NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – September 21, 2009

September 22, 2009


NSAC’s new Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program is here! The farmer-friendly guide to the new Conservation Stewardship Program is now available!  Download a copy and share widely.  The guide is also available on the homepage of the NSAC website.

First Conservation Stewardship Program Sign up Ends September 30th: Time is running out to be a part of the first sign up for the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  Farmers must take the first step in the application process by submitting a basic application with their local Natural Resources Conservation District by September 30th.   The CSP will make payments to farmers for maintaining existing conservation practices and for adopting additional practices on cropland, grassland, improved pasture, rangeland and non-industrial private forestland.  Payment will also be made for adopting resource conserving crop rotations.  A NSAC alert  is posted here.

NSAC members, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the Organic Farming Research Foundation have posted a wealth of information for producers on their Websites.

NCAT and the Center for Rural Affairs are also providing phone-based sign up assistance to farmers.  Call the Farm Bill Helpline at the Center for Rural Affairs at (402) 687-2100.  The NCAT number is 1-800 346-9140 (English) or 1-800-411-3222 (Spanish).


“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” Campaign Launched! Last week, the much anticipated USDA campaign to ‘begin a national conversation’ about local and regional food systems’ contribution to health and economic development began with a series of funding announcements and special presentations by Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and other USDA subcabinet officials.  “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,” as the campaign is called, is chaired by Deputy Secretary Merrigan and is also the focus of a task force of representatives across USDA who are responsible for raising the profile of, and creating synergies between, existing USDA programs that support the development of local and regional food systems.  Over time, the task force’s analysis of gaps in federal program support will help inform the creation of future programs to aid the rebuilding of infrastructure necessary to ensure that people have access to healthy food grown by producers in their region.

Last week’s launch was punctuated by a series of funding announcements that total $65 million for several programs that can provide support for regional food systems as well as announcement of $50 million a year from the DOD Fresh program to support local and regional food purchases for school cafeterias.  See the first set of stories below under ‘USDA NEWS’ for more information on the specific funding announcements that span rural development, risk management, marketing, and research.

NSAC issued two press releases during the Know Your Farmer roll-out, one on meat labeling and marketing and one on school food purchases from local and regional farmers.

News from New Senate Ag Chair’s First Week:  Last week, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) became the new chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  Among other news this past week:

* Lincoln announced on Friday, September 11 that Robert Holifield will serve as Staff Director to the Committee.  Holifield served as the agriculture staff person in her office from 2000-2007 and then moved on to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

* Lincoln addressed the annual legislative conference of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association on Tuesday, September 15, reiterating her opposition to the House-passed cap and trade climate legislation and suggesting she would not support cap and trade in the Senate.  She also spoke in support of reducing federal estate taxes, suggested she would not support Clean Water Restoration Act (a bill reported out of the Environment and Public Works Committee which seeks to reverse the narrowing of the Act by a narrowly divided Supreme Court), reiterated her opposition to Bush Administration proposals to scale back US commodity subsidies in global trade talks, and advocated for ending the Cuba trade embargo.

* Lincoln announced the formation of an Arkansas Nutrition Advisory Committee during a conference call on Wednesday, September 16 with nutrition and hunger advocates in her home state.  On the call she indicated her intent to pass a temporary extension of the Child Nutrition Act, which expires at the end of September, in the near future.  Earlier in the week, Lincoln and Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) joined Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) in receiving the National Restaurant Association’s Congressional Leadership Award for efforts to fight hunger.


Agriculture Appropriations Bill Likely to Pass on Schedule:  As one of only five of the twelve appropriations bills to have passed both the House and the Senate, the final 2010 agriculture appropriations bill seems likely to pass before the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1.  Senate and House staff have been working to reconcile their differences and preparing for Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Members to meet for conference.  If they are to meet the October 1 deadline, the agriculture conferees will need to meet either late this week or likely at the beginning of next.  All the spending bills that are not going to be passed by October 1 will become part of a continuing resolution that Congress will also need to pass before October, extending spending at current levels for an additional month or so to give themselves more time to finish the process.


Conservation Stewardship Program Update:  As of last week, the 2009 sign-up for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has exceeded the 4 million acre level.  The truncated sign-up, which started August 10 and ends September 30, has the potential to enroll 12.8 million acres.  Farmers who still want to enroll need to get the initial, short application form into their local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office by September 30 and then return in October to fill out the CSP Conservation Measurement Tool.

NRCS announced last week that farmers who do not currently have USDA Farm Service Agency farm record numbers and who must obtain them to enroll in CSP will now have until the end of October, instead of the end of September, to obtain them from their local FSA office.

After this first, short sign-up for the 2009 version of CSP, all future sign-ups will be year long rather than just weeks long.  The 2010 sign-up officially starts October 1, though with much to do to bring the 2009 enrollment to fruition, it is likely better for farmers to wait a few months into the new fiscal year to give NRCS staff a chance to catch up.

The public comment period on the CSP Interim Final Rule, originally scheduled to end on September 28 will now be extended for one month, until October 28.  Readers will see more attention to the comment period once October arrives.

We are very pleased to announce that following a re-examination of environmental benefit scoring, two CSP ehancement practices eligible for payment have moved up from the bottom half of the list of enhancements by environmental benefit ranking to the very top of the list.  Those two enhancements are the planting of mixed species perennials for biomass and wildlife habitat and the conversion of cropped land to grass-based agriculture.  Other top ranking practices include continous cover cropping, resource-conserving crop rotation, continuous no-till with residue management, and transition to organic cropping or livestock systems.  NSAC has requested several additional changes to the list and is awaiting word from NRCS.

Program Awards and Other Initiatives Announced in Conjunction with “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food”:  Last week, the Department of Agriculture announced the following program awards and rulemaking during their rollout of “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign.       

New USDA Initiative to Help Schools Purchase Local Food:  On Tuesday, September 15, Deputy Secretary Merrigan and Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Julie Paradis, announced a new set of steps to link local farmers with school meal programs.  In their announcement, Paradis said the USDA would provide an additional $50 million a year through the Department of Defense (DOD) “Fresh” program that is administered by USDA to help schools purchase local food.  USDA will clarify food procurement rules so that a wider range of locally, minimally processed foods can be purchased by schools.  Finally, the Food and Nutrition Service and Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA will work together to form “tactical teams” to help school administrators design programs to facilitate local purchasing.    

Rural Cooperative Development Grants Awarded:  On Tuesday, September 15, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan announced the award of $4.8 million in rural development grants.  Twenty-eight organizations in 21 states will receive funding from USDA Rural Development’s Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG) program that can be used by regional cooperative development centers to provide technical assistance in developing new business cooperatives or strengthening existing ones.  In an example of how the RCDG program can help local and regional food development, the Ohio State University Research Foundation received a $200,000 grant to help manage a statewide farmer’s market cooperative.  In Pierre, South Dakota, the Value-Added Agriculture Development Center will be using their $200,000 award to educate farmers, consumers and lenders on how to take advantage of the numerous benefits of value-added agriculture.
Proposed Rule for Interstate Shipment of Meat and Poultry Products: Also on Tuesday, September 15, the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a proposed rule to implement the 2008 Farm Bill’s Section 11015 provision for the interstate shipment of state inspected meat.  The provision, supported by NSAC, establishes a new voluntary cooperative program under which State-inspected establishments with 25 or fewer employees will be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce.  The state-inspected establishments must comply with all federal standards and state standards.  State inspectors will be trained and supervised by federal personnel to enforce the federal standards.  The products from the establishments will be eligible to receive the federal mark of inspection.  Comments on the proposed rule are due November 16, 2009; we will be sharing some thoughts on the proposed rule with readers later this fall.

Community Food Project (CFP) Grants Awarded: On Wednesday, September 16, USDA announced the award of $4.8 million in FY 2008 Community Food Project grants to twenty-one projects in 14 states.  The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service administers the program which is intended to fund projects in low-income communities to increase access to healthy food.  Many of the projects provide a direct link between local farmers and low-income communities.

Congratulations to NSAC member Florida Organic Growers for being among the grantees!A complete list of funded projects is posted here.

Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) Grants Awarded:  At the opening of the Fresh Farm Market on Vermont Avenue near the White House on Thursday, September 17, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, announced the recipients of the FY 2009 Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grants.  Eighty-six grants totaling $4.5 million were awarded to support and enhance farmers markets, CSAs, and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunities across the country.  The FMPP was an NSAC-initiated idea that was incorporated into the 2002 Farm Bill and received mandatory funding in the 2008 Farm Bill.

One highlight of the FMPP is increasing the availability of fresh, local fruits and vegetables to low income consumers.  Over one-third of the 86 new grants will promote the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) technology so farmers can sell directly to people receiving federal food assistance.  By bringing farmers markets to low income neighborhoods, USDA hopes to improve health and nutrition and fight childhood hunger in economically distressed communities. Congratulations to NSAC members Delta Land and Community, Center for Rural Affairs, and Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) on their awards!  Other grantees include Minnesota Food Association, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, NOFA-VT, National Bison Association, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and Appalachian Sustainable Development.  The full list of FY 2009 FMPP recipients is here.

USDA, in conjunction with the General Services Administration, also issued a new guide book on how to open farmers markets on government property.  The book includes information on insurance, parking, utilities, and security and includes successful case studies.  To download a copy, go to www.ams.usda.gov/MarketingServicesPublications.

Risk Management Agency Partnership Agreements Announced:  On Thursday, September 17, Deputy Secretary Merrigan announced $8.6 million in Risk Management Agency (RMA) Partnership Agreements to provide training to underserved, small, beginning, and limited-resource producers, including but not limited to training to diversify their production and marketing practices and be better able to take advantage of the growing demand for locally and regionally-produced agricultural products.

Awards were made under three programs:  Crop Insurance Education in Targeted States ($4.5 million), Community Outreach and Assistance ($3.4 million), and Risk Management Educational Sessions ($0.7 million).  NSAC played a major role in securing the funding for these programs in 2000 and in fighting off major cuts to the programs in 2008.

Congratulations to the following NSAC members on their new grants:  California Farmlink, Ecological Farming Association, Georgia Organics, Henry A. Wallace Center, Land Stewardship Association, Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), Michigan Land Use Institute, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), and National Center for Appropriate Technology.  Congratulations also to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Federation for Southern Coops, Rural Coalition, Community Food Security Coalition, Southwest Marketing Network, NY SAWG, Hispanic Farmers & Ranchers Association, Growing Power, and many others!  A complete listing of Partnerships is here.

Research Funds to Study Northeast Local Food Systems:  Also, on Thursday, September 17, Secretary Vilsack announced $200,000 in funding to USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and $30,000 to Tufts University for an ongoing study exploring the capacity of the Northeast to produce enough regionally-grown food to meet market demands.  Vilsack tied the need for research on local foods to the need to decrease the distance food travels from farm to table, and said that these studies would give “important insights into how we build and sustain local production systems elsewhere in the United States and abroad.”  ARS is currently collecting data to create a model to use in the calculation of crop potentials in the Northeast.  The project is the focus of an article in the current September issue of ARS’ Agricultural Research magazine.
Brief in Support of Farmers Filed in Wheeler Case:  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition joined with 53 other organizations on a friend-of-the-court amicus brief filed in the appeal of the case Wheeler v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit.  The trial court in the case decided Pilgrim’s Pride had violated the Packers & Stockyards Act by using a formula to pay Mr. Pilgrim for his chickens that provided higher pay than the formula used to pay the plaintiff chicken growers.  The trial court refused to dismiss the lawsuit based on the claim of Pilgrim’s Pride that the farmers must show that the action hurt competition throughout the poultry sector even though the farmers had shown individual harm.  A 3-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld the trial court’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit.  Pilgrim’s Pride then requested a rehearing en banc, with all the judges of the Fifth Circuit.  The amicus brief supports the position of the plaintiff farmers that under the Packers & Stockyards Act they do not need to show that violation of the Act, which harms them, also harms competition throughout the poultry industry.  David Balto and Professor Peter C. Carstensen prepared the brief.

National Organic Program Gets New Director, Elevated Status:  On Thursday, September 17, Secretary Vilsack announced that Miles McEvoy will serve as the new Deputy Administrator of USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).  McEvoy hails from Washington, where for 20 years he has led the Washtingon State Department of Agriculture’s Organic Food Program, one of the country’s first state organic certification programs.  Highlights from his career include helping to establish and currently serving as President of the National Association of State Organic Programs, helping state Departments of Agriculture develop state certification programs, and being the founding Director of The Food Alliance.

In his announcement, Vilsack also announced that NOP will become an independent program area within AMS with increased funding and staffing, and stated that “organically grown and marketed agricultural products are of key interest to the Obama Administration.”


Obama Administration Draft Reports Gives EPA the Lead in Stemming Chesapeake Bay Nutrient Pollution: On Thursday, September 17, federal agencies released seven draft reports on key challenges to Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection that focus heavily on reducing nutrient pollution to the bay from all sources, including agriculture.  In May, President Obama issued an Executive Order to the agencies to develop a strategy for protecting and restoring the Bay.  The draft reports are the first step, with preliminary recommendations.  The Federal Leadership Committee will use the reports to prepare a draft coordinated strategy which will be released, with final versions of the reports, for public comment in November.  The Administration intends to finalize the strategy in May 2010 but has indicated that some agencies can go forward with actions before the strategy is final.

The EPA is given the lead role in the strategy and has announced, without details, that it will be expanding its regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  In addition to agricultural sources of pollution, the report emphasizes the contribution of stormwater runoff from cities and suburbs to nutrient loading in the Bay.

The draft reports and additional information are available on the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order homepage.

Also on Thursday, EPA also issued notice and a request for comments on the development of a new Clean Water Act Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process for addressing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.  This regulatory tool requires an assessment of both point and non-point sources of the pollutants and the adoption of measures to control levels of these pollutants that impair water quality in the Bay.  The EPA is under court orders to complete the TMDL by May 1, 2011.  Comments on the notice to prepare the TMDL must be submitted by December 18, 2009.

EPA and Department of Transportation Propose New Standards for Cars and Trucks Based on Greenhouse Gas Emission Limitations: On Tuesday, September 15, the EPA and Department of Transportation announced a proposal for new regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve mileage of cars and other light duty vehicles.   The proposal will be open for public comment after it is published in the Federal Register.  The proposal is the first set of restrictions on GHG emissions based on authority in the Clean Air Act, authority which could be voided by pending climate change legislation.  But reports in the past few weeks indicate that congressional action on climate change could well be delayed until next year.


Who’s That in the Hairnet? In one of the many public events during last week’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” debut, Deputy Secretary Merrigan assisted White House chef, Sam Kass with serving a specially-prepared healthy lunch at the USDA cafeteria.  Sam Fromartz, author of Organic, Inc., caught the moment on film and writes about it on his blog Chews Wise.  

Categories: General Interest

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