Sustainable Agriculture News and Policy Roundup, April 15, 2011

It's been a busy week in Washington for agriculture (among other things). To catch you up on the latest news and policy, here is the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's policy roundup. FARMERS IN D.C. Ohio Beginning Farmer Testifies at House Ag Credit Hearing: On Thursday, April 14, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Credit held a hearing to review credit conditions in rural America.  The two panels primarily featured witnesses from different credit providers, from independent banks to federal loan providers. Among the witnesses was Matt Starline, a young farmer and owner of Starline Organics in Athens, Ohio and a member of Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, an NSAC member group.     Read more... Guest Blog: Value-Added Producer Grants in Action: 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.  Read more...

CONGRESSIONAL NEWS Congress Passes FY 2011 Budget, Cuts Billions From Agriculture: On Thursday, April 14, Congress passed a final 6-month continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.  The CR cuts $42 billion relative to FY 2010 levels for non-defense spending, but couples that with a $4 billion increase in defense spending, for a net decrease of approximately $38 billion.  Of that $38 billion, $12 billion was already enacted via three preceding short-term continuing resolutions over the past five weeks, including a $2 billion cut enacted as late as April 8 in the form of a one-week CR.  Read more... Congress Releases Draft 6-Month Continuing Resolution: On Wednesday, April 8, the Senate rejected four legislative riders that would have limited EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.  The riders were offered for attachment to a small business bill. The amendment offered by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and James Inhofe (R-OK) came closest to passing by a vote of 50-50 but did not receive the 60 votes required for passage of an amendment to the bill  . The amendment would have prohibited EPA from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas (GHG) to address climate change.    Read more...
What We Know and Don't Know on the Budget: 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.  Read more...

House Hearing on the State of Poultry Industry: On Wednesday, April 13, the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry of the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the State of the Poultry Industry.  The three witnesses included a Virginia poultry grower representing the Virginia Poultry Federation, the chairman of an Iowa turkey processing company testifying on behalf the National Turkey Federation, and the President of a Georgia chicken processing company testifying on behalf of the National Chicken Council. The three major topics addressed at the hearing were the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed rule, the impacts of corn ethanol production on the poultry feed prices, and the EPA’s development of a Clean Water Act Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) plan for the Chesapeake Bay region.  Read more...
Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Hearing on Renewable Fuels: On Wednesday, April 13, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing on domestic renewable fuels, with a focus on corn ethanol.  Witnesses on the first two panels included USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and officials from EPA and the Department of Energy who work on renewable fuel issues.  They were followed by a panel of supporters and a panel of critics of the federal subsidies that are provided to corn ethanol.    Read more... USDA NEWS REAP Interim Final Rule and Notice of Funding Availability: On Thursday, April 14, USDA issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which is effective immediately.  USDA is taking public comments on the IFR until June 13, 2011. NSAC appreciated the IFR ranking priority for funding to small farms.  NSAC also approves of the rule’s extending REAP funding to non-rural areas, if the applicant for funding is an agricultural producer.  This provision addresses some of NSAC’s concerns about REAP money going to non-rural areas and could give a boost to local food initiatives in those urban areas which can accommodate farming.  Read more...
FY 2010 AFRI Awards on Food Systems: Earlier this year, USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) posted the Fiscal Year 2010 awards for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  Five of the six AFRI award categories focus on integrated solutions to five “societal challenge areas”: Childhood Obesity Prevention, Climate Change, Food Safety, Global Food Security, and Sustainable Bioenergy. The Global Food Security challenge area includes programs to address the availability and accessibility of food both globally and in the US.  Within this challenge area, one of the subprograms is “Improved Sustainable Food Systems to Reduce Hunger and Food Insecurity Domestically and Globally.”     Read more... National Agricultural Landscapes Forum in Review: On Tuesday, April 5, Harris Sherman, USDA Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. The hearing focused on the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget, which proposes deep cuts to many agriculture conservation programs.    Read more...
USDA Extends EQIP Organic Initiative Sign-up for FY 2011: On On Tuesday, April 5, Harris Sherman, USDA Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. The hearing focused on the President’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget, which proposes deep cuts to many agriculture conservation programs. waterways.      Read more...
OTHER NEWS EWG Report Calls Soil Erosion "Far Worse than Official Estimates" : On Wednesday, April 13, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a new report on soil erosion in Iowa.  The report, entitled Loosing Ground, states that soil in Iowa and other Corn Belt states is “being swept away at rates many times higher than official estimates.”  The findings are based in part on data from aerial surveys and Iowa State University (ISU). According to the report, the National Resources Inventory (NRI) data that are typically used by USDA suggest that erosion rates in Iowa averaged 5.2 tons per acre per year, and 3.9 across the entire Corn Belt in 2007.   Read more...

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