NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – September 28, 2009

September 29, 2009


Support the Next Generation of Sustainable and Organic Farmers and Ranchers!  Sign the Petition.  Share the link. In the last Farm Bill, the sustainable agriculture community successfully created the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Transition Option.  The option offers incentives to CRP land owners who do not intend to extend or re-enroll their acreage to sell or lease the land to beginning and minority producers using sustainable or organic farming practices at the end of their CRP contract. USDA is planning to delay implementation of the CRP Transition Option for at least two years having swept the program into a CRP wide Environmental Impact Review.  Since 4.3 million acres are expected to come out of the CRP over the next two years, this USDA delay would represent a tremendous lost economic and environmental opportunity.

NSAC has launched a petition demanding that USDA implement the Transition Option now.  Join the hundreds who have already signed.  Circulate our alert and share the link to the petition far and wide.  Let’s speak loud and clear and tell USDA we can’t waste this opportunity.

Farmer’s Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program Now Available: The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Farmers’ Guide to the ConservationStewardship Program is now available online!  The seventeen-page guide explains the basic eligibility requirements and provides an overview of the enrollment  and application process.  The guide also includes answers to frequently asked questions with information specific to beginning farmers, organic farmers, small farmers, farmers participating in the EQIP organic initiative, and tips for all farmers on how to maximize their points and payments.

The 2009 CSP sign up period ends September 30th.  This first sign up is being conducted in steps.  Farmers must take the first step by submitting a basic application to their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office by the September 30th deadline.  Starting in 2010 sign up will be continuous, so farmers can choose to sign up after September 30th for the 2010 cycle.

Concurrent with the first sign-up period, USDA is seeking comments on the administrative rules that will govern CSP implementation.   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.


Tweet, Blog, Get a Farm Loan, Calculate Your Caloric Intake: USDA continued with the roll-out of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative this week with the launch of a website designed to start a nationwide conversation about farm and food policy. The Know Your Farmer website

has information about 20 grant and loan programs that USDA is promoting to support the development of local and regional food systems, as well alinks to nutrition information, great old USDA pictures, videos of the high points of last week’s Know Your Farmer roll-out, and lots of opportunities to provide feedback.

Agriculture Appropriations Bill Delayed:  Despite rumblings of Congress passing the Fiscal Year 2010 agriculture appropriations bill before the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1, House and Senate conferees last week approved a Continuing Resolution — which includes agriculture appropriations — to fund government programs through the end of October at the FY 2009 levels.  The Continuing Resolution is piggy-backing on the FY 2010 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill.  The House passed the combined Legislative Branch bill and Continuing Resolution on Friday, September 25, by a 217-190 margin.  The Senate is expected to vote on the package on Tuesday, just two days before the start of the fiscal year.

While it is likely that the FY 2010 agriculture appropriations bill will be negotiated in conference and brought to the floor in the coming week or two, the bill is competing for attention with the health care legislation and other appropriations bills that have yet to pass through the Senate.  There are indications, however, the House-Senate conference on the agricultural spending bill could take place this coming week.

That cause was helped along by a negotiated settlement, announced Friday, September 25, of the longstanding debate over imports of chicken processed in China.  A ban on the import of Chinese-processed chicken has been in place since 2007 at the insistence of appropriators.  The new deal will allow USDA to do a rulemaking on the terms of imports from China.  Under the terms of the deal reached Friday, USDA is required to increase on-site audits and inspections in China and an increase in port-of-entry inspection in the US.

Still on tap before conferees can meet on the agriculture bill is some greater agreement among key dairy state lawmakers of exactly how emergency dairy money included in the Senate version of the bill should be utilized.

Report on Leafy Green Agreement Hearing:  The first of seven hearings to be held around the country on a proposed new National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) began in Monterey, CA on Tuesday, September 22 and continued throughout the week.   Several NSAC member groups testified, including the Wild Farm Alliance, California Certified Organic Farmers, and California Alliance with Family Farmers.  Also testifying and helping to coordinate farmer testimony as the National Organic Coalition.  You can watch a video of the proceedings here.

The word from our members and allies is that the hearing was grueling.  Steve Etka was on the stand for the National Organic Coalition for two hours on Tuesday responding to questions from the  proponent group and USDA.  Proponents of the national agreement are the United Fresh Produce Association, Produce Marketing Association, Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Texas Vegetable Association, Leafy Greens Council, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, the Western Growers Association and state Farm Bureau affiliates in Arizona, California and Georgia.

NSAC members’ principal objection to the NLGMA is that AMS is an inappropriate agency to take the lead on a measure designed to improve food safety.  AMS does not have a food safety mandate or staff with proper credentials and could face an inherent conflict between promoting and regulating produce.  The NLGMA process requires acceptance of the standards before they are written and a committee structure that does not properly represent small, mid-sized, diversified and organic growers or consumers and a geographic zone breakdown that gives large production states control over the process.

NSAC members also point to the abysmal results of the California LGMA over the past two years in which the “voluntary” Agreement has in effect become a marketing order because of near-universal handler sign on.  The Agreement has not stopped the proliferation of corporate “supermetrics” but has clearly led to the abandonment of important conservation practices that actually increase the safety of product in the field.  See related story in Duly Noted below about the impact of the California LGMA on small and large growers.

Please contact Kate Fitzgerald in the NSAC office if you would like copies of testimony or other information.  The rest of the NLGMA hearings are Jacksonville, FL (Sept 30-Oct 1), Columbus, OH (Oct 6), Denver, CO (Oct 8), Yuma, AZ (Oct 14-15), Syracuse, NY (Oct 20), Charlotte, NC (Oct 22).  More information on hearings is available here.

GAO Investigation of Animal Antibiotic Use Requested:  On Monday, September 21, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), chair of the House Rules Committee, sent a letter  to the US Government Accountability Office

requesting a report on the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production.  The letter requested that GAO investigate the status of the federal government’s tracking and monitoring of antibiotic use in animals and the government’s efforts to assess and mitigate human health risks related to antibiotic use in animals.

Earlier this year, Rep. Slaughter introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1549)

which would prevent the use of medically important antibiotics for subtherapeutic treatment of livestock and poultry.  At a hearing held by the House Rules Committee this summer, the Food & Drug Administration indicated that it did not have comprehensive information on drugs used in raising farm animals, even though this use raises threats to human health.


What’s in a Name?:  On October 1, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service is getting a new name:  the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  NIFA will continue the programs and responsibilities of CSREES.  The change from CSREES to NIFA, and the renaming of the agency “Administrator” as “Director,” was required by the research title of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The idea of trying to make CSREES look more like the National Science Foundation was pushed by a well-financed lobbying campaign spearheaded by Dr. William Danforth, Professor Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis and chairman of the Board of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, also in St. Louis and funding heavily by Monsanto.  Those combined forces hired a well known DC agricultural lobbying firm to work for the name change in the farm bill.

Dr. Danforth also chaired a research policy committee made up of university and business representatives that pushed hard several years ago for an increase in the amount of overhead costs that schools and labs can charge against federal agricultural research grants.

NIFA Director Announced:  Just in time for the transition of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center announced on Thursday, September 24, that Roger Beachy has been appointed the Director of NIFA.

Since 1999, Beachy has been the Danforth Center’s president.  Beachy also teaches at Washington University, where he has spent most of his professional carreer.  The Danforth Center was a strong advocate for changing the name of CSREES to NIFA in the 2008 Farm Bill.  The Center is located in St. Louis, MO, and partners with several universities and Monsanto on biotechnology research.  Beachy also serves as the President of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology and as a member of the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA).

Strangely, opposite normal protocol on such matters, the announcement of this particular Presidential appointment was made in St. Louis by the Center and not in Washington by the White House or USDA.  We expect the “after the fact” announcement from the White House this week.

House Agriculture Committee Research Hearing:  On Wednesday, September 30, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on the implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill Research Title.  USDA Undersecretary Rajiv Shah, a representative of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and a representative of the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research are expected to testify.  The hearing will be broadcast on the Committee’s website.

The 2008 Farm Bill saw the inclusion of important new priorities for the largest of the CSREES (soon to be NIFA) competitive grant research program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative:  classical plant and animal breeding, rural entrepreneurship, domestic marketing strategies, and renewable energy.  NSAC recently submitted recommendations to the agency about the implementation of these new priority AFRI programs in the upcoming FY 2010 Request for Applications.

Senate Climate Bill Coming This Week:  Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA) last week confirmed that they will introduce their climate change bill on Wednesday this week.  The bill will be the starting point of the Senate debate on climate change.  The House companion bill, HR 2454, passed in late June.

Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said EPW markup would follow in the coming weeks.  While EPW will be the main show and go first, the Finance and Agriculture committees will also have a bite at the apple.  Finance will weigh in on the allocation of emission allowances and international provisions, and will likely have its own mark-up.  Agriculture, on the other hand, is not likely to hold its own mark-up but will contribute to the bill’s agriculture-related provisions.  Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who sits on Finance and Agriculture, is expected to play a significant role among others in brokering the agricultural provisions.

NSAC will be submitting a revised version of its Senate agriculture-related proposals after the Boxer-Kerry bill drops and we have a chance to review it.


Fix for Beginning Farmer Value-Added Grants:  This week we have learned that USDA will accept project proposals under the the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program for group projects (farm coops, businesses, associations, etc.) in which some but not all of the beneficiaries are beginning farmers.

Under the terms of the recently issued Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the VAPG program, USDA had said that VAPG grants under funds specially set-aside for beginning farmer projects had to be 100 percent owned by beginning farmers.  NSAC urged the Department to relax this ruling, pointing out that producer associations and coops would rarely if ever be entirely comprised of beginning farmers.  We pointed out that the intent of Congress in creating the set-aside was to encourage value-added projects not just from individual beginning farmers, but also from farm coops and other groups projects in which a significant number of beginning farmers could participate.

We welcome the new flexibility on the part of the Department and commend its Rural Development division for committing to fixing the NOFA language on this point for the 2010 version next year.

Applications for this round of VAPG funding — $18 million is available, enough for approximately 80 project grants — are due by Monday, November 30.  Awards will be made in early January.  For more information, see the story we ran in the September 1 issue of the Weekly Update.

Conservation Stewardship Program Update:  As of Friday, September 25, with just five days left for farmers and ranchers to submit applications to participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for 2009, nearly 9,000 producers had submitted applications totaling 8.2 million acres plus an unknown additional number of acres, estimated in the 4 million acre range, for applications that do not yet have acreage totals counted.  In other words, the total so far likely exceeds 12 million acres.  For 2009 and each year thereafter, the CSP will enroll 12.8 million acres of farm, ranch, and private forestry land for farmers practicing high level stewardship.

Based on these very preliminary sign-up numbers, it appears that roughly half of total acreage enrolled will be rangeland, with 40 percent or the total representing cropland, and 5 or 6 percent each for pasture and non-industrial private forestland.  To date, the top five states, in order for various categories are as follows:

  • Applications:  Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa – (combined 46 percent of total applications)
  • Rangeland: New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, Montana, Arizona – (combined 76 percent of total rangeland acres)
  • Cropland: Nebraska, Texas, Illinois, North Dakota, Iowa – (combined 40 percent of total cropland acres)
  • Pasture: Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana – (combined 58 percent of total pasture acres)
  • Forestland:  South Carolina, California, Oregon, Maine, Missouri – (combined 45 percent of total forest acres)

To repeat, these numbers are preliminary and will obviously increase further before the September 30 deadline.  Even after the 30th the acreage numbers will still just be estimates until applicants have returned to their NRCS offices and completed the Conservation Measurement Tool that will be the more detailed application and proposal to participate.  The CMT will be used for ranking and payment calculation purposes.

More interesting that rank totals will be learning what percentage of total agricultural land in each state has applied and been enrolled.  We will do those calculations once the sign-up and enrollment are over.  For now, though, we can say that overall there appears to be widespread and even distribution regionally and by state, but can also flag the few states that appear to have unusually low numbers of applications relative to the size of their agriculture.  Those would include California (other than range and forest land), Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

NRCS Rolls Out a Mississippi River Basin Initiative: On Thursday, September 24, at the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force Meeting in Des Moines IA, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) which will provide about $320 million over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds located in 12 key states.  The states included are those bordering the Mississippi River, as well as Indiana and Ohio which have been identified by the U.S. Geological Survey as major contributors of nutrients to the Mississippi River.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will administer the MRBI primarily through its Cooperation Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI).  The MRBI will fund projects in which federal, state, and local partners, including non-government organizations, assist farmers to control nutrient pollution in Mississippi River Basin watersheds.  The CCPI was a priority initiative of NSAC in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills.  The MRBI funding is in addition to the regular annual CCPI funding allocated to all 50 states.  NRCS has established a website

with detailed information on the MRBI.

New Members Announced to Organic Board:  On Wednesday, September 24, Secretary Vilsack announced five new members to the National Organic Standards Board: Joe Dickson, Certification Director of Whole Foods; Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides; John Foster of Earthbound Farms; Wendy Fulwider, organic farmer from Wisconsin who has worked on organic animal standards; and Annette Riherd, organic farmer from Oklahoma and advocate for buy fresh/buy local.  Each of the new members will begin their five-year terms on the Board on January 24, 2010.

Funds Available for Community Food Projects:  USDA issued the Request for Applications for the Community Food Project Grants (CFP) on Wednesday, September 23.  The RFP is not listed in the Federal Register and there was no USDA press release but full information can be found here.

This year CFP will be awarding approximately $5 million in grants for projects that offer long term solutions by increasing community food security while supporting economically, socially and environmentally sustainable local and regional food systems.  Applications are due on November 19, 2009.

FMPP Call for Reviewers:  Just last week USDA announced the recipients of this year’s round of Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grants, but already program staff are looking for reviewers for the 2010 applications.  This year there were 498 applications of which 86 were funded for a total of $4.7 million.  USDA is expecting that applications will continue to be high so are anticipating needing at least 63 reviewers.  If you are interested please contact FMPP Program Leader Carmen Humphrey at Carmen.Humphrey@usda.gov.

Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Final Rule:  USDA issued final rules

to incorporate 2008 Farm Bill changes for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program on Wednesday, September 23.

More REAP Loan Guarantees and Grants Announced:  On Thursday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $62.5 million in loans and grants for 705 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in 45 states and Puerto Rico under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  A complete list of awards for each state is posted here.

The loan guarantees and grants can be used for renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, feasibility studies, and energy audits.  More information on the REAP program, which was authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, is available here.

NSAC worked for measures in the 2008 Farm Bill to ensure streamlined provisions in REAP and targeted funding for individual farms and small businesses.  We commend the USDA for providing many of these smaller awards which can go a long way in helping small and mid-sized farmers and businesses conserve energy and lower their energy costs.

Federal Court Rejects USDA Approval of GE Sugar Beets:  On Monday, September 21, a federal district court in California ruled

that USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) approved a Monsanto genetically engineered Round-Up Ready sugar beet variety for commercial use in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.  APHIS did an environmental assessment and concluded that commercial release of the GE sugar beet would have no significant impact on the environment.

The judge, however, disagreed, finding that the plaintiffs, the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, were correct that there was a high potential for wind-borne pollen from the GE sugar beets to spread to fields of conventional sugar beets, table beets, and Swiss chard.  As a result there was a potential that farmers would not have the choice to grow non-GE crops or consumers the choice not to eat them.  The judge also found that pollen could be carried further than buffer zones recommended by APHIS and that the agency had not considered the economic effects of its decision, including its conclusion that non-GE sugar beets would remain available to farmers.  The judge ordered APHIS to prepare a full blown Environmental Impact Statement with public input.


Groups File Petition with EPA to Increase Regulation of CAFO Air Pollution: The Humane Society of the United States took the lead in filing a legal petition on behalf of numerous environmental and animal welfare groups that would put concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) on the same footing as other industries subject to the Clean Air Act.  The petitioners estimate that about 100-200 CAFOs release enough pollutants to require Clean Air Act regulation.  The petition provides scientific and legal information about the emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia and possible negative effects on human health and the climate.

EPA Issuing Rules for GHG Reporting in Face of Attempts in Senate to Exempt Livestock:  On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed off on regulations that will require large emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to collect and report data on their GHG emissions.  The reporting period starts in 2010 with the first reports due 2011.

EPA has estimated that for the agricultural sector only the very largest confined animal feeding operations, about 100 operations, will be required to report emissions under the regulations.  Information on the new reporting system and requirements is posted here.

The regulations as applied to livestock emissions are under challenge in Congress.  On Thursday, by a vote of 77-21, the Senate passed an FY2010 Interior-EPA Appropriations Bill which includes an amendment that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses generated by livestock production in FY2010.  In addition, Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are co-sponsoring S. 527, permanent legislation that would prohibit Clean Air Act permits for any carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, water vapor, or methane emissions resulting from biological processes associated with livestock production. The bill currently has 13 co-sponsors.

Jackson’s Letter to Senator Harkin on Indirect Land Use Changes and GHGs:  Another EPA greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation arose in the FY2010 Interior-EPA appropriations debates – the method for evaluating greenhouse gas emissions of renewable fuels which is included in a proposed EPA regulation for the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS2) in 2010.  EPA’s proposed rule includes calculating indirect land use changes arising from biofuel production when land for food production is used for fuel production.  The comment period on this proposed RFS2 regulation closed on Friday.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and six other Senators had proposed an amendment to the Senate’s FY2010 Interior-EPA Appropriations bill that would have blocked EPA from spending funds in FY2010 on any RFS2 greenhouse gas formula that included emissions from international indirect land use changes.  Senator Harkin withdrew the amendment after receiving a letter from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson with assurances that the final regulations for RFS2 would reflect scientific uncertainties in measuring indirect land use changes from renewable fuel production.

EPA Launches TMDL Program Results Analysis Website:  EPA has developed a new website to communicate information about the Clean Water Act’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program results to technically specialized audiences, including conservation districts, TMDL developers, state water programs, academia and other state and federal agency programs.  The TMDL Program Results Analysis Project is a multi-year effort directed at measuring and analyzing programmatic and environmental results of the program.  Under the TMDL process, an accounting is made of pollutants from both point source and nonpoint sources, including agricultural runoff.  The ultimate goal is to engage point source and non-point source polluters together in efforts to control pollution.

Over 37,000 TMDLs have been developed, and this project seeks to improve understanding of TMDL-specific program results patterns and explain these patterns.  The website provides a Clean Water Act Impaired Waters Program Pipeline navigation feature; fact sheets; EPA reports and websites; EPA grantee reports and websites; publications; and datasets related to this effort.


Isi Siddiqui Named Chief Ag Trade Negotiator:  Last week President Obama named Islam (Isi) Siddiqui the agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.  Siddiqui is currently vice president for science and regulatory affairs for CropLife America, the major agrichemical and biotechnology trade association and lobbying firm.  Previously CropLife’s vice president for ag biotechnology and trade, the Indian-born Siddiqui served as Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs and as senior trade advisor to the Secretary in the Clinton Administration’s USDA.


Climate Offsets on Smaller and High-Tenure Farms:  USDA’s Economic Research published a short economic policy brief on carbon offsets and land tenure on Wednesday, September 23.  The researchers conclude that high tenure farms (those with a high proportion of land owned by the operator) are more likely to benefit from the carbon offset market than low tenure farms, given the long term nature of carbon offset contracts and the short term nature of farmland leases.  High tenure farms tend to be smaller farms and tend to be more engaged in livestock production and also more likely to be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program than low tenure, larger farms.  The authors speculate that high tenure farms may be more likely to agree to convert cropland to grass-based agriculture, an activity with much greater carbon benefits than alterations in cropping practices.

Food Safety Research Brief on California LGMA: A new program brief by researchers at the University of California – Davis finds that the cost of complying with the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is much higher for small and large farms relative to mega farms. “Growers’ Compliance Costs for the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and Other Food Safety Programs” written by Shermain Hardesty and Yoko Kusunose concludes that very large farms with revenues over $10 million were more able to absorbe the costs of complying with the California LGMA and other food safety provisions — $8.29 per acre — versus large farmers with revenues between $1 and $10 million who face a cost of $18.05 per acre and small farms with revenue under $1 million whose costs average $14.82 per acre.

Categories: General Interest

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