October 20, 2009
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.
NSAC’s Food Safety on the Farm: Policy Brief and Recommendations is now available! The brief examines some of the current legislative food safety proposals that have been introduced in the 111th Congress, as well as administrative developments within the Obama Administration, the FDA, and the USDA. The paper concludes with NSAC’s policy recommendations grounded in the experience and interest of small and mid-sized family farmers.
National SARE Meeting: Last Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Operations Committee of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program met in Washington, DC, to discuss regional activities and updates, outreach, and budget. The Committee discussed at length new strategies for growth, as well as how to respond to the changing research climate at USDA.
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan made a guest appearance at the meeting, during which she discussed her history with and hopes for the program, and described USDA’s new ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ Initiatve. NIFA Director Roger Beachy also attended part of the meeting, and outlined his priorities for research and sought feedback on the role of SARE and sustainable agriculture at the new agency. NSAC Research, Education, and Extension committee chair, Brise Tencer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, attended the meeting, as did NSAC staff Ferd Hoefner and Ariane Lotti.
NSAC Submits Comments on the Beginning Farmer Program: On Friday, October 16, NSAC submitted comments to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) (formerly called the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service – CSREES) on the 2009 Request for Applications for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
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 or the new NIFA BFRDP website here.
NSAC Submits Credit Rule Comments: NSAC submitted public comments on the Farm Service Agency on the proposed rulemaking with respect to farm credit. The comments emphasized the need to implement strong credit graduation features and to urge Congress to then overturn existing term limits that are preventing otherwise qualified farmers from receiving needed loans.
Hearing Set for Boxer-Kerry Climate Change Legislation: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has announced that the Committee will start a 3-day hearing on the Boxer-Kerry climate change bill (S.1733) on October 27. The first witnesses will be administrative agency and cabinet heads including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. Other witnesses have not yet been announced.
Senator Boxer indicated that she would like to have her Committee began markup on the bill early in November. Other Senate committees, notably the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, are also working on parts of climate change legislation relevant to their Committees. Senator Lincoln, chair of Agriculture, has not yet set dates for agriculture hearings. Senator Baucus (D-MT), chair of the Finance Committee, has said that his Committee will address the issues of international trade and emission allowance allocations, but has also not announced hearing dates. The process and timetable for how a final bill will be marked up and melded together has not yet been announced by Senate leadership.
NSAC Delivers Petition on Beginning Farmers to USDA: On Monday, October 19, NSAC delivered a letter signed by 80 grassroots organizations and 7,500 individuals urging Secretary Vilsack and the USDA to move forward with swift implementation of the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Option. The Transition Option is a new provision that NSAC and others helped to secure in the 2008 Farm Bill. It provides incentives for CRP landowners who do not extend their CRP contracts or re-enroll in CRP to transfer the land to beginning or minority farmers and ranchers who will use sustainable and organic grazing, cropping, and mixed cropping-grazing systems.
Rather than implement the Transition Option immediately, however, the Farm Service Agency of USDA is holding up its implementation while it conducts a multi-year supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to review policies options concerning land enrolled in the CRP. While the SEIS is relevant for land that remains in the CRP, the Transition Option is only for land that is leaving the CRP, making it inappropriate to include in the SEIS.
To read the final letter submitted to Secretary Vilsack click here.
NSAC to Testify at Senate HELP Food Safety Hearing: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold its hearing on pending food safety legislation, over which it holds jurisdiction, on Thursday, October 22 at 10 AM eastern. Russell Libby, Executive Director of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, will be tesifying to present the views of sustainable and organic agriculture and small and mid-sized farms. Libby will be jointed by witnesses from FDA, Grocery Manufacturers Association, United Fresh Produce Association, and Center for Science in the Public Interest. You can listen to the hearing from this page on the committee website.
Dr. Molly Jahn New REE Deputy Undersecretary: On Monday, October 12, the University of Wisconsin-Madision announced that Dr. Molly Jahn, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University, will be serving as USDA’s Deputy Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics beginning November 9. Jahn plans to serve a one-year term and will oversee three of the four research agencies at USDA — the Economic Research Service, the Agricultural Research Sevice, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Before serving as Dean of CALS, Jahn was a professor of plant breeding and genomics and plant biology at Cornell University. She also directed the Public Seed Initiative and the Organic Seed Partnership to promote genetic diversity and improve use of public plant varities. Historical tidbit: Dr. Jahn’s gave one of her very first public speeches as Dean at a 2006 SAC meeting!
Specialty Crop Block Grants Announced: On Thursday, October 15, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the award of $49 million dollars to fund 745 projects through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, a program designed to increase the competitiveness of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops. Merrigan noted that some of the state-selected projects would increase the competitiveness of small farms and producers, support local agricultural interests, and create more opportunities for farmers to market directly to consumers.
Among the recipients are NSAC members Dakota Rural Action, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), Georgia Organics, Illinois Stewardship Allliance, Kansas Rural Center, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, Kerr Center, and Fay-Penn Economic Development Council. If we have possibly missed you, or you have additional information about block grant awards important to sustainable agriculture, please contact Lucy Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org. A summary of all of the recipients is here.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE NEWS
Department of Justice Approves JBS Acquisition of Pilgrim’s Pride Poultry: Though the Department of Justice recently announced that it will hold listening sessions on the concentration of the livestock and poultry processing sector and its impact on farmers and consumers in 2010, in the meantime, it looks like business as usual. On Wednesday, October 14, after less than a month’s investigation, the Department announced that it does not object to the acquisition of the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing firm by JBS, which is already the world’s largest beef processor and the No. 3 hog processor in the U.S. With the acquisition of Pilgrim’s Pride, JBS will also hold about 23 percent of the poultry processing capacity in the U.S.
Pilgrim’s Pride is undergoing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy workout in a North Texas District Court. Last year the company netted $8.5 billion. Under the JBS deal, JBS will pay $800 million for a majority stake and will pay off Pilgrim’s Pride creditors in full. Remaining shareholders will get new stock worth about $450 million.
There are some losers in the deal. During the Chapter 11 proceedings, the court allowed Pilgrim’s Pride to cancel contracts with some 300 poultry growers in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Florida and the company also shuttered a number of processing plants. JBS has not yet announced which plants, if any, it will reopen. In addition, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the United Steelworkers International Union, and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union had reportedly agreed to eliminate pension plans, change overtime rules and standardize paid holidays in order to save Pilgrim’s Pride about $23.4 million a year
Red Ink: On Friday, October 16, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report estimating the size of the deficit and debt if Congress stays on its current course with respect to big ticket items in the budget. On the same day, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced that the deficit for FY 2009 is now estimated at $1.4 trillion, or nearly 10 percent of GDP. The GAO found that without course corrections on entitlements, taxes, war, and health care, within ten years the national debt will exceed 109 percent of GDP, the current all-time high achieved at the conclusion of World War II.
Categories: General Interest