• 02Jun

    Release: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Submits Comments on USDA Draft Rule that would continue to allow million dollar subsidy payments to mega-farms
    On May 27, NSAC urged the USDA to undertake a major overhaul of its “actively engaged in farming” draft rule to create fair and effective limitations on the subsidies taxpayers provide to commodity farms. The actively engaged in farming rules determine eligibility for commodity subsidies.  USDA’s draft rule would create an ineffective and unfair two-tier system of payment limit provisions…


    What’s all the Flapping About: What do HBO’s John Oliver, Chicken Farmers, and Congress Have in Common?
    There has been a lot of social media buzz lately about a piece on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about the plight of chicken farmers who raise birds on behalf of large chicken companies who own and process most of the chickens in this country. It has been great to see more attention drawn to the activities of the large poultry companies and their allies, but what is the “GIPSA Rider” that created the flap in the first place…


    New Conservation Reserve Program Sign Ups Unveiled by USDA
    On May 29 the USDA made three announcements regarding the Conservation Reserve Program. NSAC supports the addition of more wildlife initiative acreage in the CRP, but also wants USDA to increase enrollments of conservation buffers with big pay-offs for soil conservation and water quality in addition to fish and wildlife benefits….


    FDA Rule on Food Animal Antibiotic Use Data Now Open for Comment
    On May 19, the FDA released a proposed rule that will enable more detailed data collection on antibiotic use in livestock production in the United States. This rule would require drug companies to obtain and report estimates of sales by major food producing species – namely cattle, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. The additional information from drug companies is intended to allow the FDA to help ensure the proper use of these medically important antibiotics…

  • 10Feb

    USDA to cut off subsidies to city slickers - By Bill Tomson, Politico

    The Agriculture Department is getting ready to tell a lot of people who’ve been getting farm subsidy checks without lifting a hay bale, swinging a pitch fork or driving a tractor that they’re cut off.

    Congress could’ve answered the question of “who is a farmer?” and thus eligible to get payments when it passed the Farm Bill a year ago, but it punted the matter to the USDA.

    Wealthy executives, celebrities and others get subsidies even if they never set foot on a farm or don’t need the taxpayer-funded assistance. They include the likes of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, according to an Environmental Working Group report…

    Read the full article: USDA to cut off farm subsidies to city slickers.

  • 05Jan

    Land Stewardship Project Outlines Major Reforms for Making the Nation’s Largest Ag Program an Accountable & Reliable Safety Net for All Producers

    LE SUEUR, Minn. — The nation’s largest federal agriculture program is a significant barrier to beginning farmers who are trying to get access to land and capital, according to a new white paper released by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) today. Crop insurance has in recent years become a major publicly-funded mechanism for inflating land prices, concludes the “How Crop Insurance Hurts the Next Generation of Farmers” white paper, which is based on an analysis of government data and farmer interviews.

    “Crop insurance should be an effective safety net for all farmers, not just a select few raising a small number of favored crops,” said Tom Nuessmeier, who raises crops and livestock near Le Sueur and serves on LSP’s Federal Farm Policy Committee. “Unfortunately, it’s become a program that is biased against some of our most innovative farmers.”

    As two previous LSP white papers show, crop insurance cost the taxpayers over $58 billion between 2003 and 2012, and is projected to produce a $90 billion tax bill over the next decade. Launched in 1938 to provide a basic safety net for farmers facing severe weather catastrophes, public funding for crop insurance now mostly benefits 19 major insurance corporations and some of the largest crop producers in Minnesota and the U.S.

    Because the program subsidizes as much as 60 to 70 percent of the cost of premium subsidies and has no limits on how much an individual producer can qualify for, it provides a publicly-funded source of cash for bidding up rental and purchase prices, according to Mark Schultz, one of the authors of the LSP white papers.

    “Our interviews with farmers confirm that it has served to artificially inflate land prices by allowing the largest crop operators to lock in profits and aggressively purchase and rent farmland to expand their operations, driving up land costs beyond the reach of most farmers,” said Schultz, who is also LSP’s Policy Program director.

    Crop insurance also makes it difficult for beginning farmers to access capital since it limits coverage for producers who have little or no yield history or who choose to raise a diversity of crops. Emily Hanson, who along with Klaus Zimmermann has been searching the past few years for a farm to raise crops and livestock on, said even marginal acres are out of their price range because of the inflationary market. Read more »

  • 11May

    USDA Reminds Producers of Approaching Sign-Up Deadline for 2012 Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program and Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Programs

    U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Bruce Nelson today reminded producers that enrollment for the 2012 Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program (DCP) and the Average Crop Revenue Election Program (ACRE) ends on June 1, 2012.

    “We want producers to know that DCP and ACRE are still available for enrollment,” said Nelson. “Producers who want to participate in DCP or ACRE must enroll their eligible farms. We encourage them to take the time to sign up before the deadline. Electronic DCP (eDCP) is a great option for enrolling during this busy planting season.”

    Producers who choose to participate in either the revenue-based ACRE safety net or the price-based DCP safety net must enroll their farms each year. All owners and operators who will share in the DCP or ACRE payments on the farm must sign up by June 1. Since 2009, producers have had the option to participate in DCP or ACRE. A producer who initially chose to remain in DCP has an option to switch to ACRE during the current enrollment period; however, producers who chose to enroll in ACRE cannot switch back to DCP.

    Find out all about it by clicking the READ MORE button. Read more »

  • 23Apr

    Please see the update on The Senate Agriculture Committee Draft farm bill as it related to beginning farmer programs at: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/update-on-senate-agriculture-beginning-farmer-programs-bad-news/. This information is no longer current.

    On Friday April 20th, 2012 the Senate Agriculture Committee released its 2012 Farm Bill Draft. A number of policy wonks including myself have been looking closely at the legislation and have been lobbying for crucial programs for the past week.

    On Thursday, April 19, Beginning Farmers LLC along with nearly 200 other organizations from across the country, delivered a letter to Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, urging them to support funding in the new farm bill for two key programs that support the next generation of farmers, including beginning, socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers.

    In my reading of the draft, it appears that the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) portion of the draft now includes in its “set-aside”, funding for military veterans – which is a proposal that I actually initiated. Thanks to lobbying efforts by myself, and more importantly – by members of the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC) it appears to have made it through through this first cut. It also appears that the funding ask for fiscal year 2013 is $50M, which is a substantial increase – something that many of us have been asking for. Unfortunately, the draft Bill does not ask for funding beyond 2013. Why this is and what it means is something I’m still trying to figure out, and as I talk to others who are more familiar with the process, I hope to learn more and will keep you updated.

    Thanks to everyone who responded to the request I posted on Friday asking for calls to Senators encouraging them to support increased funding for this crucial program.

    The draft legislation which will be marked up by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday includes a total of $23Billion in cuts for farming legislation over the next 5 years according to Ag. Committee Chair Stabenow. According to the Senator, this will be achieved primarily by elimination of direct payments, and payments for farmland that isn’t planted, instead consolidating them into a larger “farm insurance” program. The payments for unplanted farmland provision comes, I believe, out of the Conservation Title. And though it has been misused by a few, it also encourages farmers not to plant on land that is “marginal”, or environmentally fragile.

    Also included in the draft is the elimination of “Section 2501″, which was originally prompted by discrimination lawsuits and was aimed at helping socially disadvantaged farmers (who constitute a disproportionately large number of beginning farmers overall). You can learn more about this issue from Public News Service.

    I certainly could be wrong in some of my analyses and interpretations here. This is a quick first look. Other aspects of Beginning Farmer programs still need to be analyzed, and anyone with differing opinions or a better understanding of what this all of this means are encouraged to share their opinions and interpretations. Simply click the “Comment” tab in green above (just below the title).

    I will certainly keep folks updated as this becomes clearer.

    Taylor Reid

  • 22Jan

    USDA Reminds Producers of Sign-up Dates for 2012 Direct and Counter Cyclical Program and Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Program

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2012 — U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Bruce Nelson today announced that enrollment for the 2012 Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP) and the Average Crop Revenue Election Program (ACRE) will begin on Jan. 23, 2012. The last day for producers to sign up for either program will be June 1, 2012.

    USDA urges producers to make use of the electronic DCP (eDCP) automated website to sign up, or producers can visit any USDA Service Center to complete their 2012 DCP or ACRE contract. eDCP saves time, reduces paperwork and speeds up contract processing at USDA Service Centers. It is available to all producers who are eligible to participate in the DCP and ACRE programs and can be accessed at www.fsa.usda.gov/dcp. To access the service, producers must have an active USDA eAuthentication Level 2 account, which requires filling out an online registration form at www.eauth.egov.usda.gov followed by a visit to the local USDA Service Center for identity verification.

    USDA computes DCP program payments using base acres and payment yields established for each farm. Eligible producers receive direct payments at rates established by statute regardless of market prices.

    For 2012, advance direct payments are not authorized in accordance to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Counter-cyclical payment rates vary depending on market prices.

    Counter-cyclical payments are issued only when the effective price for a commodity is below its target price. The effective price is the higher of the national average market price received during the 12-month marketing year for each covered commodity and the national average loan rate for a marketing assistance loan for the covered commodity.

    The ACRE Program provides a safety net based on state revenue losses. When the ACRE option is chosen, it acts in place of the price-based safety net of counter-cyclical payments under DCP. USDA provides the farm a revenue guarantee. The guarantee starts with multiplying an average yield calculated using a five-year state average times the most recent two-year national price average for each eligible commodity. For the 2012 crop year, the two-year price average will be based on the 2010 and 2011 crop years. When all criteria are considered in calculating the target and the annual revenue is lower than the revenue guarantee, the farm is eligible for support under ACRE, assuming all other qualifications are met. Read more »

  • 01Dec

    A recent Press Release from the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) indicates that farm insurance premiums for corn and soybeans will be lowered in 2012, despite high commodity prices.

    The press release can be found HERE, and the text follows:

    WASHINGTON, Nov 28, 2011 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced today that it will update the methodology to set crop insurance premiums, leading to lower insurance premium rates for many corn and soybean producers in the 2012 crop year. The rate adjustment is based on findings of an independent study and peer review process. The study is part of RMA’s ongoing effort to improve the methodology of determining premium rates for crop insurance.

    “We are improving the formulation of our rate-making methodology, and are moving to establish the most fair and appropriate premium rates for today’s producers,” said RMA Administrator William J. Murphy. “On average, these new rates should reduce corn farmers’ rates by 7 percent and soybean farmers’ by 9 percent. As good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, we welcome the opportunity to match premium rates more accurately with current risks.” Read more »

  • 21Oct

    “Unable to agree on whether millionaires should be taxed more, Democrats and Republicans are in rare accord on one issue: Growers with million-dollar incomes shouldn’t reap farm subsidies. In an emphatic vote early Friday, 84 senators voted to discontinue certain farm subsidies for people who make more than a million dollars in adjusted gross income. The practical impact of the vote may be marginal — current limits are about $1.2 million at most — but it represents a sea change in how the heavily rural Senate views farm support. In recent years, many votes to limit subsidies have failed in the Senate.” Read the full story from the Associated Press HERE.

    This is not the Grassley-Johnson Rural America Preservation Act that I have advocated for, but rather an amendment introduced by Senator Coburn (R-OK). And some analysts see this as a weaker bill that could be easier for big farms to get around. According to FarmPolicy.com Senator Stabenow (D-MI), Chair of the Ag. Committee, argued against the amendment, suggesting that the Committee was already working on the issue and would prefer to pass it through “regular order”, though it remains unclear whether she was referring to the Grassley-Johnson regulation, or some other measure. Still, the vote signals an important change in legislative thinking on subsidy payments, which disproportionately go to the largest and wealthiest American farms. According the Environmental Working Group, the top 10% of farms averaged subsidy payments of $30,751 annually between 1995 and 2010, while the bottom 80% averaged $587 per year over that same time period, with 62% of American farmers collecting no subsidy payments at all. The House still has yet to vote on the current measure.

    In related news, National Public Radio recently aired a segment entitled “Are Farm Subsidies At Risk?” You can listen to this report from Brian Naylor HERE.

  • 13Apr

    Press Release from U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations

    Summary: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies

    Fiscal 2011 Continuing Resolution

    Fiscal Year 2010 Discretionary Spending: $23.135 billion

    H.R. 1 Discretionary Spending: $18.030 billion

    FY 11 Continuing Resolution: $19.965 billion

    Overall discretionary spending for the Agriculture Subcommittee in the Continuing Resolution totals $19.965 billion. This represents an increase of $1.935 billion (+10 %) above H.R. 1, but is a decrease of $3.17 billion (-14%) below the FY 10 funding level.

    This is a very austere bill that reflects reductions below the FY 10 funding level in nearly every program. In making these difficult funding decisions, programs directly related to public health and safety and domestic and international nutrition assistance programs were prioritized. Multiple programs were eliminated, and many others were significantly reduced. Summaries of funding decisions are below. Read more »

  • 11Apr

    Basically we know very little at this point. But if you want to know more about how government works or how budgets affect agricultural programs, this post from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a fantastic reference. I learned a lot from reading it – especially about what we don’t know and why!

    We have delayed publishing an update on the fiscal year 2011 appropriations and fiscal year 2012 budget bills several times in the past week due to a lack of detailed information emanating from Capitol Hill.  Now, with the government shutdown averted just after midnight last night, we understand (from the many emails received!) that readers would like to know what happened on sustainable agriculture priorities.  Unfortunately there is not yet much to report with any degree of assurance.

    Fiscal Year 2011 Bill

    We will likely not be able to provide details on the 2011 appropriations bill until late Monday after the bill is (hopefully) made public.  Appropriations staff on Capitol Hill are busy this weekend working on the details of the package announced last night.

    From press accounts, the basics of the deal are a $42 billion cut below FY 2010 levels for non-defense spending coupled with a $4 billion increase in defense spending, for a net decrease of approximately $38 billion.  Of that $38 billion, $10 billion was already enacted via the two preceding short term Continuing Resolutions over the past five weeks and $2 billion more was enacted last night in the form of a new one-week Continuing Resolution.

    No USDA programs were included in the new $2 billion in cuts; those cuts were focused on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

    Agriculture and rural development were already subject to disproportionately high cutbacks in the earlier two short-term Continuing Resolutions.

    The new Continuing Resolution passed last night expires next Friday, April 15, at the same time that many people will be racing to the Post Office with their last minute tax return filings.  The rest-of-FY 2011 appropriations bill is being drafted now.  It will be made public soon, presumably on Monday.  The House will vote on the bill first.  By House rules, the bill will need to sit for three days before it can be voted on, presumably on Thursday.  The Senate will vote later on Thursday or on Friday.

    Two issues have been particularly contentious over the last several weeks.  First, there has been significant disagreement over the issue of whether the final measure will include cuts to mandatory spending programs in addition to discretionary spending, which is the normal focus of appropriations bills.  (Cuts to mandatory programs, such as Social Security, food stamps, or farm subsidies, are known in Hill-speak as “CHIMPS” (changes in mandatory program spending)).  Second,  it has been uncertain whether the bill would legislate as well as appropriate via provisions known as legislative “riders.”

    According to press accounts, the final bill does include substantial CHIMPS, as favored by Senate Democrats and the White House.  Nearly $18 billion of the $42 billion in non-defense cuts are reported to be from mandatory spending.  Or to put it another way, of the $30 billion remaining to be cut beyond the reductions already made in the short-term Continuing Resolutions, 60 percent will come from mandatory programs. Read more »

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