Weekly Sustainable Agriculture Policy Roundup

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) TAKE ACTION Last Opportunity for a Better School Lunch: Time is running out for Congress to re-authorize the Child Nutrition Act by September 30.  The House, unable to come to agreement on how to pay for their bill is now considering simply passing the version passed by the Senate in August, and they could do so as early as tomorrow. This is likely our last and best opportunity to win mandatory funding for the Farm to School program this year. USDA NEWS Secretary Vilsack Announces Recovery Act Funding to Improve Water Quality: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced this week that the USDA will disperse $445.3 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) funding to 89 projects to improve water quality and sanitation. Over 50 Organizations Express Discontent over RMAP Interim Final Rule: On Thursday, September 23, NSAC and 56 other organizations delivered a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing concern over USDA's Interim Final Rule for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program (RMAP). The organizations are particularly unhappy with the borrowing terms laid out in the rule and the narrow scope of the technical assistance provision.  These and other barriers and disincentives have discouraged many microenterprise development organizations from applying for RMAP funding. Conservation Stewardship Program 2011 Sign-Up News: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to hold the farmer and rancher sign-up for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) between October 1 and December 31, 2010. NSAC applauds NRCS for extending the effective sign-up period until the end of December.  Earlier plans called for a shorter time period. FSA Proposes Expansion of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Land Contract Program: On Thursday, September 23, USDA's Farm Services Agency (FSA) issued a proposed rule to implement the Land Contract Sales Program pursuant to the 2008 Farm Bill.  The proposal makes permanent the Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) Land Contract Guarantee Pilot Program from the 2002 Farm Bill.  As required by the new Farm Bill, the new rule makes the program applicable nationwide and also expands the program to include socially disadvantaged farmers. NSAC Delivers AFRI Recommendations to USDA: The member organizations of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition adopted a set of eight recommendations in support of USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at its annual summer meeting.  Those recommendations were forwarded to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and his agricultural research leadership team today. In its recommendations, the NSAC membership called on USDA to increase and improve AFRI programming for rural innovation and  revitalization, local and regional food systems, and classical public plant and animal breeding work. Rural Community Development Grants Available: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced yesterday the availability of $6.2 million in grant funding through the USDA's Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) for fiscal year 2011. Secretary Vilsack also announced the recipients of nine Rural Business Opportunity Grants, which support regional planning activities to improve economic conditions in rural areas, including but not limited to regional food system development. CONGRESSIONAL NEWS Food Safety Bill Remains Stalled In Senate: The Senate Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) remains deadlocked over Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) objections to the bill's potential $1.4 billion price tag, despite Senator Harry Reid's (D-NV) decision to "hotline" the bill yesterday in order to check for any remaining Democratic objections, a critical step toward speeding the bill's progress. It is unclear whether the bill will move until after the midterm elections, but we will continue to push to include the final version of the provision proposed by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and co-sponsored by Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) - exempting small farms and farms that primarily direct market their products from certain aspects of the proposed new regulatory regime for food corporations - in the Manager's Package of amendments. Congress Set to Pass Continuing Resolution on Final Day of FY2010: Congress is likely to wait until the last day of the fiscal year to pass a continuing resolution extending this year's federal spending levels into Fiscal Year 2011.  The current 2010 fiscal year ends on Thursday, September 30. Each year, Congress attempts to pass a new appropriations bills to fund discretionary government programs.  In years it fails to do so by the start of the new fiscal year it instead passes a continuing resolution to extend the current year's budget for a given period of time.  In this year's case, the continuing resolution will likely run out in late November or early December, after the November elections. EPA and Agriculture in the Spotlight: EPA and agriculture issues are in the spotlight this week and next week, with a Senate oversight hearing and the first meeting of the EPA Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Committee appointed by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. On Thursday, September 23, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing to examine the impact of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation on agriculture. EPA Administrator Jackson responded to Chairman Blanche Lincoln's (D-AR) questions and objections to EPA guidance on a number of issues, including pesticide applications on or near water and the regulation of greenhouse gases. OTHER NEWS Michelle Obama to Host "First Spouses" at Stone Barns Center: First Lady Michelle Obama will host a Farm-to-Table luncheon this Friday, September 24, for the spouses of world leaders participating in this week's UN General Assembly at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an NSAC member group. ]Mrs. Obama and the other "first spouses" will take tours of the farm and watch students from a local school demonstrate their experiences in hands-on farming with the Center's child education programs, including harvesting vegetables and collecting eggs from pasture-raised hens.

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