The Agriculture Department will spend $300 million on an initiative to help farmers transition to organic production and on "pinpointed" market development projects, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday. It would be the single largest investment ever in organic agriculture by the USDA "and a big step in the right direction," said the Organic Trade Association.
The Trump administration's $16 billion coronavirus aid package for agriculture "fails to deliver for many farmers who are the backbone of local, resilient, sustainable food systems," said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition on Wednesday. The group said small producers would be trampled by large operators in the first-come, first-served race for payments that can go as high as $750,000. (No paywall)
Climate change poses a serious threat to farmers as well as the rest of society, said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in a report, released today, that calls for action “to make U.S. agriculture climate-neutral.” Steps would range from requiring farmers to meet minimum standards …
When Congress writes the 2018 farm bill, lawmakers should retain the requirement for producers to practice land stewardship if they want coverage under the federally subsidized crop insurance system, said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. In The Hill newspaper, NSAC policy specialist Alyssa Charney also called for stronger enforcement of the so-called conservation compliance rules.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has put the first reorganization of the USDA in a generation into action by hiring an assistant, who will be based in his office, to oversee rural economic development efforts.
The Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to take fragile land out of production, is so close to its enrollment limit that the USDA will not admit high-priority land that ordinarily could be enrolled at once.
More than 500 groups across the farm, agribusiness, anti-hunger, rural-development and land-stewardship spectrum asked lawmakers in a letter to exempt farm-bill programs from spending cuts this year or next. Often called the farm-bill coalition, the groups said it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for Congress to enact the 2018 farm bill if funding is cut from current levels.
The USDA will open a three-month enrollment period on Nov. 14 for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers and ranchers for making soil, water and wildlife conservation a part of their daily operations. A small-farm group says producers should submit an initial application if they're interested in the program, but it says USDA has yet to fully describe its changes to CSP.
At the same time it sent three fair-play rules to the White House for review, the USDA said it will accept public comment on the most consequential of its proposals: an interim final rule on how to judge a producer's complaint of abuse by meat packers. The rule "clarifies that farmers need only prove they were treated unfairly by a company to secure legal remedy," a much easier standard to meet than now in use, says a small-farm advocacy group.
A new FDA regulation, issued as part of implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, says farms and farm-operated businesses that sell directly to customers are exempt from regulation as food facilities, a category aimed at processing plants. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the regulation would prevent undue regulation of small farms.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley is blunt about how farm-subsidy reform was watered down in the 2014 farm law. "We were snookered," he says, by the four lawmakers who negotiated the final version of the law. Now he's trying to "eliminate the loophole that was intentionally included in the farm bill."
Leaders of the Republican-controlled House Budget Committee proposed steep cuts in federal spending in order to balance the budget in 10 years.
At a news conference today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will kick off the drive for renewal of child-nutrition programs that almost certainly will miss the Sept. 30 deadline for reauthorization.
Landowners removed a comparatively small 90,000 acres from the long-term Conservation Reserve under an "opt out" provision written into the 2014 farm law just as commodity prices slumped. The withdrawn land is one-third of 1 percent of total enrollment in the reserve, according to USDA data. "The preliminary estimate is that 90,000 acres were withdrawn," says the department in its most recent report on the reserve.
Restaurants would not have to put calorie counts on their menus until late 2017 under a bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee and cleared for floor action. The $143.9 billion USDA-FDA funding bill also delays for one year enforcement of a requirement in the 2014 farm law that farmers practice soil and water conservation in order to qualify for federally subsidized crop insurance.
The USDA announced the first general signup for the Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent to idle fragile cropland for at least 10 years, since the 2014 farm law limited the reserve to a maximum of 24 million acres.
A new rule proposed by the USDA would limit joint ventures and general partnerships to a maximum of three people who can collect crop subsidies by declaring they are farm managers. The proposal is open for public comment until May 26. The 2014 farm law empowered the USDA to write stricter rules about who is "actively engaged" in farming, but it exempted family farms, which constitute 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the country.
The Republican-controlled House and Senate Budget committees are expected to include USDA programs among their targets for budget cuts, says the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.