Judy Treml, whose family was infected with virulent E. coli which ran into their well from manure applied by a neighboring dairy.

Categories: General Interest

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