Farm Policy Matters
Monthly News Bulletin
If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Try again! The Republicans will try to pass a farm bill out of the House after the May 18 defeat on the floor.
Lawmakers are scheduled to revote on the bill during the week of June 22.
OEFFA strongly opposes the bill’s current version, which cuts conservation by nearly $1 billion dollars, decimates local and regional food business investments, eliminates funding for organic cost share, and increases farm subsidy loopholes large enough to drive a combine through.
Here is a breakdown of how the Ohio delegation voted:
For the Bill: Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati), Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati), Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green), Bill Johnson (R-Marietta), Bob Gibbs (R-Avon), Mike Turner (R-Dayton), David Joyce (R-Russell Township), Steve Stivers (R-Columbus), Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth)
Against the Bill: Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), Jim Jordan (R-Lima), Warren Davidson (R-Troy), Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), Marcia Fudge (D-Warrensville Heights), Tim Ryan (D-Niles)
Please take a moment before the June 22 revote to call and thank your representative if they voted against the bill in its current and very flawed form. It goes against our priorities for conservation, locally-led innovation through programs including the Value-Added Producer Grant program, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and the Organic Cost-Share program, and increases corporate welfare and farm concentration by opening up unlimited subsidies.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that in 2015 taxpayers provided farm payments totaling $260 million to people who do not work on a farm. This bill will make things much worse!
If your representative voted for the bill, please call and let them now why you oppose the bill. You can find your member of congress and their contact information here.
Don’t Let it BE!
Do you know what BE stands for? Not too many people do and that makes it a questionable choice for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) label for genetically engineered (GE) foods, especially when accompanied by the brightly colored sunshine smiley face symbol that is being proposed.
Your voice is needed now! The deadline to comment on these pro-biotech labels is July 3.
You can find details on the problems with USDA’s bioengineered food disclosure standards along with how to comment here.
Smithfield Fined $50 Million; USDA Director Calls Judgement “Despicable”
Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, was ordered to pay $50 million in damages to neighbors as a result of a nuisance lawsuit.
The residents in close proximity to the operation spoke about anaerobic waste lagoons where animal manure is stored, liquefied, and sprayed on fields which then send the waste airborne with odor, flies, and a film that coats homes, cars, and anything left outdoors.
In addition to calling the judgement “despicable,” USDA Director Sonny Perdue also stated “I feel certain that kind of award has to be overturned for hog production.”
Less than two weeks later a federal judge reduced the damages from $50 million down to $3.25 million due to a state law limiting punitive damages to $325,000 per resident. Despite the reduction, Smithfield announced plans to appeal the verdict.
Glyphosate Widespread in Foods
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing food samples for glyphosate residue for two years but their results have not been released until now. The Guardian recently reported that this pesticide, linked to cancer, has been found in wheat crackers, granola cereal, and corn meal from the home of one researcher.
The FDA has a mandate to test food for pesticide residues but only recently began testing for glyphosate despite the fact that it has been used in food production for more than 40 years.
Even at levels considered “safe” in this country, a recent study finds the agricultural chemical can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes, and beneficial gut bacteria. The study also revealed glyphosate levels in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000 percent in the last two decades.
Preliminary Findings from Solutions from the Land
Ohio State University and Solutions from the Land launched the Ohio Smart Agriculture project in the spring of 2017 to help Ohio farmers adapt to a changing climate, improve the resiliency of their operations, and boost a wide array of ecosystem services, while also supporting local communities by producing nutritious food.
The group recently shared their preliminary findings and recommendations through five regional forums across the state. After analyzing public feedback, they identified more than 30 possible initiatives and three areas that need more attention:
Increase youth engagement and educational opportunities in Ohio agriculture
Reach out to limited resource and rural communities
Highlight the forestry industry, well-managed woodlands, and ecosystem services and their economic benefits
Find out more about this OSU “Discovery Theme” here.
Investing in Food Business Creates Jobs, Improves Resilience
The USDA Economic Research Service’s new report, assessing the impact of the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program on the survival and growth of rural businesses, found that farmers who participate in this program are almost 90 percent less likely to fail when compared to those who did not participate.
The study, “USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program and Its Effect on Business Survival and Growth,” also looked at the size of these grants and found that larger grants had greater employment impact and on average, VAPG recipients provide more jobs (five to six more employees) for their communities than similar non-recipient businesses.
Disappearing American Farmland
American Farmland Trust recently conducted a comprehensive analysis of American farmland and found that we are losing farmland at unprecedented rates.
There was a loss of 3 acres per minute and 175 acres per hour between 1992 and 2012.
Eleven million acres of that land was the most productive and resilient land in the nation.
Development disproportionately occurred on agricultural lands, with 62 percent of all development occurring on farmland.
Expanding urban areas accounted for 59 percent of the loss. Low-density residential development, or the building of houses on 1-20-acre parcels, accounted for 41 percent.
Read the summary or full report here.
Pesticide Use Grows and Farmer Profits Fall
Figures from the nation’s leading agricultural state find that California farmers are applying near-record levels of pesticide, despite the increasing demand for organic produce. Reporting by FairWarning’s Paul Feldman reveals that pesticides classified as human carcinogens or likely human carcinogens were applied to nearly 9.2 million acres statewide in 2016. That’s more acreage than the entire land area of each of nine states.
This comes at the same time as an analysis of Canadian farmers found that regardless of whether their incomes rise or decline, an increasing share of their resources are going to input suppliers.
In the graph, the black, upper line is gross farm revenue. The lower, gray line is realized net farm income. Both measures are adjusted for inflation. And, in both cases, taxpayer-funded farm support payments are subtracted, to remove the masking effects these payments can otherwise create. The graph shows farmers’ revenues and net incomes from the markets.
USDA Says NO Organic Check-Off
Last month, the USDA denied a request by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) to begin an organic check-off program citing a “split within the industry” over the proposal. Some of the comments referenced an inadequate representation from farmers, the inability to truly promote organics without “disparaging” conventional commodities, and the potential to further consolidate the industry.
There has been heated debate over the past two years as to whether organic food producers should bear the cost of an industry “check-off.” Many commodity groups have had mandatory check-off programs for decades where producers are assessed a percentage of their sales to support marketing and promotion of a commodity. Critics point to how the use of those resources influence markets and that such a program has never been suggested for a whole class of products as would have been the case with organics.
An independent effort known as Organic Voices has pooled industry resources to promote organics in the absence of a check-off. Thirty companies will contribute a total of $1 million per year for the next two years to fund a messaging campaign to address “skepticism and confusion” about the organic label.
Radioactive Oil and Gas Waste Being Sold in Ohio…More to Come?
Last month, the Ohio House Energy and Natural Resource Committee passed House Bill 393 classifying treated oil and gas waste as a “commodity” that can be sold for deicing, dust control, use in portable restrooms, or for “other purposes.” Currently on hardware store shelves, Ohio Department of Natural Resources tests of this product reveal radiation levels 300 times higher than federal drinking water standards and much higher levels than acceptable for discharge into the environment.
OEFFA presented opponent testimony on this bill and we will keep you apprised as it could come up for a vote of the full Ohio House of Representatives soon. If you are in Ohio and don’t want radioactive water used on your driveway or roads, contact your Ohio Representative today and tell them to oppose HB 393.
Renewable Energy Makes More Dollars and Sense
A new study by the Rocky Mountain Institute reveals that while power utilities rush to replace their energy plants with gas power, and a massive build-out of natural gas pipelines is put in place, those investments will not only not pay dividends, they will leave taxpayers holding the bag.
To replace all retiring plants with new natural gas plants will take $520 billion. In addition, the study finds "This will lock in another $480 billion in fuel costs and 5 billion tons of CO² emissions through 2030, and up to 16 billion tons through 2050.”
This comes at the same time that the costs of renewable energy continue to decline. The authors also note that by 2026 it will be cheaper to build new renewable portfolios than to operate these young gas plants, leaving the newer gas infrastructure and the bill to pay for it all behind.