Ag Policy

USDA Value Added Producer Grants Due!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the availability of $44 million in funding through the competitive VAPG Program. Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program provides competitive grants to producers for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and marketing efforts to establish viable value-added businesses. Up to $75,000 is available for planning grants and up to $250,000 is available for implementation grants.

The deadline for paper applications is July 1, while electronic applications are due June 24 on the website grants.gov.

Individual and groups of producers, as well as farmer coops and producer-controlled businesses, are eligible to apply for these grants, which help to increase income and marketing opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers, along with fishermen, loggers, and other harvesters of agricultural commodities.

USDA has created a “toolkit” for applicants, that includes an application checklist, templates, required grant forms, and instructions (found under the “Forms & Resources” tab).

If you need assistance, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Farmers Guide to the VAPG Program as it walks farmers through the program’s application requirements with a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.

Yep, those are collards in high tunnels at the  farm of Russell and Jewell Bean in Eufaula, AL, February 2013.JPG

More Funding Available for Fruits and Veggies Through Specialty Crop Block Grant!

Good news rolling off the Hill! Our partners at NSAC are sharing all the news as it happens.

On Wednesday March 9 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) announced the availability of over $62 million in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) in fiscal year 2016. AMS also announced $26 million in funding would be made available for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP).

SCBGP provides grants on an annual basis to assist state departments of agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops. To receive grants, states must submit an application to AMS outlining how the grant funds would be spent.

States regularly partner with nonprofit organizations, producer groups, and colleges and universities to develop their applications and administer their programs. SCBGP funding is allocated to U.S. States and territories each year based on a formula that considers both specialty crop acreage and production value.

States can use the block grants to supplement state-run specialty crop programs. They can also use them for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, such as locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research and programs designed to increase demand. SCBGP funds can support a wide array of projects including: value-added processing businesses, food hub development, farmer food safety training, and farm to school initiatives.

State departments of agriculture must submit their applications to AMS by July 6, 2016.

USDA encourages states to submit projects related to the following priority areas:

  • Benefitting underserved communities and veterans
  • Improving producer capacity to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Developing adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers in drought-stricken regions of the country
  • Increasing opportunities for new and beginning farmers
  • Developing strong local and regional food systems
  • Protecting pollinator habitats and improving pollinator health
  • Supporting the growth of organic specialty crops

Improving Producer Capacity to Comply with FSMA

One priority area that is particularly timely given the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent changes to FSMA rules, are those projects that improve specialty crop producers’ capacity to comply with the new requirements –specifically with the new FSMA Produce Rule.

NSAC encourages prospective applicants to seriously consider projects from this priority area. Complying with food safety rules is critical to the ability of small and mid sized farmers to be successful, and in order to comply many farmers will need access to FSMA education and training programs.

Under the FSMA priority area, USDA is encouraging projects that enhance food safety broadly and improve the capacity of all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain to comply with FSMA requirements. According to the USDA, preferred projects would develop “good agricultural practices, good handling practices, good manufacturing practices”. In the case of cost-share arrangements, preferred projects would fund audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors.

Organizations interested in applying for SCBGP funds should do so directly through their state department of agriculture. A listing of state contacts and how to apply with state application due dates, can be found here.


Conservation Stewardship Program 2016 Open for Sign Ups!

Farmers and ranchers interested in enrolling in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) this year have until March 31 to submit their initial applications to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). USDA will enroll 10 million acres of farm and ranch land in the program this year, with payments to farmers and ranchers of over three-quarters of a billion dollars over the next five years.

March 31 is also the deadline by which initial applications are needed from farmers with expiring 2012-2016 contracts if they want to renew them for another five years.  Some 12 million acres already in the program are eligible for renewal this year.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program is one of our most popular programs with producers because it results in real change on the ground by boosting soil and air quality, conserving clean water and enhancing wildlife habitat,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “With this investment, we’ll be able to build on the already record number of acres enrolled in USDA’s conservation programs, enabling producers to achieve higher levels of conservation and adopt new and emerging conservation technologies on farms, ranches and forests.”

Read more from our ever vigilant partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition HERE.

Conservation Stewardship Program Changes Delayed

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) broke the news that the major overhaul (or “makeover”) of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) scheduled for early 2016 will be delayed one year, and instead rolled out for the 2017 sign-up period.

CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program designed to help farmers and ranchers protect and improve natural resources on productive, profitable land. It provides farmers and ranchers assistance to manage and adopt advanced conservation systems on their lands in agricultural production through a commitment to continual improvement and exceeding stewardship thresholds for priority resource concerns.

Nearly 70 million acres are currently enrolled in the program, and an additional 20 million acres will be enrolled or renewed each year until the next farm bill, so any updates or revisions to the program will have a significant impact on working lands conservation across the country.

The delay means that the 2016 sign-up period, which is expected to begin early next year, will occur under similar rules and guidelines as it did in 2015. The Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) will still be used to score and rank applications, and payments will be determined as they had been in the years past.

The major changes that NRCS had been planning for 2016 are now scheduled to be rolled out in October 2016, and the new program will be offered to participants for the 2017 sign-up period.

We join our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauding NRCS for extending the overhaul timeline, as it not only provides time for field and state NRCS employees to receive ample training on the upcoming changes, but it also allows stakeholders to provide input before these changes go into effect. Additionally, farmer outreach will be absolutely critical for new participants and renewals, and the revised timeline enables NRCS and organizations like NSAC to ensure that farmers are informed and excited about the upcoming changes.

Watch NSAC as they continue to engage with NRCS on the upcoming 2016 sign-up.


Does this Weeks' Budget Deal Affect Farmers?

We depend on our friends at the National Sustainable Ag Coalition (NSAC) to analyze everything coming out of Washington DC - here is their take on the recent budget extension:

Debt Limit and Spending Caps

The agreement suspends the U.S. borrowing cap (also known as the debt limit) until March 15, 2017. The borrowing cap would kick in early next month, if Congress were to fail to pass the agreed upon budget deal, putting the nation in default on paying its debt for past spending decisions.

In addition to suspending the debt limit, the budget agreement raises overall spending caps for both domestic discretionary spending and defense discretionary spending. For domestic (non-defense) discretionary spending, caps would increase by $25 billion in FY 2016 and $15 billion in FY 2017. By comparison, the deal increases defense spending by $41 billion in FY 2016 and $31 billion in FY 2017, including funding for what is known as the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) account.

Offsets

The budget deal pays for the spending increases by, among other cuts and reforms:

  • Extending automatic sequestration cuts to mandatory spending by one year, to 2025;
  • Reducing the target rate of return for crop insurance companies from 14 percent to 8.9 percent, and allows Congress to generate taxpayer savings through negotiated agreements with the crop insurance industry;
  • Selling crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve;
  • Auctioning internet and mobile phone spectrum frequencies;
  • Modifying some tax compliance provisions;
  • Repealing a provision from the Affordable Care Act that requires large employers to automatically enroll employees in a health care plan, if a qualified plan is offered by the employer;
  • Reforming Social Security Disability Insurance; and
  • Cutting and reforming certain Medicare payments and requiring Medicaid rebate payments from makers of generic drugs.

Impact on Agriculture and Conservation

Crop Insurance

As noted above, the budget deal uses two changes to the crop insurance program as offsets for increased discretionary security and non-security spending. The first change removes a provision of the 2014 Farm Bill inserted in the dark of night that prevents USDA from obtaining any savings from a renegotiation of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA). The SRA governs all aspects of the relationship between the federal government and the crop insurance companies that administer the policies. That 2014 Farm Bill provision locked in the status quo rate of return for crop insurance companies and allowed them to pocket any savings obtained through increased efficiencies in the crop insurance delivery system.

The other provision lowers the target rate of return for crop insurance companies under the SRA from 14 percent to 8.9 percent. President Obama proposed a smaller cut from 14 percent to 12 percent as part of several past budgets. Rumor has it, though, that the White House offered other crop insurance reform provisions that would have changed premium subsidies to certain farmers, but Hill negotiators suggested the SRA change instead.

These changes together have been estimated by CBO to save $3.038 billion over the coming decade.

Neither of these provisions impact farmers, as insurance and subsidy rates are set by the federal government and federal law, not by the insurance companies. NSAC’s press release on the budget deal can be found here.

Big Day of Policy Action This Thursday!

Back on September 30, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 EXPIRED and Congress has yet to pass a new version of this bill (also known as the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, or CNR). In order to urge Congress to take immediate action on this critical legislation, the National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are planning a Big Day of Action for Thursday, Oct. 22.

Join us THIS THURSDAY for a big day of advocacy - we’ll be calling on Congress to let them know that Farm to School is proving to be very effective in improving child nutrition and fighting hunger.

Farm to school is a down to earth approach to child nutrition that empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and our network of supporters across the country, we are calling on Congress to support continued farm to school success and innovation in the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization.

In the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Congress established mandatory funding of $5 million annually for a farm to school competitive grant and technical assistance program. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program increases the use of and improves access to local foods in schools – thus boosting farm income and economic opportunities – while also fostering experiential food education for our nation’s children. However, demand for the program is more than five times higher than available funding, so we are excited to announce that the Farm to School Act of 2015 has been introduced in Congress

Bill basics

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue and expand upon the successes of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program by:

  • Fully including preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs on the list of eligible entities;
  • Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million to better meet the high demand and need for this funding;
  • Increasing access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers; and
  • Improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

JOIN US - this policy benefits farmers, families, and kids - our future!

Gardens at Oxford Schools, Oxford MS   photo by Sunny Young

Gardens at Oxford Schools, Oxford MS   photo by Sunny Young



Our voices really do matter!

Over 100 Organizations Deliver Letter Opposing Cuts to Conservation -National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition notes:

On Thursday, September 17, more than 100 organizations from around the country delivered a letter urging the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to “protect mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs, support robust discretionary funding for Conservation Technical Assistance, and reject any attempt to undermine highly erodible land and wetland conservation compliance” in fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations legislation. A broad range of groups joined NSAC to send the letter, including the National Farmers Union, National Wildlife Federation, Kansas Rural Center, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, League of Women Voters, and many others.

Congressional appropriators are currently negotiating final appropriations legislation for FY 2016. In previous years, appropriators have used a back-door budget gimmick called “Changes in Mandatory Program Spending” (CHIMPS) to cut farm bill direct spending, which is under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committees, not the Appropriations Committees. For example, the FY 2015 Appropriations Act cut the 2014 Farm Bill’s funding for conservation by over $650 million.

In June and July, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees passed FY 2016 agriculture appropriations bills that cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the farm bill Conservation Title, on top of the dramatic reduction in conservation spending already made by the 2014 Farm Bill and sequestration. The proposed FY 2016 cuts would further reduce conservation enrollments by millions of acres and hamper efforts by farmers, ranchers, and foresters to conserve water, maintain their soil, and prepare for extreme weather events.

In addition to opposing cuts to mandatory spending for conservation programs, the letter urges appropriators to adopt the Senate funding level of $855 million for discretionary Conservation Operations, which includes Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). USDA’s ability to deliver conservation programs to farmers and ranchers depends heavily on on-the-ground technical assistance. “We must not hamstring our investment in conservation by under-funding technical assistance,” the letter states.

Finally, the letter urges congressional negotiators to reject a controversial policy rider included in the House bill. The rider would delay by one year the implementation of basic soil and water conservation requirements established by the 2014 Farm Bill. When the rider was initially added to the House bill last spring, there was concern that a significant number of producers had missed a June 1 deadline to self-certify compliance with conservation requirements. In the months that followed, USDA took extraordinary steps to address the problem by working with each and every one of the two percent of producers who did not file their self-certification forms on time. In most cases, USDA found that forms were not filed because the producer on record was no longer farming. Among the tiny fraction of active operations that did not initially self-certify, nearly every one has now done so, securing eligibility for taxpayer-funded crop insurance premium assistance.

“We believe that the concerns that prompted the policy rider have been addressed administratively and do not require any legislative action,” the letter states.


FDA Facilities Rule Contains Significant Improvements, but...

Policy News from our friends at the National Sustainable Ag Coalition:

Washington, DC, September 11, 2015 – On September 10, 2015, FDA released the much-anticipated final rule detailing preventive control standards for facilities producing food for human consumption.  Once officially published in the Federal Register – scheduled for September 17, 2015 – the rule will go into effect in sixty days and compliance clocks will start ticking for facilities covered by this rule.  The Produce Safety Rule, another key component of FDA’s new approach to food safety under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), will be finalized by late October 2015.

This final rule comes after significant public outreach and two rounds of public comment on certain key provisions.

“We commend FDA for its continued engagement with stakeholders throughout this process, and appreciate the agency’s responsiveness to our concerns” said National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Policy Specialist Sophia Kruszewski. “The final rule reflects many of the issues raised by the sustainable agriculture community, and provides several important modifications to avoid ensnaring farms and local food markets in ill-fitting rules designed for large-scale industrial food facilities.”

In particular, the revised definition of what constitutes a farm – and is therefore exempt from registering with FDA and complying with the new Preventive Controls Rule – hews much more closely to the reality of what farms look like, how they operate, and how they are managed.  Similarly, changes to the supporting definitions of “harvesting,” “packing,” and “holding” provide further clarity on the types of activities that farms can do without triggering the “facility” definition.  These changes will go a long way toward ensuring that fewer farms are misclassified as subject to this rule, and supporting the continued growth and development of local and regional food systems.

Absent from this final rule, however, is the clarified retail food establishment exemption.  In FSMA, Congress clarified that sales through direct-to-consumer sales platforms like roadside stands, farmers markets, and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) operations were included within the exemption for retail food establishments.

This clarification had two goals – the first was to reinforce that CSAs, farmers markets, roadside stands, and other direct-to-consumer operations that sell the majority of their food directly to consumers are not food facilities, do not have to register with FDA as facilities, and are not therefore subject to the Preventive Controls Rule.  The second was to clarify that the location of the direct sale could not trigger the facility definition – for example, delivering a CSA box to a location where customers could pick up their boxes would not make that location a facility.

“One of the most concerning aspects of the FSMA rules for farmers has been the confusion surrounding the issue of which farms FDA will consider to be food facilities, and will therefore be subject to food facility registration requirements and the preventive controls rule,” noted Kruszewski.  “Belatedly, FDA has initiated a separate rulemaking to address this issue, but failure to incorporate the clarification into the final preventive control rule released today is a missed opportunity, perpetuating the misinformation and confusion surrounding who is covered by these rules and continuing to delay the ability of local food producers to make business decisions based on their understanding of whether and how these new food safety rules apply to their operations.  We urge FDA to finalize this important piece of the Preventive Controls regulatory framework without further delay.”

Another major area of concern with the final preventive control rule is expensive audit requirements.  When Congress passed FSMA, it was sensitive to the fact that buyers are increasingly requiring audits of farmers and that – while an audit can provide a useful verification tool – it is only one tool to ensure that risks are being minimized across a supply chain.  Congress specifically said audits could not be required as part of FDA’s new food safety framework.

“We are severely disappointed to see FDA continue to claim that the rule’s onsite audit requirement does not violate both the letter and the spirit of FSMA,” said Kruszewski.  “The statutory text of FSMA could not be clearer: FDA cannot require farms or facilities to undergo, and pay for, third party audits to verify compliance with the rules.  Yet, the rule continues to require just that through backdoor channels.  The rule does provide various ways that the onsite audit could be avoided, but requiring them to begin with does not adhere to Congressional intent.”

An outsized reliance on third party audits will overshadow the important role of training and education as a way for farmers to demonstrate a culture of food safety and move toward FSMA compliance.  NSAC will continue to urge FDA to be transparent in their intentions regarding the role and relative importance of third party audits, and to consider alternative compliance indicators – such as group certification and self-certification – particularly for the most vulnerable entities shouldering disproportionately higher costs of compliance.

The true impact on farmers and small food enterprises of this issue and many others will ultimately be determined as the rule is implemented.  FDA noted in the final rule that many of the specifics surrounding how these provisions will be implemented – and enforced – will be determined through the development of guidance documents.  NSAC urges FDA to provide as much additional detail to regulators and the regulated industry as possible in these documents and other interpretative materials, particularly regarding activities that may trigger the farm definition, expectations for qualified facilities, how the agency will ensure onsite audits do not become a de facto requirement for farms and food businesses, and the role not just of third party audits, but also how group certification and self-certification schemes fit within compliance activities.

NSAC looks forward to continued participation in the FSMA implementation process to ensure a regulatory framework that supports strong public health goals, while simultaneously supporting thriving family farms, sustainable agricultural operations, and local and regional food systems that increase access to fresh, healthy foods.

We will continue to analyze the rules and their potential impacts, and will continue providing information on the rules through our FSMA website, blog, and press releases on this rule and the upcoming Produce Rule.

###

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.

Read more policy notes here on the NSAC website.

Louisiana Passes Good Food Legislation!

Two important food bills have just been passed in Louisiana. Our partners in the Louisiana Farm to School Alliance are celebrating their work on policy in the state, working closely with their legislatures.

Increasing Farm to School procurement, SB 184 will increase the "small purchase threshold", which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. In Louisiana, the threshold was just $25,000, so most school food purchases required formal bidding, often prevents smaller-scale farmers from selling their food to schools.

SB 184 successfully passed this session and awaits signature in the governors office. The bill increases the "small purchase threshold" to the meet the federal threshold, which is the maximum amount of money schools can spend on a contract to buy food items, without having to engage in a lengthy and complicated formal public bidding process with potential food providers. This session with the support of Senators Thompson and Walsworth, SB184 passed with no opposition and will take effect August 1, 2015.

HB 761: Urban Ag Incentive Zone Bill successfully passed this session and is also awaiting signature in the governors office. The bill creates urban agriculture incentive zones and reduces taxes on land used for urban farming. HB 761 encourages private landowners in urban areas to provide their land for use as farms. This bill also greatly reduces expenses associated with acquiring land for many urban farmers and in turn supports the many initiatives throughout Louisiana to grow more local food. 

The Farm to School Act of 2015

Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization

Congress revisits child nutrition program legislation approximately every five years in a single omnibus bill known as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, or Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization for short (CNR). The last CNR is set to expire in September 2015, setting the stage for Congress to write a new bill in early 2015.

The CNR authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, among others. The last CNR in 2010 was groundbreaking: For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. 

The demand for the Farm to School Grant Program is more than five times higher than available funding, so we are excited to announce that the Farm to School Act of 2015 has been introduced in Congress. In order to build on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program’s success, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization must include increased funding for the program. Demand for the USDA Farm to School Grants outweighs the current available funding by more than five times.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue and expand upon the successes of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program by:

  • Fully including preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs on the list of eligible entities;
  • Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million to better meet the high demand and need for this funding;
  • Increasing access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers; and
  • Improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

Show Your Support

Organizations
Do you represent a school, nonprofit organization, business or advocacy group interested in supporting the Farm to School Act of 2015? If so, please add your organization’s name to the National Farm to School Network’s organizational sign-on letter to Congress. SIGN UP HERE!

Individuals
Are you a parent, teacher, farmer or concerned eater? Sign this letter of support for the Farm to School Act of 2015 to tell Congress that farm to school is a powerful tool for supporting our kids, our farmers and our communities! SIGN UP HERE!

Learn More

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. Visit their respective websites to learn more.

Farmers and Ranchers: Sign Up for Conservation Stewardship Program

Deadline extended! Farmers and ranchers have until March 13 to sign up for nation’s largest federal conservation program!

Washington, DC February 23, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the sign-up period for the 2015 edition of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – the federal farm bill’s largest working lands conservation program. Farmers and ranchers now have two additional weeks – until March 13 – to complete the initial application form.

Coinciding with this two-week extension, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a new, updated version of its CSP Information Alert, with step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details. The Information Alert now includes program choices ranked by conservation and environmental benefit.

CSP rewards producers for the conservation and environmental benefits they produce on their working agricultural lands; all private agricultural land, including cropland, pasture, and rangeland, is eligible to enroll in CSP.  For example, CSP contract-holding farmers can receive payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and the transition to organic farming. 

Details on this year’s program are available for free in an Information Alert published this week by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Farmers and ranchers must submit initial applications to their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office by Feb 27 to have their applications considered for 2015. Applications will be scored and ranked based on farmers’ current and planned on-farm conservation activities, and the applications offering the highest level of environmental benefits will be awarded CSP contracts.

CSP contract holders that enrolled in 2011 are now in the final year of their five-year contract and are therefore eligible to renew for another five years. Initial requests to renew must be submitted to local NRCS offices by March 31.

CSP is the nation’s largest conservation program by acreage and is widely popular among farmers and ranchers. Since the program began in 2009, nearly 70 million acres of farm and ranch land have been enrolled in the program.

Producers are encouraged to fill out the NRCS’ Self-Screening Checklist to help determine if CSP is right for their farm.

Action Alert: Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Comment Period Deadline is JANUARY 20

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a critical federal program that helps farmers manage their lands sustainably and the program is in trouble. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) asks for anyone or any organization interested in resource conservation, sustainability, beginning farmers, small-acreage farmers, or fiscal responsibility to take a few minutes to:

  • Prepare and submit comments to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
  • Help spread the word to farmers about the comment period.

NSAC has developed several tools and resources to help you or your organization get the word out:

  • CSP action toolkit — need the basics? Want to know where to start? Need ideas for outreach? You'll find issue basics and materials here!
  • CSP comment template for organizations — here is a template you can customize! Filling it out won't take long at all.
  • CSP farmer comment template — another short template. It can be found online here: http://sustainableagriculture.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/2015-CSP-Farmer-Template-Final.docx  AND it is linked on NRCS' CSP landing page.
  • CSP sample action alert — need ideas for where to start for an alert? Sample (with social media) is here!
  • CSP landing page — NSAC launched a CSP landing page that has two main actions: 1.) asking folks to SUBMIT COMMENTS! and 2.) asking folks to sign a letter to Chief Weller that mirrors our asks. Most important action is to submit comments, as duplicate letters and petitions don't count for as much as individual comments. The letter is intended to help draw in folks who might not be engaged enough on the issue to submit comments but who still care.
  • If you are working on any press outreach and want talking points, details, questions or help — email Sarah Hackney, shackney@sustainableagriculture.net, or call 202-547-5754.

Call Congress Today!

Late last night the House Rules Committee sent the Farm Bill to the House Floor. It is important to reach out to your member of Congress--no matter where you are located. More details and information on next steps to come.  

Will the Farm Bill Move This Week?

Things are moving fast this week on Capital Hill and there is a lot of speculation around the farm bill.  Here is what is known for sure (keep in mind that the timing on this can change based on what happens this evening): 

1.       There will be no meeting of the conference committee members.  They will be asked to sign an agreement and if the majority of the conference members sign (both House and Senate) then the bill will move on to the House and Senate floors for a full vote.

2.       The timing on this is immediate.  The Farm Bill conferees (conference committee members) have been called back to DC to finish up the work on the Farm Bill today.   The House Rules committee is scheduled to meet today at 5pm and if they approve the rule to take up debate on the farm bill, it would likely come up on the House Floor on Wednesday January 29th.  That means the entire House would vote. The Senate is could vote on the Farm Bill later this week.

3.       It is still not clear what is in the farm bill—only speculation.  Below are articles from Politico and the Hill newspapers on payment limits.  Looks like final deal is not ideal.

a.       Politico: http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=C269703F-60B0-4494-9D47-E103B4EDC5F9

b.      The Hill: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/agriculture/196274-farm-bill-negotiators-struggle-with-payment-limits

c.       NSAC Press Comment on Subsidy Reform: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/release-nsac-statement-on-farm-bill-payment-limit-reform/

What you can do:

1.        It is important to reach out to your Representative and Senator this week. 

a.       Call  The Capital Switchboard Operator

                                                               i.      Direct: 202-224-3121

                                                             ii.      Toll Free: 877-429-0678

b.      Email

c.       Post on  their Facebook or Twitter pages

2.       The timing on outreach will be especially important on Tuesday and Wednesday.  There will be an action alert with language to guide your conversation.

3.       Pass this information on and encourage others to participate!  

bills of paper.jpg

Call Your Congress Members who are Conferees!

Our Ag Policy Working Group met by phone last week and heard from our partner, Sarah Hockney, with the National Sustainable Ag Coalition.

Right now there is a big push to get information in front of the conferees.  Please reach out to your member of Congress if they are on the conferee list below - with phone numbers. 

  • The conference committee did not meet this week AND it looks like they may not hold a final public meeting.  This means we will need to reach out to the conference members via phone and email.  If you are on social media then reach out to them on Facebook and Twitter as well.
  • The next few days will be critical.  Outreach needs to start TODAY and continue through next week Wednesday January 15th--maybe even later. There are suggested scripts below for you to use for your outreach.
  • As of today there is no definitive knowledge on the status of key programs (whether or not these programs will be included or fully funded).  
  • If your state isn't listed in the below conferee list, please pass on this information to those you may know in the states below.  And, you can always send a facebook and twitter message to them.
  • 2014 Farm Bill Conferees 
    • Texas:
      • Randy Neugebauer (TX-19, R) 202-225-4005
      • Mike Conaway (TX-11, R) 202-225-3605
    • North Carolina:
      • Mike McIntyre (NC-07,D) 202-225-2731
    • Mississippi:
      • Thad Cochran (MS, R) 202-224-5054
    • Georgia:
      • Austin Scott (GA-08, R) (ranking member) 202-225-6531
      • Sen. Saxby Chambliss (GA, R) (ranking member) 202-224-3521
    • Arkansas:
      • Rick Crawford (AR-01, R) (ranking member) 202-225-4076
      • Sen. John Boozman (AR, R) (ranking member) 202-224-4843
    • Alabama: 
      • Mike Rogers ( AL-03, R) 202-225-3261 
      • Martha Roby (AL-02, R) 202-225-2901
  • Suggested Scripts:
    • National Organic Cost Share Program: Hi, my name is X, and I’m a constituent and a voter calling about the farm bill. Since you are a member of the farm bill conference committee, I ask you to please ensure the National Organic Cost Share Certification Program is fully funded in the 2014 Farm Bill! This program helps farmers meet demand for organic food and ensures consumers have access to fresh, healthy organic food in our communities. It’s a win-win for consumers and farmers across the country.  Thank you for your time!
    • Payment Limitation Reform and GIPSA: Hi, my name is X, and I’m a constituent and a voter calling about the farm bill. Since you are a member of the farm bill conference committee, I ask you to:Please oppose any attempt to weaken or remove common-sense commodity subsidy reforms in the 2014 Farm Bill! 
      • Payment limitation reform for commodity subsidy programs was supported on a bipartisan basis last year in the House and Senate and must be included in the final bill - it saves money and limits the ability of mega-farms to abuse the system! Thank you for your time!
      • Please oppose any amendment that strips fair market protections from independent farmers and ranchers by preventing enforcement of GIPSA rules. Growers deserve a fair shot in the marketplace and protection from abusive practices!
    • Fairness for Farmers: Big Ag is trying to push through an amendment that would strip farmers and ranchers of basic legal protections against unfair treatment at the hands of large corporations (like retaliation, where a corporation can bankrupt a farmer for raising a grievance). If Big Ag wins and USDA can’t enforce what’s known as the GIPSA rule, independent meat and poultry producers have no legal protection against outright abuse. This is a particularly big issue for the South, where many independent poultry and hog farmers are contracted with large meatpackers and subject to abuse.
    • Long-overdue Reforms:Long-overdue, common-sense subsidy reforms that will save taxpayers money and were approved by bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate last year are on the chopping block in behind-the-scenes negotiations! Limiting subsidies and eliminating loopholes in the commodity programs – known as payment limitation reform – will keep mega-farms from abusing the system. It ought to be a no-brainer. Payment limitation reform would ensure that only individuals actively engaged in farming are able to receive subsidies – not, say, investors in Manhattan.
    • Investments in Organic Agriculture:Critical assistance for organic farmers through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program is on the line. If we don’t act now, the program could be completely defunded – stripping organic growers of a vital source of support that helps them meet growing demand for organic food and create local jobs. The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) helps defray part of the costs of organic certification for farmers hoping to capitalize on soaring demand for organic produce. The transition from non-organic to organic production can be burdensome: certification is an annual, multistep process that can simply be too expensive for small and mid-sized businesses. Offsetting this prohibitive cost is a small investment that benefits all of us in a big way.

 

Farm Bill Rumblings

USDA Office of Communications (202) 720-4623  WASHINGTON, December 5, 2013 - USDA Communications Director Matt Paul made the following statement today:

"Negotiations on Capitol Hill about the Farm Bill should continue until House and Senate leaders reach agreement on a comprehensive bill. Numerous members of both sides have indicated progress, and the country deserves continued work on this critical legislation."


We can only share the information as it comes out!  Stay Tuned and join us on Dec. 11 for a conference call to discuss the status.

Wednesday December 11, 2013 at 11am/10am CT to discuss the latest developments on the Farm Bill. Invited as guest speakers are Shavaun Evans, Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator and Sarah Hackney Grassroots Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.Call-in number is 800-977-8002, 577467#. 

 

 

Monthly Policy Working Group Call December 11

You are invited to join the newly formed SSAWG Policy Working group for our monthly conference call on Wednesday December 11, 2013 at 11am/10am CT to discuss the latest developments on the Farm Bill. Invited as guest speakers are Shavaun Evans, Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator and Sarah Hackney Grassroots Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The toll free call-in number is 800-977-8002, with participant code 577467#.

Our partners, Shavaun and Sarah, along with other policy staff at the National Sustainable Agriculture Network (NSAC) are in Washington D.C. to follow all the twists and turns in the path of the Farm Bill. "There has been little noise coming from the big budget deal conferees in the past few days."  The next steps are coming up with the full budget number for the current fiscal year (FY 2014), which will set up the work on all final bills and hopefully put in place a sound budget to avoid sequestration.

It is unclear how agricultural appropriations will look for this year, especially if the worst case scenario plays out. Policy folks at NSAC say, "the commodity program and farm bill conservation program spending will also take another seven percent hit" if we go into sequestration. Follow up to the hour updates on their website HERE.

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Govm't Websites are hard to Manage! Keep trying...

the regulations.gov site is down again.  It's been working on and off all week.  FDA has not announced an extension due to these technical errors, so comments are still due tomorrow - Friday, November 15 at 11:59pm eastern.

If you are submitting comments, PLEASE mail a hard copy to FDA even if the site starts to work again.  Your comments just have to be postmarked November 15, not in their hands.

Send a hard copy of your comments (postmarked November 15) to:

Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305)
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 20852

And in case the site starts working again, here are the links:

Submit one copy of your comments to the Produce Rule and one to thePreventive Controls Rule. NSAC more detailed instructions online here that walk you through the simple process!

Food Safety Modernization Act Comments DUE

Comments are due 11/15!  Farmers and Foodies across the country are taking note of the detrimental effects FSMA rules could have on their local communities, especially to organic and small farmers.

Here is a recent piece of media from the Bradenton Herald in Florida:
http://www.bradenton.com/2013/11/14/4828116/food-safety-regulations-could.html

We hope that you have submitted your comments to maintain local food access in YOUR community. Our friends over at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have put together templates and an easy-to-follow walk-through of how to participate in the public comment period. The deadline to comment is TOMORROW!