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Weekly Update – October 12, 2009

October 12, 2009


CRP Transition Option Sign On Ends October 13th!
Last Chance to add your organization’s name to our sign on letter urging USDA to implement the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Transition Option NOW.

The option will offer incentives to land owners not intending to renew their CRP contracts to sell or lease the land to beginning or minority farmers using sustainable or organic farming practices.  To sign on, just send an email to Annette@sustainableagriculture.net by Tuesday of this week.

NSAC has also launched a petition for individuals to sign.  Please sign on to the letter and circulate this petition.

The option has been swept up in a CRP program wide Environmental Impact Review expected to take at least two years.  4.3 million acres are expected to come out of the CRP program over the next two years.  That’s 4.3 million missed opportunities to put the land under wildlife-friendly sustainable or organic production and to provide economic opportunity and entry to beginning and minority farmers.

The Des Moines Register ran an article on the issue on Sunday, October 11.

CSP Comments Due October 28!

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is seeking comments on the administrative rules that will govern implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program.  The deadline for submitting comments has been extended to October 28th.  NSAC analysis and talking points for writing your comments are available here.  You can submit your comment online here.


FY 2010 Agriculture Appropriations Bill Passes:  This week the Agriculture Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2010 was passed by the Senate (76-22) and the House (263-162).  For the bill’s full text, click here.   For an analysis of how sustainable agriculture appropriations priorities fared, read last week’s Weekly Update and NSAC’s final appropriations chart.

House Ag Subcommittee Holds Conservation Hearing:  On Wednesday, October 7, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research held a hearing on implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill’s Conservation Title programs.  Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White and Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Jonathan Coppess were the only witnesses.  Their statements are available here.

The two issues of greatest concern at the hearing were  Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding and the prospects for a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up in 2010.  In addition, Chair Tim Holden (D-PA) asked about the Conservation Stewardship Program sign-up to which Chief White replied that over 21,000 applications were received covering about 33 million acres during the first sign-up which ended on September 30.  Chief White also noted that the next CSP ranking and sign-up would likely occur in January 2009.

Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) stated at length his objection to the new Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative announced by NRCS on September 23.  Goodlatte objected because, unlike the Chesapeake Bay watershed program that benefits farmers in his district, the new Initiative was not specifically authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.  He also objected to the Mississippi Initiative funding through the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative because the funding was in addition to the minimum level specified in the Farm Bill.

Larry Kissell (D-NC) and Bobby Bright (D-AL) expressed concern about the concentration of the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program in the West, with awards for 15 out of 63 projects going to California.

Representative Jerry Moran (R-K) questioned FSA Administrator Coppess at length about the CRP environmental impact review which will likely delay a CRP general sign-up until 2011.  Coppess responded that FSA could extend expiring contracts and conduct signups for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the continuous CRP without having to complete the environmental review.  However, the 2008 Farm Bill changes to the CRP are on hold and there will be no general sign-up for the CRP in 2009 or 2010.

Innovations in Child Nutrition Act?:  On Thursday, October 8, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities held a hearing on innovations that are improving the way the national school breakfast and lunch programs work.  Witness testimony and questions and comments by Representatives  focused on how to make the meals better so that children will actually eat and be nourished by them and how to use meals as a catalyst for effective, participatory nutrition education that could affect how whole families eat.  The testimony is available here.

The two recurring themes from the witnesses were the importance of breakfast and increasing fresh fruits and vegetables in the school meals.  Westbury, NY and Baltimore, MD saw school breakfast participation surge after they introduced new healthy menus and a boxed breakfast that can be eaten in the classroom. Subcommittee Chairwoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), a  nurse, emphasized the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables several times in her opening statement and subsequent witnesses reinforced the message. Deborah Yargar-Reed of Biglerville Elementary School in Ranking Minority Member Rep. Platts’ district in southern PA talked about school and family nutrition events the school sponsors, including a fall apple festival with all locally grown apples.

The star witnesses were undoubtedly Baltimore City School Food Service Director Tony Geraci and Alice Sheehan, a Baltimore City Public School 8th grader and member of her school’s lunch committee.  Ms. Sheehan summed up the wisdom of many.  “Everybody deserves to have fresh, tasty and yummy food.  If possible, why not make it local food?  Why buy apples from Washington State when you can get them right here in Maryland at a cheaper price?  We should think about our meals not as nutritional packages, but as food that people like and want to eat, with fresh ingredients and tasting like it should.”  The audience in the staid Rayburn Building hearing room gave Ms. Sheehan a round of applause when she finished her testimony.  The Baltimore City schools now source all of the fresh produce used locally, according to Mr. Geraci.

Locally-sourced food also got resounding support from Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) who pointed out that his rural district has child obesity rates about equal to those of Mr. Geraci’s inner city Baltimore students.  A doctor, he emphasized the critical importance of starting good eating habits early in childhood and said that school’s purchasing locally is a “tremendous thing to do.”

Matthew Sharp of California Food Policy Advocates encouraged lawmakers to permit direct certification for free school lunch for children receiving Medicaid or State Child Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). California already does direct certification for children receiving SNAP (food stamp) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which has saved California schools “tens of millions of dollars” that can be spent on improved food.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture Launched:  On Thursday, October 8, Secretary Vilsack joined Research Under Secretary Shah, NIFA Director Roger Beachy, and the President’s Science and Technology Advisor, John Holdren, in launching USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the new name of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES).  A USDA press release on the event is available here.

The Administration is using this name change as an opportunity to try to elevate government agricultural research to the stature of health and scientific research under the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, respectively, as well as to push for greater funding for competitive grant research programs and to reorganize the agency.

While continuing the programs and responsibilities of CSREES, NIFA will be divided into the following four institutes plus one center:  food production and sustainability; bioenergy, climate, and environment; food safety and nutrition; youth and community development; and the Center for International Programs.  The institutes reflect the Administration’s agricultural research priorities and will focus research efforts on the accompanying challenges — ensuring global food security and eliminating hunger, overcoming climate change, producing sustainable energy, eliminating childhood obesity, and ensuring food safety.

While NSAC supports the renewed interest in funding agricultural research, there is significant concern that the Administration is taking a limited, narrow approach to addressing these challenges through its appointment of Roger Beachy and the subsequent strong focus of Thursday’s event on the use of biotechnology and nanotechnology in addressing these challenges and in enabling agricultural sustainability.

Travels with Leafy (Greens):  The third week of hearings on the proposed national Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement took place this week in Columbus, Ohio and Denver, Colorado.  Last week, a hearing was held in Jacksonville, Florida and the previous week, as reported on by the NSAC Weekly Update, the hearing was held in Monterey, California.  NSAC members Carol Goland (Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association) and Brian Snyder (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) testified at the Ohio hearing.  Marty Mesh, (Florida Organic Growers) testified in Florida.  Allies from the National Organic Coalition and Food and Water Watch have also been testifying at each of the hearings.

Three more hearings are scheduled in Yuma, AZ (Oct 14-15), Syracuse, NY (Oct 20), Charlotte, NC (Oct 22).  Please contact Kate Fitzgerald in the NSAC office if you would like copies of testimony.


RMAP Proposed Rule Published:  A proposed rule on the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, October 7.  Public comments on the proposed rule must be received by November 23, 2009.  Details for submissions are included at the beginning of the proposed rule.

NSAC and its members helped to create RMAP in the 2008 Farm Bill.  It is authorized for $4 million in annual mandatory funding for 2009 through 2011.  The just-passed agricultural appropriations bill provides $5 million in additional funding.  Because the program was not implemented in 2009, for 2010 there will be a total of $13 million available.

The new rule proposes both grants and loans be awarded to Microenterprise Development Organizations which will provide technical assistance, loan serving, and marketing management to rural microenterprises, including agricultural businesses.  For more detailed information on RMAP, please see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill.

A future edition of the Weekly Update will carry an action alert and key talking points to help guide public comments on RMAP.

33 Million Acres in 2009 CSP Applications:  In a press release and in congressional testimony this past week, USDA announced tentative totals for stage one of the 2009 Conservation Stewardship Program sign-up — over 21,000 farmer and rancher applications representing a total of nearly 33 million acres of crop, pasture, range, and forested land.  The USDA press release stated that the state-by-state acreage breakout was available on the Natural Resource Conservation Service CSP website, but that actually turned out not to be the case.  For 2009 as for future years, 12.8 million acres are available for enrollment.  The 25.6 million acres to be enrolled in 2009 and 2010 and those producers will receive the first of their five annual CSP payments in October 2010.

Advance Conservation Payments for Beginning and Minority Farmers Due to Start Soon:  One of NSAC’s farm bill wins to assist beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers with conservation assistance was allowance for up to 30 percent of the cost of conservation improvements to be paid upfront, in advance of the implementation of the conservation practice.  In order to implement the 2008 provision, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has needed to re-tool computer software and program business tools.  NRCS expects to be finished with the work within the next month and will then be able to start implementing the provision to help beginning and minority farmers with advance assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.


EPA Undertaking New Review of the Herbicide Atrazine:  The EPA has issued a public notice that it is commencing a review of the effects of the widely used herbicide atrazine on human health.  The review, to be conducted by an EPA Science Advisory Panel, will begin in November 2009 and continue through most of 2010.  It will focus on scientific studies since the completion of an EPA review in 2003 which concluded that the levels of all triazine pesticides, including atrazine, were below the level of regulatory concern.  Atrazine is applied to about 60 percent of U.S. corn and its use has increased recently as farmers use it on weeds that have developed resistance to Round-Up and other glyphosate herbicides.

Atrazine is the leading pesticide contaminant of surface and groundwater.  In addition, a number of scientific studies indicate that atrazine is highly mobile and can travel hundreds of miles from its application point in snow and rain.  It is highly toxic to a number of aquatic species and has been implicated in a steep decline in amphibian species.  EPA indicated in the announcement that after the review for human health effects is completed, the agency will commence a review of atrazine’s effects on amphibians and aquatic habitats.  Detailed information about EPA’s review of atrazine is available on the EPA’s Atrazine Update website.


OCM Report Challenges GAO Report on Concentration:  On Monday, October 5, the Organization for Competitive Markets released a Special Report, entitled The Debilitating Effects of Concentration in Markets Affecting Agriculture, which demonstrates that market concentration for major raw food products hurts both producers and consumers.

The report is in response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued in June that concluded that the concentration of buying power for farmers’ products in the hands of a few processing firms does not adversely affect producer or consumer prices.  Both the OCM report and the GAO report are posted on the OCM website.

The OCM report was prepared by OCM Senior Legal Fellow & General Counsel, David A. Domina, and OCM Senior Economic Fellow, Dr. C. Robert Taylor and reviewed by more than 20 academics, antitrust lawyers, and producers.  The report concludes that GAO’s methodologies were flawed, leading to incorrect conclusions.  It provides documentation that U.S. farmers and ranchers face market concentration for both inputs they purchase, like seed and fertilizers, and for harvested goods and livestock which they sell.  This concentration ultimately raises the cost of food to consumers.  The authors also point out the economic risks of having a food system dependent on a few large food processing companies considered “too big to fail.”  They note that as with the U.S. and international banking systems, the failure of one of these mega-firms can reverberate throughout the food system.

New Study on Successful Food Companies:  On Wednesday, October 7, the Crossroads Resource Center published a new study exploring the Minnesota food system and concluding that there is an emerging group of successful food companies that are built on more than just the economic bottom line.  According to Ken Meter, the study’s author and President of CRC, “these firms value trusting relationships.  Second, they plan for an uncertain future – especially the fact we don’t know if we will have oil, or at what cost, in a few years.  Third, successful firms build a business that recycles resources within the state, rather than exporting them.”

Loni Kemp a Farm Foundation Policy Competition Winner:  On Tuesday, October 6, the Farm Foundation announced the winners of a competition for essays on public policy development to meet agriculture and food system challenges over the next 30 years.

Among the winners is Loni Kemp for her climate change essay Greener Biofuels Tax Credits: A Policy to Drive Multiple Goals.  Until recently, Kemp served as the long-time Senior Policy Analyst for the Minnesota Project during which time she testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the need for a comprehensive, sustainable bioenergy program in the 2008 Farm Bill, which ultimately emerged into the new Biomass Crop Assistance Program.

Loni is now an independent consultant whose projects include writing the recently released NSAC publication The Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Loni’s essay is posted with the other winning essays on the Farm Foundation website.

Congratulations Loni!

Awards and Scholarships for Sustainable Agriculture! The Natural Resources Defense Council (NFDC) announced that it is accepting nominations for its second annual “Growing Green” awards.  A cash prize of $10,000 is given to the outstanding individual in each of four categories: Food Producer, Business Leader, Thought Leader, and Water Steward.  Last year’s winners included Will Allen of Growing Power, Fedele Bauccio of Bon Appetit Management Company, and James Harvie of the Institute for a Sustainable Future. Nominations are due December 4, 2009.

Also, Annie’s Homegrown is awarding $50,000 in scholarships to graduate and undergraduate students studying sustainable and organic agriculture.

Categories: General Interest

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