• 09Jul

    Alternative Analysis of Farm Bill Failure: A Decline in Ag Lobby Power?

    While some agriculture groups blame partisanship in Congress for failure of farm bill passage, Ron Nixon reports that some analysts do not think this is clearly so, writing for the New York Times in “Farm Bill Defeat Shows Agriculture’s Waning Power.”

    There are clearly disagreements on the cause(s) of the farm bill failure in the House. For example, according to Vincent H. Smith, a professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University (cited by Nixon): “There are a small number of Congressional districts where farming continues to carry much sway … [but] Especially in the House, the farm lobby has been substantially weakened.”

    In stark contrast to Smith, Barry L. Bequette, dean of the School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Sciences at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss., (also being cited by Nixon), said waning power or a lack of power is not the issue. Rather: “Farmers just haven’t learned how to utilize the power they have … All the groups are fractured and focused on their own narrow issues.”

    We want to know what you think. Is there a monolithic farm lobby whose power is waning in the face of an urbanized and suburbanized society? Is there fracturing of the farm lobby? Why did the House farm bill meet with failure, two years in a row?

  • 04Jul

    Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Proposed Rules (and Exemptions) For Farmers, an Easy to Understand Guide; And How to Comment on the Rules*

    The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the federal food safety law that applies to farms growing fruits and vegetables that may be eaten raw. FSMA is intended to reduce the risk of microbial contamination of fresh produce. It will be administered by the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The law was passed two years ago, but proposed regulations were released in January 2013 for public comment (due by September 16, 2013). The Following is an “easy to understand” guide to the proposed rules, regulations, and exemptions. It is presented here to help farmers understand what impact these rules could have on their farm business and share their comments with FDA (learn how to comment on the proposed rules). This guide presents a basic overview of the lengthy and complicated proposed FSMA rules presented by FDA and should not be considered a legal document or a substitute for official FDA rules.

    There are Two Parts to FSMA: 1) The Produce Safety Rule applies to “farms” or those who grow, harvest, pack or hold covered produce. The rules apply to produce generally eaten raw, i.e. greens, melons, tomatoes, apples, etc. (aka “covered produce” or raw agricultural commodities “RAC’s”). They do NOT apply to produce not eaten raw, i.e. sweet corn, potatoes, pumpkins, etc. Also NOT covered is produce grown for personal consumption, on farm consumption, or on another farm under the same ownership. 2) The Preventive Controls Rule applies to “facilities” that manufacture, process, pack or hold human food and to operations that buy and resell products grown on other farms. These facilities will need to register with the federal government and comply with regulations outlined in the preventive controls portion of the rule. Facilities are defined in the rules and cover operations that modify or process produce from its original state.

    There are Exemptions to the Act that May Apply to Farmers. (To Continue Reading this Guide Click “Read More”) Read more »

  • 02Jul

    Immigration Reform and Agriculture: Farmer Organizations Praise Legislation

    Press releases from the National Farmers Union and United Fresh (the nation’s largest produce grower’s Association) follow. Both applaud passage of immigration reform in the Senate.

    Beginningfarmers.org does not take political positions on issues that are not specific to the promotion of beginning farmers. We do, however, strongly encourage comments and opinions from readers about the immigration reform legislation, and specifically about the way in which it is related to agriculture.

    National Farmers Union Press Release: NFU Pleased by Senate Approval of Immigration Reform 

     National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement in response to the Senate’s 68-32 vote in favor of S. 744, the Border Security Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act:

    “I am very pleased by the Senate’s action on immigration reform today. S. 744 includes important provisions that will bring greater stability to the farm workforce and provide a practical, legal means for immigrants to work in agriculture. It also allows for peace of mind for all parties in agriculture to know that a more easy-to-use and effective system will be enacted. I look forward to continuing to work with the House of Representatives to pass immigration legislation that achieves many of these same ends.”

    United Fresh Press Release: Landmark legislation will provide access to stable workforce for agriculture industry

    United Fresh congratulates the Senate today on the final vote of 68-32 to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The comprehensive immigration reform bill includes agricultural labor provisions that secure access to a stable, legal workforce.

    “We applaud the Senate for seizing the opportunity to enact immigration reform that is desperately needed in the fresh produce industry and many other sectors of agriculture,” said Tom Stenzel, United Fresh CEO. “This bill will ease the burden on agricultural employers, create more jobs along the entire supply chain, and boost the economy. We appreciate the efforts of our allies in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition and United Farm Workers with whom we worked to advance provisions that will provide a legal and stable workforce for fruit and vegetable growers.”

    There are several key agricultural labor provisions included in the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate: Read more »

  • 29Jun

    The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Provides In Depth Analysis of the Failure of the House Farm Bill and Delineates Ways Forward

    Last week, we reported that the House of Representatives failed to pass a 2013 Farm Bill (see here, and here). Notable coverage and analysis of the bill’s failure comes in a three-part series published on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog. For a short summary of each post (and a link to each), read on…

    NSAC’s analysts covered the following: (1) farm program reform, (2) analysis of why the bill failed, and (3) options for a path forward on the bill.

    On farm program reform: NSAC focused here on reform related to (a) crop subsidies for commodity agriculture, (b) crop insurance subsidies (and lack of payment limitations and conservation provisions attached to these), and (c) SNAP (food stamps). In particular, NSAC noted commodity subsidy limitation reform was passed in both the Senate bill and in House amendments, which constitutes a historic shift in policy making. But while commodity reform is a popular topic, revival of the House bill may ultimately hinge on modifying the current food stamp provision.

    On why the bill failed: The House saw a breakdown in the urban-rural coalition that has been the backbone of the passage of prior farm bills. Typically, urban legislators support the bill because of food stamp funding and rural legislators support the bill for its farm subsidies. But $20.5 billion in proposed SNAP cuts in the House bill resulted in lagging urban (and Democratic) support. Republican leadership was unable to make up for the meager 24 Democrats supporting the bill with sufficient votes from their party, in part because the SNAP cuts were insufficient for Tea Party Republicans.

    On options moving forward: Essentially, there is no easy, straightforward solution for a new long-term farm bill. This raises the question of farm bill extension; the current extension expires September 30. However, most players in the farm bill game would not find an extension acceptable, so the best option is for the House to revise their bill to garner sufficient votes for passage, and then to go to conference with the Senate.

  • 22Jun

    More information on the House of Representatives Failure to pass their version of a 2013 farm bill:

    As we reported earlier, the House rejected passage of a new farm bill (the Senate has already passed their version) by a vote of 234-195. You can see how your congressperson voted here.

    For beginning and aspiring farmers this is bad news, since the beginning farmer program is one of the many that has been unfunded since the 2007 bill expired last September. As the Michael fields Agricultural Institute reports”…the lack of a Farm Bill continues the status quo, which means that many programs that have gone unfunded will continue to go unfunded: beginning farmer programs, value-added programs, organic programs, local food programs, renewable energy programs, and so many more.”

    Typically, the seems to have been killed by the deep political divisions that exist in this congress. Republicans voted against the bill because they believed it was too expensive, and Democrats voted against it largely because they didn’t believe it included enough funding for food assistance programs. According to To the Center for Rural Affairs “The final passage of the House Farm Bill failed in part because of huge cuts to the food stamp program and because the rules established for the debate did not allow for further consideration of needed reforms to federal crop insurance premium subsidies. The House Rules Committee did not allow amendments that would have reduced premium subsidies for those making over $750,000 in adjusted gross income. Nor did they allow a vote on an amendment that would have placed a cap on federal crop insurance premium subsidies to mega-farmers.  This failed vote sends a clear signal that the Farm Bill needs to include much greater reform to achieve passage.”

    The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) reported that “very early on the morning of Wednesday, June 19, the House Rules Committee decided …which amendments members of the House of Representatives [would] vote on…  The final list included 103 amendments, but excluded several of the most important amendments related to crop insurance reform, rural development, local food promotion, organic agriculture, and outreach and assistance to minority farmers and ranchers.” You can read more about the process, debate on amendments, and House rejection of the bill from NSAC.

    What happens next is anyone’s guess. There has been some talk of reviving debate in a few weeks, though some insiders think this is unlikely. So for now, and possibly for the foreseeable future,  many farmers are simply being left out in the cold.

  • 18Jun

    Keep up-to-date with the biggest news stories in agriculture from around the web!

    What are the journalists at the major media outlets penning… or typing… these days?

    In the past few weeks, we saw:

    • Continued coverage of the Farm Bill (the Senate passed its version) and we reported on this in greater detail yesterday here;
    • Bloomberg News reported on some limited halting of trade due to confirmation of genetically engineered wheat on a farm in Oregon (USDA press release here);
    • Investigative research and reporting by Todd Neeley at DTN related to the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas provided insight into current ammonium nitrate (AN) stockpiles and future risks due to the location of AN stocks;
    • Much ado was made about the bid by a Chinese meat processor to purchase Smithfield Foods (America’s biggest pork producer), including some policy analysis from the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Tennessee, and some reporting that sheds light on the complexity of this deal in terms of the players involved;
    • The Environmental Protection Agency seems to be facing an uphill battle in regulating “factory farms” which has irked the New York Times editorial board;
    • A soggy spring in the heartland made for reporting of concern about corn and soy crop yields alongside predictions of record yields in the same article (an interesting article from William Wiebold at the University of Missouri Cooperative Extension provides an overview of the science of how and why heavy rains in the Midwest are likely to impact crop yields).
  • 28May

    USDA Publishes Country of Origin Labeling Final Rule: On Thursday, May 23, the USDA published the final rule amending the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations in the Federal Register.  A pdf version of the final rule is available here.  COOL was originally enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill and required retailers to notify customers of the country of origin of covered commodities.  Covered commodities include muscle cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, goat, and pork, as well as ground beef, ground lamb, ground chicken, ground goat, ground pork, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, macadamia nuts, pecans, ginseng, and peanuts.  Read more…

    Rural Coop Development Grants Available: The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has announced the availability of $6.5 million as part of its Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program.  The Notice of Funding Availability was published in the May 23 Federal Register.  The goal of RCDG is to improve the economic condition of rural areas through the use of cooperative development.  Grants are awarded competitively on an annual basis to Rural Cooperative Development Centers who in turn provide technical assistance to individuals and entities. Read more…

  • 19May

    Sustainable Agriculture News Mid-May 2013: Grant Opportunities, Crop Insurance, etc.

    USDA Taking Rural Business Opportunity Grant Applications: USDA has issued a notice that the Rural Development Agency is taking applications for Rural Business Opportunity Grants (RBOG).  RBOG funds feasibility studies, strategic planning, leadership training and other services and activities that can foster the creation of businesses and jobs in rural areas.  Eligible applicants include public entities, non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, Indian tribes and rural cooperatives with members that are primarily rural residents.  Read more…

    USDA Announces Improvements to Organic Crop Insurance: This week, USDA Secretary Vilsack announced additional crop insurance options for organic farmers available in 2014.  Earlier this year,USDA made progress on organic crop insurance options by removing the premium surcharge for organic producers and making other adjustments.  In this week’s announcement, Vilsack discussed plans for releasing additional organic price elections as well as a contract price option for a number of crops.  Read more...

    More Time and More Funding for Farm Energy Grants and Loans: USDA has announced that the deadline for applying for FY2013 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants, loans, and feasibility studies has been extended to May 31, 2013.  Read more…

  • 13May

    National Farmers Union Press Release – May, 2013: Senate Ag Committee Releases Farm Bill

    National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson issued the following statement regarding the release of the initial draft of the 2013 Farm Bill by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:

    “NFU is encouraged that the initial draft of the farm bill has been circulated to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee in advance of the committee markup next week.

    “We are pleased to see that target price protection was added to the bill. However, in order to be substantial, target prices need to be increased and balanced in a meaningful way. We urge the inclusion of stronger protection against long-term price collapse for all commodities in all regions. It is also promising that some important programs left out of the one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, have been reauthorized and funded. Read more »

  • 11May

    News from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for Mid May 2013

    2013 Farm Bill Doubleheader: Next week is a big week for the 2013 Farm Bill.  Both the House and the Senate Agriculture Committees will be debating and voting on their respective versions of the 2013 Farm Bill next week.  Read more…

    Press Release:  NSAC Endorses the Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013: On Thursday, May 9, Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013 (H.R. 1932) in the House of Representatives to restore integrity and fiscal responsibility to the commodity program portion of the farm safety net.  This bill is identical to a Senate bill (S. 281) introduced earlier this year in the Senate by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD), and adopted by the Senate last year as part of the new five-year farm bill.  Read more…

    Representatives Introduce Bill to Improve Farm Bill Conservation Programs: Today, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with eleven additional cosponsors, introduced a bill to improve current farm conservation programs.  The Balancing Food, Farm, and the Environment Act (H.R. 1890) aims to help farmers and ranchers improve their environmental performance and reward them for the conservation benefits they produce.  Read more…

    Six Former USDA Officials Send Letter on Conservation Accountability: On Tuesday, May 7, six former Chiefs of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) delivered a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, urging them to reattach conservation accountability measures to federal crop insurance premium subsidies.  Read more…

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