Farm Policy Matters
Monthly News Bulletin
Farm Bill Ready in the House? Not So Fast!
The news out of Washington was that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) would be releasing his draft of the 2018 Farm Bill in March. That plan hit a snag late in the month as Democrats got wind of some drastic cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, this program provides food assistance to more than 42 million Americans. The proposal would cut an estimated 1 million people from SNAP and slash spending on food stamp benefits by more than $20 billion over a decade.
The chairman kept the bill hidden and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN) didn't share details with committee Democrats until early March, resulting in a partisan stand-off over the chairman's proposals to tighten SNAP eligibility and work requirements. Since that time, farm bill negotiations have been at a standstill.
The Senate is moving forward and, at some point, so will the House. In the meantime, there are many common sense proposals you can learn more about at the OEFFA farm bill page.
Big Poultry Wins Over Government…Not Consumers
As they learn more about animal welfare concerns in the poultry industry, people are turning to more humane alternatives, such as "specialty" cage-free eggs. As a response, the industry is pushing to ban stores from refusing to carry eggs from cage-confined hens in places like Iowa. Read The Intercept's article for more details.
At the same time that 71 percent of consumers say it is important for companies to avoid inhumane treatment of animals (see the graphic from the Hartman Group), in an announcement on March 12 the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially sanctioned withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule (OLPP). Also known as the animal welfare rule, the OLPP would have brought the organic standards in line with the original intent of organic law and assured consumers that organic is meeting their expectations for humane treatment of animals.
While this decision has been presented as relieving producers of burdensome regulation, the reality is that organic farmers voluntarily submit to regulation to be part of the organic marketplace and the majority of them are already complying with OLPP standards.
This is a clear case of large industry players having sway in government, but the organic industry is fighting back. Both the Organic Trade Association and the Center for Food Safety have brought lawsuits against the USDA for pulling the rule.
Disaster Assistance for Organic Farmers
The Farmers' Legal Action Group has released a new publication, Organic Farmers in Disasters: Flooding and Whole Farm Revenue Crop Insurance, which discusses the extremely challenging effects of a flood on an organic farm and explains a relatively new type of crop insurance that could benefit organic producers. The 29-page booklet is available free online.
The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)/Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) also has a new publication which reviews federally subsidized crop insurance, with special attention to options available for specialty, diversified, and organic farmers. Generally, the greater the diversity or specialization of the crops and livestock farmers grow, the more difficult it can be for them to obtain insurance that fully covers the value and risks of their production. This publication gives examples of using alternative crop insurance policies that can offer some degree of protection from significant market price changes and the multiple perils of farming that can impact yield. It gives special attention to understanding whole-farm revenue insurance options, which may be of particular interest to growers of diverse specialty and organic crops and livestock.
ODA Launches New Sensitive Crop Registry
The Ohio Department of Agriculture recently announced a new partnership with FieldWatch to introduce a new sensitive crop registry that will enhance communication between applicators and producers in Ohio. The new Ohio Sensitive Crop Registry will allow beekeepers and commercial crop producers to register and map their sites online with an easy-to-use mapping tool and provide contact information about their operation.
Pesticide applicators can access the site to help determine the scope and location of sensitive crops and beehives in their areas. Registered applicators can sign up to receive email notifications when new specialty crop fields or beehives are added to their designated state, county, or areas.
Stabenow, Grassley Press USDA on Farm Payments to Deceased Farmers
U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and senior Senate Agriculture Committee member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) raised concerns with the USDA Farm Service Agency regarding farm program payments that are made to the estates of deceased farmers.
Under current law, farmers are required to be "actively engaged in farming" in order to receive farm program benefits. The USDA recently issued guidance that considers an estate to be actively engaged—and thus eligible for farm payments—for up to two years after the death of a farmer without review. The Government Accountability Office has criticized USDA payments to estates which have allowed some heirs to game the system and evade payment limits by collecting benefits on behalf of the deceased.
Ohio Freshwater Use for Fracking Doubles
FracTracker has recently published a report highlighting concerns about the increasing amounts of freshwater being destroyed by the fracking industry.
According to the recent analysis, "The fracking industry in Ohio uses roughly 10-14 million gallons per well, up from 4-5 million gallon demand in 2010, which means that freshwater demand for this industry is increasing 15 percent per year.”
If such exponential growth in hydraulic fracturing’s freshwater demand in Appalachia continues, by 2022 each well in Ohio and West Virginia will likely require at least 43 million gallons of freshwater.
Natural Gas is the Clean Energy- Right?
In February, a well pad exploded near the village of Powhatan Point in Belmont County, Ohio. A combination of gas and brine has been flowing out of the well since that time. This helicopter footage was obtained by FracTracker from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Watch the footage of the explosion here.
OEFFA continues to work to protect farmers and rural communities from fracking contamination. The only oversight of the industry currently comes from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
EPA Accepts Monsanto Science While Ohio AG Sues
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reduced protections for crops and wildlife habitats after Monsanto supplied research showing lower estimates of how far the weed killer dicamba can drift, according to a review of federal documents.
“Monsanto submitted its research after the U.S. EPA proposed in March 2016 an all-directional buffer zone for dicamba to help protect other crops and wildlife habitats for endangered species. After considering the information, the agency decided to reduce the buffer zone to only a downwind buffer zone, meaning spraying limitations only applied to the downwind edge of a field,” said Johnathan Hettinger with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
In the meantime, do you remember PCBs? Yes, that was Monsanto as well. Ohio Attorney General and Gubernatorial hopeful Mike DeWine is suing the chemical giant and arguing that they should pay for the cleanup of what it says are dozens of rivers, lakes, and other water bodies contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls.
Regenerative Ag Certification Launched at Expo West
At Expo West, a massive natural and organics trade show that just wrapped up in Anaheim, California, regenerative agriculture was a hot topic.
There are several burgeoning efforts to define and establish certifications around regenerative agriculture, an approach to farming aimed at rebuilding topsoil and boosting biodiversity. The one that's getting the most attention right now is the Regenerative Organic Alliance, led by The Rodale Institute, Patagonia, and Dr. Bronner's. The alliance is cooking up a Regenerative Organic Certification, officially launched at Expo West.
With a Regenerative Organic Certification, USDA organic certification would be the baseline and requirements would be added on from there. The certification would include animal welfare and worker standards, which are still being developed. Take a look at what has been proposed and let us know what you think.
New Report on Crop Insurance
Federal crop insurance, the Farm Bill’s biggest agricultural program, has transformed from a key safety net for our nation’s farmers to a system that consolidates land ownership, shifts billions of dollars in public funding to large corporations, and harms the land and water. In March 2018, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) published a special report on federal crop insurance, A Torn Safety Net, which is based on research of public records and interviews with farmers and others. The report reveals that:
- Federal crop insurance is the only Farm Bill subsidy program without per-farm subsidy limits.
- Federal crop insurance discourages farming practices that build soil health, increase crop diversification, and prevent erosion and nutrient run-off.
- While farm incomes decline, crop insurance company profits are growing due to the billions of dollars in public funds given to them over the past decade to administer the insurance program.
- Crop insurance corporations have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress to successfully reject attempts to reform crop insurance and make it more accountable to the public and more useful for family farmers.
Wins in the 2018 Budget
Conservation: The funding bill included no cuts to mandatory spending for the farm bill’s largest working lands conservation programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a welcome change from a history of program cuts.
Research and Food Safety: There is a 30 percent increase in funding for USDA’s flagship sustainable agriculture research program, the Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education program, which is currently celebrating its 30th year leading farmer-driven research. The Organic Transitions research program also reached its highest funding level in the bill ($5 million), which will allow increased support for organic farmers and livestock producers. The Food Safety Outreach Program got an increase of $2 million, bringing total funding to $7 million.
The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the Section 2501 Program), received a hard-fought additional $3 million in discretionary funding; this additional funding will be combined with the $10 million provided to the program by the 2014 Farm Bill.
Rural Development and Local Food: Congress retained the FY 2017 increase of $15 million in discretionary funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, a 40 percent increase over FY 2016 funding. Other Rural Development programs were retained with level or increased funding; Rural Business Development Grants receiving the biggest increase at $10 million.
The Health Food Financing Initiative, also administered by USDA Rural Development, received level funding of $1 million. This program, which provides funding to address food deserts and other healthy food access issues, received funding for the first time through USDA during FY 2017.Local food lovers and family farmers received one more big win with $15 million in additional discretionary funding for the Farm to School Program.
Funding levels are maintained for Farm Credit Programs including: Direct Operating Loans ($1.5 billion), Direct Farm Ownership Loans ($1.5 billion), Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans ($2.7 billion), and Guaranteed Operating Loans ($1.9 billion).
Lake Erie Receives Impairment Designation
Governor Kasich and the Ohio EPA have designated the western end of Lake Erie as an impaired waterway because of the toxic algae that has fouled drinking water and closed beaches. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and has been home to large algae blooms over the past several years, one of which led to a loss of drinking water for more than 400,000 Toledo area residents.
According to Associated Press reporter John Seewer, “The state’s strategy for reducing phosphorus-rich runoff, until now, has called for expanding mostly voluntary practices—such as increasing soil testing and installing devices that control storm water. The state also banned spreading manure and fertilizer on frozen and soggy fields. But those aren’t doing enough for Ohio to reach its goal of reducing phosphorus entering the lake by 40 percent within seven years.”
While no new regulations have been announced, the move paves the way for that option.
Funding Opportunities and Deadlines
Conservation Stewardship Program Renewals
Deadline: April 13, 2018
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help them implement new, and actively manage existing, conservation systems on land in production (also known as “working lands”). Through CSP, participants can receive financial and technical assistance to help them improve the soil, water, air, and habitat quality on their lands; they can also use CSP to address water quantity and energy conservation issues.
NCR-SARE Grant Proposals
Deadline: April 12
The North Central Region SARE offers a competitive grant-making program that advances sustainable agriculture through farmer-driven research. Successful SARE grantees are producers, researchers, nonprofit organizations, and educators engaged in projects that address the “three Ps” of sustainability: profit over the long term, protection of the land and water, and people who depend on agriculture.
Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
Deadline: May 7
The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) provides grants on a competitive basis for direct-to-consumer and local food marketing projects. The FMPP subprogram supports projects that have a direct farmer-to-consumer focus, such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture programs, roadside stands, pick-your own operations, and agritourism. In contrast, LFPP’s focus is from farm to fork. LFPP supports projects focusing on processing, distribution, aggregation, storage and marketing of locally or regionally produced food products sold through intermediated marketing channels and more.