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Weekly Update – October 5, 2009

October 5, 2009


One Week Left 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.  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.  Read the letter for organizations to sign. To sign on, just send an email to Annette@sustainableagriculture.net.

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


Agriculture Appropriations Bill Moves Through Conference:  On Wednesday, September 30, the FY 2010 agriculture appropriations bill was approved by the House-Senate Conference Committee, allocating $23.3 billion (about $300 million more than the President requested, but about $300 million less than the Senate bill provided) to fund discretionary food and agriculture programs.

For highlights from the bill, keep on reading; for funding details on the many programs we follow, click here to view NSAC’s appropriations chart.

The conference report will be voted on by the full House and the Senate, which is likely to happen this week.  This will be the first time in a very long time that the bill has been finished very close to the October 1 start of the fiscal year.

Conservation — As was true of the underlying House and Senate bills, the final bill rejected all of the cuts to farm bill conservation programs proposed by President Obama and Secretary Vilsack with the exception of a $270 million cut in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and a zeroing out of the small watershed dam rehab program.

Research — The bill significantly increases funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative from $201.5 million in 2009 to $262.5 million in 2010.  The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program received a tiny increase, rising from 19.0 to $19.2 million ($14.5 for research and education, $4.7 million for extension and outreach), the Organic Transitions Research Program is increased from $1.8 million to $5 million, and the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives is funded at $750,000. There were not cuts to mandatory funding for beginning farmer, minority farmer, organic, or specialty crop competitive grants programs.

Rural Development and Marketing — The bill makes modest increases to rural development and marketing programs.  It funds the Value-Added Producer Grant Program at $20.4 million, up from $18.9 million, and the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas at $2.8 million, up from $2.6 million.  The Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) is funded at $9 million, $17 million short of the President’s request but $5 million more than its mandatory level.  RMAP will actually have $13 million available next year including $4 million in mandatory funding carried forward from 2009.

Credit — The bill increases funding for direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loans above the levels in either the House or Senate bills.  The increase was necessitated by the continuing financial crisis and the high demand for government-assisted credit.  In 2009, Congress provided increased resources via supplemental appropriations.  By increasing the funding now in the regular appropriations bill, they may avoid the need for emergency appropriations next spring.

Child Nutrition — As expected, the appropriations bill includes a measure to extend child nutrition programs by one year, given that Congress failed to reauthorize the programs before they expired on September 30.  This move allows Congress to come back to the child nutrition bill next year.

The bill steps beyond the bounds of normal appropriations authority and legislates increases in mandatory spending for child nutrition programs by $148 million, including $85 million in summer feeding demonstration projects, $25 million in grants to states to improve participation in free meals, $5 million in bonus payments to states that encourage breastfeeding, $25 million in grants to schools for kitchen equipment, and $8 million in grants to improve nutrition and physical activities in child care facilities.

The primary reason Congress did not reauthorize the child nutrition programs this year was lack of identified funding to improve the programs.  The move by appropriators to authorize new mandatory funding is highly unusual. Whether it was a one-time anomaly or will be repeated remains to be seen.

The values of the new monthly fruit and vegetable vouchers for women in the WIC program were increased to the Institute of Medicine recommended level of $10 and $12 per month although the benefit for children stays at $6 month.  The bill also includes $1 million to start-up a pilot project for school gardens under a special component of the Farm to School program added by the 2008 Farm Bill.

Dairy — The bill also includes a $350 million in emergency funding for the dairy industry, the same as the Senate bill.  Under the agreement, $290 million would go to farmers as direct payments, and $60 million would go to USDA for the purchase of cheese and other dairy products to reduce dairy surpluses.  It will be up to USDA to determine the appropriate per farm payment limitation for the direct payments.

Kerry-Boxer Climate Bill Introduced:  On Wednesday, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced S.1733 – The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.  Read the bill’s text and summary information.

The bill establishes a cap-and-trade carbon credit framework, though “cap and trade” is re-messaged in the bill as “pollution reduction and investment.”  The bill targets a reduction of 20 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050 in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels.

About 7,500 of the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters would have their emissions capped and get carbon vouchers to sell or to trade with other emitters who can lower GHGs.  As with the climate change bill approved by the House, the bill does not cap agricultural GHGs but does allow GHGs to reduce their GHGs in return for carbon credit vouchers.

Section 155 of the bill establishes a supplemental assistance program administered by USDA (with the Department of Interior on federal land under its control) for projects and financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural land, private or public grazing land, and private forest land.

The program includes funding for “early adopters” of carbon-friendly practices including “no till” and for  programs to prevent the conversion of native grassland, native prairie, cropland, range land, or forested land that results in increased GHG emissions or loss of carbon sequestration.  Funding could be used for easements, financial assistance and grants, and there is no prohibition to participating in this program and federal or state conservation programs simultaneously.

This program would be funded by a “Supplemental Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Forestry Fund” from among the proceeds of an auction of emission allowances.

The bill includes extensive rules for a carbon offset market, but does not as yet include specific agricultural offset provisions. Those are expected to be added later in the process as the Agriculture Committee weighs in with its suggestions.

House Agriculture Subcommittee Reviews Research Title Implementation:  On September 30, Dr. Rajiv Shah, USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Extension, testified before the Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research about the the new era of agricultural research at the USDA.  The hearing took place the day before the transformation of Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Services into the National Food and Agriculture Institute (NIFA).

Shah called for a more a cohesive, problem-focused research strategy to solve some of nation’s biggest agricultural problems such as drought and heat intolerance in crops, food security, and food safety.  He was also shared his strong belief in building new relationships between NIFA and better funded federal research agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Energy.  Shah also stated that he and  USDA Secretary Vilsack are committed to breaking up the “stovepipe system” which exists between the agencies within the USDA, and often impairs the ability to study research outcomes.

Congresswoman Betsy Markey (D-CO) asked Shah about progress on implementing the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.  Markey said there is great interest and need in her district for new farmer programs, and Shah confirmed the Administration’s commitment to the program.

Also testifying at the hearing were D.C. Coston, Vice President for Agriculture and University Extension at North Dakota State University, and Joseph Layton of the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research and the American Soybean Association.  All of the testimony can be found on the Committee website.


NIFA Roll Out:  USDA Research Under Secretary Rajiv Shah and the new Director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, Roger Beachy, will preview the reorganization of the what was the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service on Monday in a talk to interest groups.  On Thursday, October 8, USDA Secretary Vilsack will speak at the National Press Club to “share his thoughts on what this transformation will mean for science and agriculture.”  He will be joined by Dr. John Holdren, the President’s top science advisor.

Conservation Title Review:  On Wednesday, October 7 at 10 AM eastern, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research will review implementation of the farm bill conservation title with Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Jonathan Coppess, Administrator of the Farm Service Agency.

Child Nutrition Hearing:  On Thursday, October 8 at 10 AM eastern, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities will hold a hearing on innovative ideas in child nutrition.  Among the witnesses will be Tony Geraci, Baltimore City Public Schools Food and Nutrition Director who will talk about farm to school programs.


CSP Sign-Up Yields Big Results:  The initial portion of the 2009 Conservation Stewardship Program sign-up came to an end on Wednesday, September 30.  That was the date by which applications of intent to apply were due.  During October, farmers and ranchers who submitted an application will fill out the Conservation Measurement Tool, which will be used to rank applications and determine who gets to enroll in the 2009 enrollment class.

Final numbers are not yet available, but preliminary data from Wednesday indicates that over 21,000 producers have submitted applications.  The total acreage represented by those applications exceeds 23 million and may approach or exceed 30 million when the counting is finished.  Those numbers far exceed the 12.8 million acres available for enrollment, meaning there will be keen competition as the bids to enroll are ranked by USDA.

The top three states in terms of acreage as of the preliminary count last Wednesday are Texas, New Mexico, and Nebraska, which together account for 8.5 million of the 23 million acres tallied to date.

Grants Announced for Small and Socially Disadvantaged Producer Coops:  On Monday, September 28, USDA announced awards totaling $1.4 million to 10 cooperatives or associations of cooperatives serving small and minority farmers.  The  Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grants can be used to improve products, develop business plans or other economic development activities.

Secretary Vilsack tied the grant awards to the Department’s larger effort to increase the market for locally-sourced products.  “President Obama and I believe in providing the stability and support these small-scale producers need to furnish fresh, locally produced good to their customers, and these investments will help make that possible.”

This program used to be known as the Small, Minority Producer Grant Program.  It is part of the larger Rural Community Development Grants program. Get more information.

Organic Certification Cost-Share Funds Available:  On Thursday, October 1, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the availability of funds for states through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program.  In order to receive funds to provide certification cost-share to organic producers and handlers, states must submit an Application for Federal Asisstance and enter into cooperative agreements with AMS by October 23, 2009.  Get more information for Agricultural Management Assistance states and all other states.

ERS Releases Report on Marketing Organic Foods:  On Wednesday, September 30, USDA’s Economic Research Service released a report about the marketing of organic foods in the U.S. Retails sales increased from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $21.1 billion in 2008, while organic farmland acreage doubled from 1997 to 2005.  Domestic production has not kept up with demand.  The report examines characteristics of organic consumers as well as trends in the organic retailing and handling sectors.  The report also looks at the supply for these markets and the strucuture of the organic farming sector.  The repot concludes with an analysis of the following organic sectors:  fresh produce, dairy products, meat, eggs, feed grains, and oilseeds.


New Report on Food Access by Policy Link and Michigan State: A new report by PolicyLink and Michigan State University, with support from the Fair Food Network, Healthy Food for All: Building Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems in Detroit and Oakland provides case studies from Detroit and Oakland about the challenges and opportunities residents face to accessing healthy, good food.  The report also examines solutions residents in these communities have developed when food retailers have left their neighborhoods and concludes with specific policy recommendations so that these solutions can be scaled up and replicated in other cities facing similar challenges.

Categories: General Interest

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