• 07Jun

    The following is an editorial by Taylor Reid on the recent House Agricultural Appropriations Bill. Beginning Farmers is not a partisan website, and the opinions expressed are neither an inditment or endorsement of any political party. Above all the site supports farmers, all farmers. It also supports local food systems, sustainability in agriculture, development of rural communities, and child nutrition.

    House Republicans Propose Slashing Local Food, Rural Development, Child Nutrition, and Conservation Programs

    On May 31st 2011 the House Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year 2012 Agricultural Appropriations bill (to read the full text of the bill CLICK HERE) with major cuts in agricultural program spending – a 13.4% reduction in from fiscal year 2011. What is most worrisome is where the cuts have come. While the proposed bill actually increases Commodity Crop Payments by $150 million, it seems to take specific aim at much smaller programs funding local food, rural development, child nutrution, conservation, sustainable agriculture (SARE) and fair competition rules for meat producers.

    An Attack on Local Food Systems

    The House Appropriations Committee Report suggests that efforts to promote local and regional food systems are unnecessary and wasteful in a number of ways. In reality, local food systems have the potential to dramatically increase farmers share of the food dollar, and stimulate economic development and job creation by encouraging local reinvestment rather than corporate profit. The House Committee’s explicit attack on local and regional food systems is one of the most striking elements of the bill’s text, and that of the Committee Report.

    With regard to research, the Report explicitly states that: “While the Committee appreciates the work of the dedicated staff of NIFA [National Institute of Food and Agriculture], especially for their efforts to reorganize the agency and raise the profile of agricultural research as directed by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, it is concerned about some of the research being funded by the agency. For example, the agency recently awarded more than $23 million in grants to improve regional and local food systems. Over the past few years, numerous reports from Federal agencies and private philanthropic and scientific organizations have highlighted the need for the United States to invest in agricultural research, particularly to ensure productivity growth and to develop and refine sound natural resources management practices for U.S. farmers and ranchers and others around the world. In light of this advice and the nation’s serious budget deficit and debt problems, the agency should be focusing its research efforts on only the highest priority, scientifically merited research. While there are many interesting research topics and a multitude of issues that could be researched, the Committee expects the agency to focus on its core mission of agricultural research by setting a very high standard for research funded by the agency and requiring a rigorous peer review.” (Republican Appropriations Full Committee Report page 14).

    While recognizing the need to control spending and deal with the budget deficit, it is difficult for me to understand how “improving local and regional food systems” with $23 million of the $700 million dollars spent on research (about 3 percent) either fails to fulfill the goal of developing “sound natural resources management practices” (if developing local food systems don’t do this, I’m not sure what does) or significantly addresses “the nation’s serious budget deficit and debt problems”.

    The Committee Report also singles out USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative which focuses on building local and regional food systems, strengthening rural communities, promoting healthy eating, and protecting natural resources. Though the Committee lacks the power to cut such a program, the report implicitly demeans the initiative and explicitly adds new requirements stating: “The Committee directs the Department to provide an electronic notification to the Committee at least 72 hours prior to any travel in support of the ‘Know Your Farmer-Know Your Food’ initiative, and such notification shall include the agenda for the entire trip along with the cost to U.S. taxpayers. Additionally, the Committee directs the Department to post Media Advisories of all such trips on its website, and that such advisories include the same information” (Page 5).

    Defunding Rural Development Initiatives

    The Report also declines to fund the Rural Innovation Initiative, stating: “The fiscal year 2012 budget request reproposed a Regional Innovation Initiative. Secretary Vilsack has said the purpose of the initiative is to take a different direction in rural development based on five pillars: rural broadband, biofuels and biobased products, linking local production with local consumption of farm products, ecosystem markets to pay farmers for storing carbon, and forest restoration and private land conservation. The Committee is unable to provide any funding or authorization for the initiative as requests for additional information on the specific purpose, need, and plans for the initiative have gone unanswered” (page 33). The details of the “requests for additional information” and the reasons that they “have gone unanswered” are not something I have no specific knowledge of. But this appears to be simply another excuse to cut funding for local food system development among other things. Beyond this, according to a report from the National Sustainable Agriculture CoalitionThe bill cuts the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program to $12.5 million, nearly a quarter of its authorized level and nearly half of what went out the door in 2010.  The bill would also completely eliminate the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), including its farm bill mandatory funding of $3 million.” Read more »

  • 24Apr

    A new rule passed by the Food and Nutrition Service now specifically allows local food to be preferentially purchased by public institutions including schools.

    The rule is referred to as the “Geographic Preference Option for the Procurement of Unprocessed Agricultural Products in Child Nutrition Programs” and it applies to any public institution which receives funding through the Child Nutrition Act – which is part of the 2008 Farm Bill. The rule which specifies that public institutions “may apply an optional geographic preference in the procurement of unprocessed locally grown or locally raised agricultural products” clears the way for local food to be preferentially purchased by schools and other public institutions including state agencies.

    Though this was happening in many places already, there were concerns that “farm to school” programs and other public entities were in conflict with rules regarding interstate trade and other provisions. If you are interested in learning more about the rule, reading the summary or text, you can check it out in the Federal Register at: http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/04/22/2011-9843/geographic-preference-option-for-the-procurement-of-unprocessed-agricultural-products-in-child.

  • 20Jan

    This is a well written and comprehensive post on the Farm Bill that is easy to read and shares a different, more personal perspective than many of the other posts I’ve put up on the topic. -TR

    The Farm Bill: A Rancher’s Thoughts (by Jeff Fowle – Common Sense Agriculture’s Blog)

    EXCERPT: Given the current political climate, we are facing an opportunity to make some major changes in the Farm Bill to make it more effective, efficient and at the same time reduce government spending. On this first Farm Bill post, I hope to touch briefly on each of five of the six components: Food Stamps, Child Nutrition, Commodity Programs, Conservation and Crop Insurance.

  • 06Dec

    From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

    On Thursday, December 2, the US House of Representatives passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act by a vote of 264 to 157.  Since the bill is identical to the one passed by the Senate in August, it will now be sent to President Obama for his signature. The bill authorizes $4.5 billion over 10 years to raise the nutritional standards of food in schools.  It includes one of NSAC’s top policy priorities for the year, $40 million in mandatory funding for a new Farm to School program run by the USDARead more..

  • 08Aug

    From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

    TAKE ACTION

    Take Advantage of the Summer Congressional Recess Take advantage of the summer congressional recess to tell your senators and representatives to support USDA’s proposed rules for fair play in livestock and poultry marekts!  This summer the House and Senate are in recess from August 9th through September 10th.  This is your opportunity to tell your Senators and Representatives that you support USDA’s proposed rules to strengthen and clarify the protections for farmers and ranchers under the Packers & Stockyards Act.   

    THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS

    Senate Passes Child Nutrition Bill On Thursday, August 5, the  Senate passed a child nutrition program re-authorization bill by unanimous consent.  The bill includes $40 million in mandatory funding for the Farm to School competitive grants program, a measure that NSAC has helped champion.

    Grassley-Feingold Re-Introduce Commodity Cap Bill On Wednesday, August 4, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced legislation to reduce farm program payment limits and close the loopholes that are being used by mega farms to game the system and soak the taxpayer.

    USDA NEWS

    USDA Grants for Renewable Energy Systems Feasibility Studies On Friday, August 6, USDA announced that $3 million in FY2010 funding is available for grants to conduct feasibility studies for renewable energy systems for agriculture producers and rural small businesses.  The grants are part of the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  Grant applications must be submitted to your state Rural Development office by 4:30 pm on October 5, 2010.

    Know Your Farmer Blog and Agency Guides On Friday, July 30, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food published a blog, “USDA Programs at Glance,” with links to memorandum outlining programs that can be used to foster local and regional food systems in four areas of USDA: Rural Development, Farm Service Agency, Research, Education & Economics, and Agriculture Marketing Service.

  • 24Jul

    From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

    TAKE ACTION

    Tell Congress That You Want A Fair Deal For Farmers and Ranchers: Farmers and ranchers who raise livestock and poultry need your help to get a fair deal and a level playing field with meat and poultry processors.  USDA released proposed rules to strengthen and clarify the protections for the nation’s farmers and ranchers provided in the Packers and Stockyards Act.  But some members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee made crystal clear that they were firmly allied with large corporate packers and processors and had little concern, and even contempt, for farmers and ranchers. On July 23, NSAC joined with over 65 farmer, rancher, rural and sustainable agriculture groups on a letter in support of the USDA proposed rules, addressed to the House Agriculture Committee and delivered to members of Congress.

    THIS WEEK IN CONGRESS

    Specialty Crop and Organic Producers Testify On Wednesday, July 21st the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture held a hearing to review specialty crop and organic programs in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill.  NSAC hosted Margaret Smith, from Ash Grove Farm in Iowa and Extension Agent at Iowa State University (ISU), as the sole female and organic producer voice on the panel of witnesses.  Click here to view her testimony.

    House Committee Looks at USDA Rural Development On Tuesday, July 20, the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, Specialty Crops, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing to assess progress on Rural Development program implementation and hear ideas from the field in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.  NSAC was invited to provide a witness on the panel, a seat at the table filled very well by Van Ayers (click here to read his testimony), who sits on the Board of one of NSAC’s member groups, the Delta Land and Community in Arkansas.

    NSAC Sends Letter to White House and Congress Opposing Conservation Cuts On Wednesday, July 21, NSAC, along with over 70 other farm, conservation, and environmental organizations sent a letter to the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a letter to President Obama expressing strong opposition to any use of farm bill conservation program funding as an offset to pay for improvements to school meal programs.

    Revised Chart on FY 2011 Ag Appropriations With both the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee and the full Senate Appropriations Committee now having taken action on their Fiscal Year 2011 agricultural spending bills, NSAC is posting a revised version of its annual agricultural appropriations chart to our website.  The chart provides detailed funding level decisions on a program-by-program basis for about 40 USDA programs that we follow closely each year.

    Senate Deliberates On Rural Development and Energy in the Farm Bill On Wednesday, July 21, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry convened to hear from several witnesses regarding rural development and the farm bill.  The hearing centered on the potential benefits of alternative fuels production and research both for developing rural communities and for strengthening national security.

    Ad Calls for Urgent Action on Child Nutrition Bill On Wednesday, July 21, a full page Feeding America advertisement appeared in CQ Today and Roll Call, two Capitol Hill publications, urging Congress to pass a “robust, well-funded child nutrition bill this summer.”

    USDA NEWS

    USDA Boosts Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers The USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO) is requesting a second round of applications for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Competitive Grants Program (OASDFR), a program that seeks to ensure equitable participation in USDA programs for minority producers.

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