NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – October 31, 2008

November 1, 2008


Presidential Transition Team Project:  The Presidential Elections are right around the corner!  As people get ready to cast their votes, this is an important time to prepare for the next Administration so that our key agricultural issues are considered and acted upon in the first term.

SAC is taking the lead in putting together a briefing book with a set of recommendations and key policy proposals for the presidential transition team.  Please email Aimee Witteman for more information about the project and to send your top recommendations to the SAC staff by November 14.


Update on Economic Stimulus Package:  The potential supplemental appropriations measure that has been discussed in Congress this month moved closer to reality this week.  House Democrats appear to plan to bring an approximately $100 billion economic stimulus package to the floor during a lame duck session the week of Nov. 17.  Leaders discussed federal matching funds for Medicaid, an extension of unemployment benefits, expanded food stamp spending, and money for infrastructure projects focused on creating “green” jobs and alternative energy sources.  No specifics regarding agricultural or rural development have been released, nor were any details immediately available concerning emergency funding for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program.


Beginning Farmer Program Listening Session
:  On Monday, USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) held a stakeholder listening session to receive recommendations about how the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) should be administered.  The BFRDP is a competitive grant program that funds education, extension, outreach, and technical assistance initiatives directed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers of all types.    Originally authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill, the BFRDP never received funding until SAC and its members were successful in winning $75 million in mandatory funding for the program in the new Farm Bill passed earlier this year.

Sustainable and organic agriculture proponents were well-represented at the listening session.  Several SAC member organizations participated, including the Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Delta Land and Community, and the Organic Farming Research Foundation.  The Organic Farming Research Foundation also helped make it possible for two beginning farmers to participate from California and Massachusetts.  Check out a recent post by Lisa Kivirist, farmer, writer, and Food and Society Policy Fellow -who participated in the listening session.

Written comments on the administration of BFRDP are due on November 14.  Please contact SAC staff member Aimee Witteman if you would like more information.

GIPSA Hearings on Farm Bill Livestock Title Provisions:  Last week, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration concluded the last of three public listening sessions on provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill’s Livestock Title that could provide livestock and poultry growers with improvements in their contract relations with processors.  At an October 16 session in Iowa, John Crabtree, representing the Center for Rural Affairs, urged GIPSA to adopt regulations that prevent packers from offering smaller hog farmers less money per hog than producers who provide more animals, unless the packer can document real costs associated with dealing with smaller farmers.

A GIPSA official at the Iowa listening session indicated that proposed regulations implementing the new provisions would not be issued until next year and that regulations would not be finalized until 2010.  SAC will be working with our partner organizations to urge the next administration to implement these regulations on a faster timeline.  We will also recommend that USDA recognize that some provisions of the Livestock Title, such as the right for farmers to opt out of mandatory arbitration clauses in production contracts, are self-executing and do not require USDA to issue regulations, but rather require immediate enforcement activities.

USDA-DOE Biofuels Workshop:  On Tuesday and Wednesday, SAC staffer Martha Noble participated in a joint USDA-DOE workshop on sustainable biofuels which focused on the state of the science on biofuels and future directions.  The workshop included breakout sessions on research needs for ecology, economics and land use, social and technological change, water demand, supply and quality, and game-changing scenarios.  Participants in each workshop recommended five research needs which could help develop a sustainable cellulosic biofuels economy, as well as analyze potential impacts and benefits of an expanded cellulosic biofuels sector.

The Social and Technological Change Group made recommendations that USDA assess cellulosic biofuel development as part of a regional energy need and supply assessment and that research include a focus on helping farmers to reduce energy use and develop on-farm energy from an array of sources including solar, wind and biomass energy incorporated into diverse farming systems.  Written reports and recommendations from the workshop are being prepared to be submitted to USDA and DOE.

Farmers Market Consortium Meeting
:  On Wednesday, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) held a Farmers Market Consortium meeting.  Errol Bragg, Director of Marketing Services for AMS, presented FY 2008 numbers for the Farmers Market Promotion Program:

Fiscal Year 2008 – FMPP Applications    225
Funds Requested    $12,654,968
States with submitted applications    48
Grants awarded    85
States receiving grants    43
Funds awarded    $3,400,000
Average grant size    $40,000

Participants from the Drake Law Center, the General Services Administration of the US government, and the Project for Public Spaces presented information on direct marketing and using federal spaces for farmers markets.  A representative from the USDA discussed USDA’s efforts to bring more locally produced food to its own cafeteria.  A representative from the Specialty Crop Block Program encouraged people to visit the programs updated website www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp.  For further notes from the event, please contact Kathryn at kberndtson@sustainableagriculturecoalition.org.

Risk Management Partnership Awards Announced
:  On October 27, 2008, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced the recipients of $8.78 million in awarded agricultural risk management partnership agreements to fund projects developing risk management tools for traditionally under-served farmers and ranchers.  Fifty partnerships, totaling just over $4 million, were awarded to community outreach and assistance programs.  Another $4.36 million was awarded by the Targeted States program to partnerships in 15 traditionally under-served states, including the northeastern states plus NV, UT, and WY.   Under the Commodity Small Sessions Partnerships program, $335,646 was awarded to 34 recipients for educational conferences and sessions.

In the 2008 Farm Bill, RMA- run program funding was cut from $20 million a year to $12.5 million a year, with additional funding taken away by the appropriations bill and by administrative action transferring funding to an account to improve RMA computer systems.  The net result was a reduction in the number of awards given and less money given to each than in previous years.

Congratulations to the following SAC members who received awards:

•    Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA) received $100,000 to advance economic viability, social equity and ecological management among aspiring, limited resource and immigrant farmers.
•    California FarmLink received $100,000 to provide trainings and technical assistance that promote risk management strategies.
•    Land Stewardship Project received $50,000 for preparing farmers to successfully manage risks and meet their farming goals.
•    Michigan Food and Farming Systems received $100,000 to provide educational opportunities and access to risk management tools for small scale, limited resource and minority producers.
•    Michigan Land Use Institute received $80,000 for training and tools in NW and lower MI to manage risks among underserved and aspiring farmers.
•    Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) received $38,660 to deliver training and risk management information to producers from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
•    National Center to Appropriate Technology received $9,978 to provide science-based information and on-farm experiences to address advanced issues regarding reduced risk in oilseed production.

SAC Submits Research Regulation Comments
:  On Thursday, SAC submitted comments on a two-part interim final rule pertaining to general provisions for all competitive grants programs administered by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service as well as specific provisions for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.  SAC lauded the agency for its new rules on the make up of grant review panels and on the evaluation criteria for ranking proposals, but urged the agency to make a variety of changes on other sections as they develop the final rule for publication early next year.


Briefing Paper on Sustainable Ag, Climate Change, and Food Security: The Oakland Institute released “Sustainable Agriculture: Meeting Food Security Needs, Addressing Climate Change Challenges,” a briefing paper that outlines the significant contributions sustainable agriculture can make to increased food production, as well as rural populations’ welfare and livelihoods.

New ERS Report on Organic Handlers: A new report by USDA’s Economic Research Service confirms a shortage of domestic supply in the organic sector and discusses how organic handlers have responded to the supply constraints they face.  The report, “Using Vertically Coordinated Relationships to Overcome Tight Supply in the Organic Market,” explains that organic handlers and the intermediaries in the supply chain who purchase ingredients, pack, ship, manufacture, process, and distribute organic products, are relying on contracts much more than their conventional counterparts do to ensure adequate supply and build relationships with suppliers.  A number of organic handlers are also working with inexperienced suppliers who have been in business less than a year.  The handlers are providing technical assistance to suppliers on organic standards and production as a way to build relationships and increase products flowing to their businesses.  A small number of handlers are also assisting farmers directly in transitioning to organic production to increase market supply.

Categories: General Interest

One response to “Weekly Update – October 31, 2008”

  1. Jim Spence says:

    Jim Spence…

    I found this video about OLPCorps : a proposed summer grant program for student initiatives … quite different than ones that I found before. Do you have any more? Thanks…