Agriculture Policy News, April 18-22, 2011

Here is this week's installment of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's Weekly News Roundup: CONGRESSIONAL NEWS Congressional Bioenergy Briefing: On On Tuesday, April 27, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute hosted a congressional briefing entitled Developing Sustainable Biomass Supplies.  Presentation slides and an audio recording of the briefing are posted on the Institute’s website. The briefing began with an overview and update on implementation of the Farm Bill Energy Title programs administered by the Rural Development Agency, as well as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program overseen by the Farm Service Agency.  Then Dr. Jeffrey Steiner, the National Program Leader for Biomass Production for the Agricultural Research Service, discussed the challenges to achieving sustainable biomass production. USDA NEWS NIFA Director Roger Beachy to Resign : On Friday, April 29, USDA announced that Roger Beachy, Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), will leave his post on May 20 of this year. USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics, Cathie Woteki, announced Beachy’s resignation today in a memo to her staff. Beachy intends to return to St. Louis. USDA Releases Assessment of Natural Resources in the United States : On Wednesday, April 27, USDA released a pre-publication copy of its long-awaited 2011 Resource Conservation Act Appraisal.  The appraisal, part of USDA’s implementation of the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA), assesses the status of soil, water, and related natural resources on non-Federal land and analyzes the effectiveness of current conservation policies and programs. The RCA also directs USDA to develop a “national conservation plan” in response to its Appraisal.  The plan is due to Congress early next year and might also serve as a vehicle for Administration ideas for the conservation title of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Results on Nationwide Analysis of Food Hubs Released : On April 19, at the Making Good Food Work Conference in Detroit, Michigan, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan released the results of a nationwide analysis of food hubs.  Merrigan focused on the  economic opportunities of food hubs, an emerging set of business models to provide additional outlets for small and medium sized farmers and bring local food to more consumers in a region. “Food hub” is a general term that encompasses a variety of models.  Common features of food hubs are aggregation,  distribution, and marketing services for small and especially mid-sized farms. Proposed National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Released: On Tuesday, April 26,  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) released its proposal for a National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA).  If adopted, the  program would be used to govern the production, handling, and manufacturing of leafy green vegetables, including spinach, lettuce, and cabbage, for handlers who sign on and for all the farmers who supply those participating handlers. Explaining the vision for the proposed Agreement, AMS says NLGMA “would minimize the potential for microbial contamination, thereby improving customer confidence in leafy green vegetables in the marketplace.”  The Agency adds that the Agreement “would be available to operations of all sizes, locations, and agricultural practices.”

EPA NEWS EPA and Army Corps Release New Guidance on Scope of Clean Water Act : On Wednesday, April 27, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers issued a proposed guidance for determining which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act.  A notice of the release of the proposed guidance will be published in the Federal Register on May 2, which starts a 60-day public comment period on the proposed guidance. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the last decade have engendered uncertainty and controversy over the issue of the scope of the Clean Water Act.  In the 2001 case Solid Waste Authority of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers, the Court ruled that the Army Corps and EPA could not rely solely on the use of a wetland area by birds as the jurisdictional support for protecting a wetland isolated from other waters under the Clean Water Act. Challenge to EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard Regulation : On April 18, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) filed a petition with the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in a challenge to EPA’s 2010 final regulation for changes to the renewable fuel standard program (also known as RFS2).  In 2010, NWF had petitioned EPA asking the agency to reconsider the final regulation, a request which EPA denied. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates that under the RFS2 up to 36 billion gallons of renewable biofuels be used by the transportation sector in 2022.  The Act also imposes limits on the greenhouse gases that can be emitted throughout the full lifecycle of each type of biofuel specified in the Act.
OTHER NEWS The Atlantic Holds Annual Food Summit in DC : Earlier this week The Atlantic held its annual Food Summit in Washington, DC.  USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan gave the keynote address.  Merrigan started by acknowledging that it is an exciting time for people working in the food and farm sectors since Americans are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, how it is produced, and who produces it. Merrigan then spoke specifically about one of the Agency’s primary goals: healthier children and improved child nutrition programs.  She referred to the most recent Child Nutrition Reauthorization as “landmark legislation,” which passed on December 2010.  Included in the bill is $5 million per year in mandatory funding for farm to school programs that NSAC and allied groups help secure.

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