Agriculture Policy Update, Week of April 18-22 2011

Another busy week in Washington on agriculture policy means another long, but very informative summary of events from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

PUBLIC COMMENT DEADLINE - Comments on the VAPG Interim Final Rule Due Monday: On February 23, the USDA released its interim final rule (IFR) for the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.  The public comment period on the rule closes on Monday.  NSAC will submit its comments then.  We encourage those interested in the program to read on for information regarding the contents of the interim final rule and, if so inclined, to submit comments on Monday. We also expect USDA to issue the notice that it will be accepting new VAPG grant proposals soon, perhaps as early as next week.  There is likely to be a 60 day turnaround time for submitting proposals.  We will let readers know as soon as the notice is made public.     Read more... CONGRESSIONAL NEWS NSAC Submits FY 2012 Appropriations Testimony to Congress: On Thursday, April 14, NSAC submitted fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.  The testimony includes NSAC funding requests for sustainable agriculture programs in FY 2012, and explains the importance of each program.  Click here to view a copy of the testimony.      Read more... Letter to Congress in Support of Increased Fairness for Farmers and Ranchers: This week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition joined a total of 144 organizations from around the country on a letter delivered to members of Congress urging them to support a fair competition rule proposed by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).  USDA issued the proposed rule in response to directives from Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill and to fulfill USDA’s duty to provide clear rules for implementing the Packers & Stockyards Act. The proposed rule is intended to increase fairness to farmer and ranchers in the marketplace for poultry, hogs and cattle.  Read more... USDA NEWS USDA Sets Deadline for Biomass Crop Assistance Program Project Proposals: On April 19, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) issued a Notice that the agency was setting a deadline for Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project proposals.  Farmers participating in approved projects are eligible for payments to establish bioenergy crops as well as an annual payment. Project proposals must be submitted by May 27 to FSA state offices.  FSA state offices have until June 10 to review project proposals, which will then be sent to FSA’s national office for review and a determination if additional environmental review is needed for the proposed project.  FSA has until June 24 to make this determination.    Read more... NSAC Submits Comment on Development of Guidelines to Measure GHGs and Carbon Sequestration: On Tuesday, April 19, NSAC responded to a request for comments by USDA on its intent to develop technical guidelines and methods to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon sequestration for agricultural and forestry activities. The 2008 Farm Bill directed USDA to prepare technical guidelines that outline methods to measure the carbon benefits from conservation and land management activities.  USDA intends to develop measurement methods and guidelines for various types of producers and conservation and production practices.    Read more... Final Rule for Interstate Shipment of State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Announced: On Tuesday, April 19, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a final rule today to broaden the market for smaller, state-inspected meat and poultry plants.  As provided in the 2008 Farm Bill, state-inspected establishments with 25 or fewer employees will be eligible to participate in a voluntary cooperative interstate shipment program, which will give them the option to ship meat and poultry products across state lines bearing an official USDA seal of inspection. FSIS  Administrator Al Almanza says of the rule, “Allowing these state-inspected establishments to ship their products across state lines has the potential to expand rural development and jobs,  increase local tax bases, strengthen rural communities, and ensure that food is safe for consumers.”   Read more... Final Rule on Geographic Preference in Child Nutrition Programs Released: Today the Food and Nutrition Service released the final rule on geographic preference in Child Nutrition Programs, demonstrating substantial progress for local and regional food systems. As the final rule explains, “geographic preference is a tool that gives bidders in a specified geographic area a specific, defined advantage in the procurement process.” This rulemaking follows from an amendment in the 2008 Farm Bill directing the Secretary of Agriculture to encourage local sourcing by institutions in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and Department of Defense (DOD) Fresh program, among others.     Read more... National Farmers Market Directory Open for Updates: On Monday, April 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) opened the updating process for the USDA National Farmers Market Directory, which is the official count of farmers markets in the nation.  2011 will be the first year that the directory will track markets with multiple locations and days of operation. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the directory is not merely a listing of the nation’s more than 6,100 farmers markets: it is also a resource for anyone interested in local food, small producers, and policy surrounding regional food systems.     Read more...

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