Herbicide Drift Damages Conventional Farms
In 2015, Monsanto released a new strain of genetically engineered (GE) soybeans resistant to the herbicide dicamba, but it wasn’t until late 2016 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorized use of a newer formulation of dicamba called Xtendimax™ with VaporGrip Technology™. Dicamba is toxic to soybean plants that have not been genetically engineered to survive it, and the older version is well known for how it quickly vaporizes and easily travels in the wind.
Before Xtendimax was approved by the EPA, some farmers bought the new GE soybean seeds from Monsanto, perhaps expecting that the new version of dicamba would be approved during the growing season. When that did not happen they resorted to using the older herbicide, violating the law and often contaminating neighboring fields as a result. Xtendimax is designed to be less likely to vaporize quickly or be spread by the wind. Nonetheless, many weed scientists believe Xtendimax will also pose a threat to neighboring soybean plants, and thus more farmers may be pressured to buy the dicamba-resistant soybeans and Xtendimax in order not to lose their crop.
This is another example of how the use of GE crops and associated herbicides can cause unintended consequences. Usually, organic and non-GE farmers bear the costs of preventing contamination and, when it does occur, the financial loss from crop contamination, loss of contracts, and damaged reputations. The social, economic, and environmental costs of GE agriculture continue to climb and now even GE farmers may lose their choice of what seeds to plant.
Battle Over Trumbull County Injection Well
According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Cocroft ruled that the state allow American Water Management Services to resume injection well operations in Trumbull County. The well was shut down following a series of earthquakes in 2014, after which American Water submitted a plan for resuming operations that called for pumping brine at lower levels of pressure and volume. Until now, the Ohio Division of Oil and Gas Resources has not allowed this to take place, citing concerns for public health and safety. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is now considering how to respond to Cocroft’s decision, while an attorney for American Water says the company is hoping to resume operations shortly. The state also is appealing Cocroft’s order requiring the two sides to submit plans, contending its order closing the well should stand.
A Killer Tomato?
A new type of tomato has been genetically engineered to kill the tomato fruit borer caterpillar that eats it. While this may solve one problem for tomato farmers, controversy surrounds whether or not humans should be eating a plant that is toxic to creatures with whom we share 60% or more of our genetic makeup. In a blog post on momsacrossamerica.com, one mother expresses concern over the rising danger of food allergies, and the risk that GE tomatoes and BT corn may pose to children. The post further points out that food allergies have increased 400 percent since the introduction of GE foods, and that this contributes to burdensome health care costs nationwide.
Under the Wire…But Wait…Still Too Late?
The Obama administration released several major rules in January: the organic animal welfare rule, an organic check-off proposal, transitional certification, long overdue farmer fair practices rules, and updated biotech rules. Despite this flurry of last minute activity, the Trump administration has called for a temporary halt in the implementation of new rules developed under the Obama administration. Find analysis for some of these pending new rules below.
Protecting Farmers Under Contract Is the Right Thing to Do
A newly published set of rules will help bring to fruition the goals of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which was passed nearly 100 years ago and intended to end abusive practices in the meatpacking industry. In a blog post, NSAC applauds Secretary Vilsack for moving forward with what are known as the “Farmer Fair Practices Rules.” These rules are set to protect contract farmers in the poultry and livestock industry from unfair, abusive, and anti-competitive practices.
The rules consist of two proposed rules and one interim rule, the latter of which confirms that the Packers and Stockyards Act does not require that contract farmers prove injury to the whole sector in order to be compensated, thus upholding the original intent of the law. This rule, along with the two proposed rules, is subject to a 60 day comment period. The first rule combats abusive practices in the contract poultry industry’s tournament system which often pits farmers against each other in order to make an income, while the second defines criteria for what constitutes undue preference for one producer over another as well as unfair practices on the part of animal purchasers.
Organic Animal Welfare Rule
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Final Rule, published in January, aims to level the playing field for organic animal producers by reducing inconsistency in production practices. In the past, ambiguous standards for poultry “outdoor access” has led to some birds being given access to pasture, while a patio system has been utilized on other farms. Consumers expect that outdoor access means pasture access. It is estimated that more than 75 percent of organic farmers already comply with the proposed new standards and those that do not have five years to come into compliance. The new rule will go a long way toward protecting the integrity of the organic brand and level the playing field for farmers who provide pasture access, which can be costlier. The rule addresses animal welfare across the variety of livestock operations and specifically requires all organic egg production facilities provide birds with access to pasture.
Transitional Certification Program Approved by USDA
A new National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP) will provide oversight to approved accredited organic certifying agents offering transitional certification to producers to help ease the transition process to organic, allowing farmers to sell their products as certified transitional at a premium price to encourage more organic production, according to the Organic Trade Association who developed the standards.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide oversight to certifying agents offering transitional certification which consists of certifier audits and a uniform transitional production standard for both crop and livestock producers. Farmers will need to prove their land has been free of prohibited substances for a minimum of 12 months and follow all other organic production standards to achieve transitional certification, including crop rotation, the fostering and conserving of biodiversity, and the avoidance of the use of genetic engineering.
This program dovetails with the USDA's announcement in December that it would expand the reach of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to include transitional certification fees.
Bentgrass Creeping Across Oregon
Scotts Miracle-Gro’s GE creeping bentgrass continues to threaten the grass seed industry in Oregon with contamination. Many in the grass seed industry are worried about how GE contamination could affect international sales, as accidental contamination has caused losses in both corn and wheat export sales in the past. Having originally engineered the variety in partnership with Monsanto and intended for sale to the golf industry, the Roundup resistant grass has spread from test fields to neighboring counties, and Scotts has been backing out of responsibility for its containment. At this point, Scotts only maintains a website with information about how to deal with the grass. As a result, it appears that Oregon’s taxpayers may be left with the task of remedying this problem. Scotts has continued to appeal to the USDA to have the grass deregulated, despite claiming that they have no intention to market it commercially. On January 17, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the deregulation of the creeping bentgrass.
One of the major threats to a more sustainable agriculture is the level of concentration and control in the seed and agrichemical industries. The mergers of Dow and DuPont, Syngenta and Chem China, and Monsanto and Bayer are all pending while the Department of Justice investigates the possibility of anti-trust violations. However, very few mergers are prevented from going forward. Currently, the Ohio Attorney General’s office is accepting feedback from farmers and others concerned about these mergers. Please consider calling the Ohio AG’s office today and encourage them to join the investigation taking place at the federal level. Contact Amalie Lipstreu for more information about making the call.
Early Termination from CRP Creates Opportunity for Beginning Farmers
According to the Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land Survey conducted by the USDA in 2014, U.S. farmland owners expect to transfer 93 million acres to new ownership during 2015-2019. This represents 10 percent of all farmland across the nation.
In response to the tremendous challenge of farmers in accessing land, the USDA is offering an early termination opportunity for certain Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, making it easier to transfer property to the next generation of farmers and ranchers, including family members. The land that is eligible for the early termination is among the least environmentally sensitive land enrolled in CRP.
Details on the early termination opportunity are available, at local USDA service centers. For more information about the CRP and to find out if your acreage is eligible for early contract termination, contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. Locate your local FSA office here.
27 Million in USDA Local Food Funding Available
The request for applications for the Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program, which includes Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grants, was announced in January.
The FMPP funds farmer-to-consumer marketing projects such as farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programs, roadside stands, and agritourism.
The LFPP supports projects focused on intermediary supply chain activities for local food businesses. LFPP was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase funding for marketing activities such as aggregation, processing, storage, and distribution of local foods.
A webinar for anyone interested in applying for these programs will be offered on Wednesday, February 15 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Each of these grants must be submitted electronically by Monday, March 27. Find more information here.