NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – September 1, 2009

September 2, 2009


#1 – New and Improved VAPG NOFA Issued: On Tuesday, September 1, USDA republished the 2009 Notice of Funds Available (NOFA) for Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG), an NSAC priority program.  The opening of the program for applications was originally published in the spring, but without key components of the 2008 Farm Bill included.  Following a protest by NSAC and by the Chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, the original notice was withdrawn and today has been reissued with substantial improvements.  Read the NSAC press release here.

Applications for this round of funding — $18 million is available, enough for approximately 80 project grants – are due by Monday, November 30.  Awards will be made in early January.

Potential applicants should refer to the Application Guide and application template available on USDA’s VAPG webpage. In addition, applicants should contact their USDA Rural Development State Office by calling 1-800-670-6553.  Applicants may submit a draft of their application to their State Office for a preliminary review anytime prior to September 30, 2009 to assess whether the proposed project meets eligibility criteria.

Among the changes made in the revised NOFA are a much stronger priority for projects targeted to small and mid-sized family farms and for projects serving beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  The definition of mid-sized farm was also increased from a top cut-off of $500,000 gross sales to $700,000 gross sales (3-year average), less than NSAC requested but still a step forward.  Minority farmers will now have to represent 51 percent of producer groups and coops receiving funding under the 10 percent socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers set-aside rather than 100 percent.  A similar provision is likely included for the 10 percent beginning farmer and rancher set-aside although details of that decision are still forthcoming.

Provisions for the 10 percent of funds reserved for funding mid-tier value chain projects was improved in several ways: language was added to allow non-profit groups and agencies helping to organize and provide technical assistance to be part of the local and regional supply network; language was deleted prohibiting the participation of any supply chain participant that markets and distributes food nationally or internationally; and language was added to clarify that farmers involved in the value chain need not retain ownership of the product throughout the entire chain provided there is clear demonstration of increased revenue returns to the participating farmers.  All three changes will make the new special focus more relevant and practical.

Clearer language was also included to promote local food products as an eligible purpose of the program.  Local food is defined as the marketing of the product within 400 miles of the farm or within the same state.  Applications under this provision must demonstrate and quantify how local marketing will result in added value.

An earlier provision limiting working capital grants to projects already marketing the value-added product was also dropped, making start-up projects once again eligible for program funding.

NSAC applauds the Department for making these important changes to the program to more fully reflect key new provisions added in the 2008 Farm Bill.  We also thank Chairmen Peterson (D-MN) and Harkin (D-IA) for their continued leadership on this matter.

#2 – Deputy Secretary Merrigan Makes a Push for Local and Regional Food Systems:  On Wednesday, August 26, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, released a memo called “Harnessing USDA Rural Development Programs to Build Local and Regional Food Systems” that is the first in what is promised to be a series of highly-anticipated Department activities to raise the profile of federal programs that support regional food system development.  The document can be forwarded to lists and posted on websites to help get the word out about these funding opportunities.

In the memo, Merrigan highlights three Rural Development programs: the Community Facilities Program, the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, and Value-Added Producer Grant Program.  NSAC has played a lead role in developing and making critical changes to the B&I loan program and Value-Added Producer Grant program over the last several Farm Bills to create specific incentives for local and regional food system development (for more information on these changes, please see excerpts from our Grassroots Guide to the 2008 Farm Bill here and here, respectively).

For her part, Merrigan states in the memo that she plans to play the role of “matchmaker” during this Administration to ensure that USDA program administrators better understand how existing programs throughout the agency can serve the efforts of building local and regional food systems.  Music to our sustainable aggie ears!

#3 – 2009 CSP Sign-Up Continues through End of September:  The 2009 farmer sign-up for the new Conservation Stewardship Program continues through the end of September.  The sign-up began on August 10.

Early Results — As of Friday, August 28, 445 applications have been submitted by farmers, covering 335,000 acres.  A slow start was expected, given the very late notice of the sign-up, though it certainly ups the ante for September.  With nearly 13 million acres available for enrollment each year, and with 2009 being the only year for which there will be just a short sign-up period rather than an entire year, this initial 2009 sign-up will likely be the least competitive, so farmers should be advised that if they are ready to go and the program looks good to them, now is the time to enroll.

New USDA Website Resources The USDA CSP website has had numerous documents added during August.  Now available online are the Self-Screening Checklist farmers may use to help them decide if CSP is right for them, as well as the Program Application form.  Also newly posted is a revised version of the “activity list” containing the “conservation enhancements” and “conservation practices” available to CSP participants as improved or newly adopted activities to choose from.  Another new document describes the estimated average payment ranges expected for the first sign-up by land use type.

Also on the USDA CSP website is the transcript and audio from a CSP webinar sponsored by the Agronomy Society, a new two-page CSP fact sheet, and a powerpoint for use at public meetings.

CMT Demonstration The Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) that will be filled out by all farmers signing up for the 2009 version of CSP during the month of October will be available soon in a web-based version on the USDA CSP webpage.  The CMT will be used to determine eligibility, ranking, and payments, and is thus the central enrollment feature of the new program.

A net conference to help non-governmental organizations and service providers learn more about the CMT will be held in the very near future.  We will post information on how to participate on our homepage as soon as it is available.

NSAC and Member Group Resources — NSAC will be issuing a Farmers Guide to the CSP soon – stay tuned!  NSAC has also posted a one-page flyer that can be reproduced to promote the 2009 signup.  Also, NSAC member groups have been busy posting CSP information and guidance on their websites – see for instance, the special pages by Organic Farming Research Foundation, Center for Rural Affairs, National Center for Appropriate Technology-ATTRA, Land Stewardship Project, and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.


Last Week of Recess:  It’s September and we are back in our usual mode of weekly publication, with this issue being a catch-up issue for August.  Congress is still in recess through Labor Day, but will be back in full swing in just a week’s time.  We will preview some of the upcoming congressional action in next week’s edition of the Weekly Update.  Also coming next week will be action alerts on the Conservation Stewardship Program public comment period on the Interim Final Rule.


BFRDP Web-based Stakeholder Listening Session:  USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) will be holding two webinar-format stakeholder listening sessions about the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) on October 14 from 3-4:30pm EST and on October 15 from 9:30-11am EST.  To join the webinar, go to http://connection.extension.iastate.edu/csrees/.  Your computer must have a DSL/Cable Line or better to be able to access the webinar; a dial up modem will not work.

If you have trouble joining the webinar, you can contact a technical support person at 202-690-1095.  You can also email comments on the BFRDP directly to: bfrdp@csrees.usda.gov between October 1 and October 15.  The purpose of the listening sessions and comments are to help guide the 2010 Request for Applications and review process.

EQIP Mississippi River Basin Nutrient Management-Hypoxia Initiative Coming:  Full details may still be a week or so off, but USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is planning to launch a new initiative to use Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding throughout Mississippi River basin states to help farmers stem excess nutrient flows that cause the large hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.  The states included in the special initiative will be Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.  State Technical Committees (STCs) in those states will help choose the key small watersheds to be targeted by the initiative.  STCs will also help select core and supporting conservation practices to most effectively ensure appropriate nutrient inputs, control erosion, and trap sediment and nutrients before entering water bodies.  We will report further details as soon as they become available.

Conservation Practice Standard Comment Period Extended:  On August 14, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced in the Federal Register that the comment period on the Conservation Practice Standard was extended from August 11, 2009 to September 14, 2009.  Comments can be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov or emailed to: nrcscpta2008@wdc.usda.gov.  For more information, please contact Norman Widman, of the NRCS at norman.widman@wdc.usda.gov.  Comments previously submitted by NSAC and by Organic Farming Research Foundation are posted online.

CRP Comments and Listening Session:  USDA’s Farm Service Agency has scheduled nine public meetings in September and October to solicit comments on how the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can be more effective.  Written public comments on the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement are due October 19, 3009.  Comments can be submitted online or emailed to: CRPcomments@tecinc.com.

The nine public CRP meetings being held this fall are in Spokane, WA (9/15), Great Falls, MT (9/21), Moorhead, MN (9/21), Manhattan, KS (9/23), Springfield, IL (9/25), Oklahoma City, OK (9/29), Clovis, NM (10/1), Albany, GA (10/6), and Harrisburg, PA (10/8).  Times, locations and contact information for each of these sessions are available here.

GRP Interim Final Rule Comment Period Reopened: The comment period on the Grasslands Reserve Program interim final rule originally issued January 21, 2009 has been reopened after an amendment to was made that clarifies the nature of the contingent right of enforcement, expands its discussion regarding GRP policy for wind and solar power facilities, and requests comment on how GRP can be used to contribute to energy, climate change, and carbon sequestration efforts.

Comments on the amended interim final rule are now due on or before September 21, 2009.  Comments must use Docket Number NRCS-IFR-09005 and may be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov or emailed to grp2008@wdc.usda.gov or faxed to 202-720-9689.  The interim final rule can be viewed here and the new amendments to it can be viewed here.

REAP Recipients Announced:  On August 10, Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager announced that 365 recipients had been selected to receive more than $15 million in loans and grants to install renewable energy systems and to make energy efficiency improvements through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  Tonsager made the announcement on behalf of Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, at the Midwest Rural Assembly in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Among the 365 REAP recipients is Eugene Bartz of Sisseton, SD who will receive a $62,400 grant and $60,470 loan to replace an outdated grain dryer with a more energy efficient model.  Damion Branon of Fairfield, VT will receive a $12,300 grant to replace an evaporator on his maple syrup cooker.  He plans to install a new system that will reduce his annual fuel consumption by 56%.

REAP is administered by the USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Programs office.  For more information about the program, please go to: www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/busp/bprogs.htm.

First Payment Made under New BCAP:  On Monday, August 31, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Show Me Energy Cooperative in Missouri would be the first biomass conversion facility to receive a matching payment from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).  The Cooperative’s payments to producers for biomass materials are being matched with BCAP collection, harvest, storage, and transportation (CHST) program funds.  Show Me Energy has over 500 biomass producers supplying materials such as switchgrass, straw, corn stover, sawdust, woodchips, and other biomass materials.

The BCAP program’s CHST component authorizes the FSA to make matching payments to producers who sell eligible materials to qualified biomass conversion facilities that have signed agreements with FSA in advance.

More information on FSA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program.

BCAP Comments Due:  A notice announcing a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) appeared in the Federal Register on August 10.  Comments are due September 24.  NSAC will be developing talking points and make them available in a Weekly Update in mid-September for organizations and individuals to use in developing their own comments.  More information on BCAP is available at the Farm Service Agency’s BCAP webpage.


WTO Rules Against the US in Brazilian Cotton Case:  On Monday, August 31 a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel ruled that Brazil is entitled to approximately $295 million in trade sanctions against the US as a result of lack of US compliance with previous rulings against what the panel considers illegal US cotton subsidies under international trade rules.  Brazil had sought retaliatory sanctions nearly ten times larger than that amount, while the US argued it was in compliance and should not face any sanctions, or at most $30 million in sanctions.  The level of retaliatory compensation was the second largest ever permitted by the WTO.  Still at issue or US marketing loans, counter-cyclical payments, and export credit guarantees.  The US also maintains that any further cuts to US commodity programs can only be made in the context of a successful conclusion to the currently moribund Doha Round of international trade talks.


ERS Predicts Sharp Decline in Farm Income in Their 2009 Forecast:  On Thursday, August 27, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released its updated Farm Sector Income Forecast for 2009. It estimates that net farm income will be down 38 percent from the preliminary estimate for 2008.  This estimate is $9 billion below the average net farm income of $63.2 billion over the last ten years.  The report explains that among other things, deteriorating economic conditions worldwide has dampened export demands.  Production expenses are forecast to decrease 3.2 percent in 2009, the first decrease since 2002, but production costs will still be the second highest level on record.

DOE Announces Cash Grants for Renewable Energy:  At the end of July, the Department of Energy and Department of the Treasury announced that they will be accepting applications for the 1603 grant program that will make direct payments in lieu of tax credits to companies that create and place in service renewable energy facilities.  $3 billion in financial support via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be available for 5,000 bio-mass, solar, wind, and other types of renewable energy facilities.

Applications must be submitted by October 1, 2011.  For the 1603 Grant terms, conditions, guidance and sample application, please visit: www.treas.gov/recovery/1603.shtml

Categories: General Interest

Comments are closed.