NSAC Members Highlight Importance of Farm Bill’s Largest Conservation Program

Anna Jones-Crabree, left, and her husband, Doug Crabree, right, discuss soil health with Amy Kaiser, NRCS soil conservationist, on their farm near Havre, Mont. 7/25/12. Havre, MT. Photo Credit: USDA

 

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is the nation’s largest conservation program and the only one that tackles resource concern protection and enhancement from a comprehensive approach. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)’s member organizations work directly with the farmers and ranchers who utilize this program, and recently three NSAC member organizations helped tell the story of the CSP’s impact for farmers and ranchers, and the natural resources that the program works to protect.

We applaud the Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, and Wild Farm Alliance for helping to elevate the voices of the farmers and ranchers who utilize and depend on CSP. Their voices are more important now than ever, as Congress is currently working to write the next farm bill, which will have major implications for conservation programs, including CSP. There is a lot at stake for CSP, as the House and Senate bills that have been passed by their respective chambers differ significantly in how they approach working lands conservation programs, including CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The House bill attempts to fold CSP into the EQIP, but it fails to retain the most important features of CSP, including a comprehensive, whole farm approach to conservation, an eligibility threshold based on conservation benefits for participation, and a clear reservation of dedicated funds for stewardship contracts. Conversely, the Senate makes important policy improvements to working lands conservation programs, including improved coordination between EQIP and CSP, as well as additional payments and support for cover crops, diversified crop rotations, advanced grazing management, and comprehensive conservation planning. NSAC will be urging the farm bill conference committee to use the Senate approach of retaining and improving working lands conservation programs as they work to address the significant differences between the two bills.

Below we highlight three recent materials published by NSAC member organizations, all of which bring farmer voices to the table to tell the story of the importance of CSP. These are the voices that need to be front and center as Congress works to conference the House and Senate bills in the weeks ahead.

Minnesota Farmers Speak Up on Conservation

The Land Stewardship Project (LSP), based in Minnesota, delivered a letter to House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) asking him to defend conservation programs and policies during farm bill conference negotiations in the weeks ahead. In addition to Ranking Member Peterson, Minnesota has four other members on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees – Representatives Tim Walz and Rick Nolan and Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith – more Agriculture Committee representation than any other state.

In the letter, over 150 farmers and ranchers from across Minnesota asked Rep. Peterson to protect CSP as a stand-alone program and include critical improvements from the Senate bill. Minnesota has more active CSP contracts than any other state in the country, and thus farmers understand the importance of the program, as well as key opportunities to ensure it works even better.

Darrel Mosel, a CSP farmer from Rep. Peterson’s district, signed the letter and spoke to his personal experience benefiting from the program:

“Farmers can, and do, generate conservation benefits on the ground they actively farm, and these benefits go beyond their own farms to provide positive and lasting outcomes for everyone. CSP helped me to do this on my own farm. To kill this jewel of a program in the new Farm Bill makes no sense. Our lawmakers need to decide to keep CSP in, and make it even stronger.”

In addition to protecting and improving CSP, the Minnesota farmers also urged Representative Peterson to support important conservation reforms included in the Senate bill that improve the linkage between crop insurance and conservation. The letter points to the importance of ensuring that crop insurance in the next farm bill supports, rather than disincentivizes, the adoption of conservation practices like incorporating cover crops, which play a key role in mitigating risk.

New Report Illustrates CSP Utilization and Experiences

Also this week, the Center for Rural Affairs released a new report that analyzes CSP utilization and experiences in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas. The Report, A farmers’ view: a look at the Conservation Stewardship Program, analyzed survey results from more than 800 farmers and ranchers across the region, and found that respondents reported positive changes to soil health, water, quality, and other natural resources.

The report also found that in addition to protecting natural resources, CSP also supports participants with the financial assistance and incentives needed to further advance their conservation efforts and maintain their bottom line. One Kansas participant shared,

“With the close margins on commodities, it allows you to do the enhancements you would like to do without hurting your bottom line as much and being able to try new ideas and techniques.”

Another North Dakota participant explained that CSP was the difference maker when it came to being able to take conservation efforts to the next level:

“Without programs like CSP, it would be very difficult to integrate new technology and practices that help enhance conservation efforts on our farm.”

CSP participants surveyed also reflected a strong interest and commitment to protecting and improving CSP in the next farm bill. Nearly 90 percent of total respondents said that CSP should be a priority in the next farm bill, thus sending a clear message to Congress that the 2018 Farm Bill is the time to be protecting and enhancing CSP.

Western Ranchers and CSP Wildlife Benefits

Finally, Wild Farm Alliance, also an NSAC member organization, published a review of CSP utilization and feedback in Montana: Farm Bill 2018 Issue Brief: Conservation Stewardship Program. The report found that CSP not only offers farmers and ranchers financial incentives to establish whole farm conservation efforts, but it also provides a wide range of significant and complimentary environmental benefits. One Montana cattle rancher spoke to the multiple benefits of effective and targeted grasslands management through CSP:

“I think the biggest impact to conservation is not to tear up the grass in the first place…there are ways to graze our cattle more effectively that improves organic matter and cover, which allows us to use what available moisture we do get and hold it more efficiently.”

Additionally, Montana producers directly translated their experiences into what is needed in the next farm bill, with one cattle rancher and grain farmer explaining,

“I think CSP is the sort of program that we need to be doing more of, not less…[CSP] is one of the best thing, from our perspective, that USDA does.”

The report also highlighted significant wildlife benefits resulting from the adoption of CSP conservation activities, including:

  • Pollinator habitat and wildlife food plots
  • Wildlife friendly habitat such as birdhouses and wildlife corridors
  • On-farm safety measures for wildlife
  • Encouraging establishment of native species through rotational grazing
  • Connecting farmers and ranchers to technical assistance through NRCS

Next Steps

NSAC will continue to work with our member organizations to ensure that members of Congress hear the voices and stories of CSP participants as the farm bill is reauthorized. We thank, and will continue to look to our member organizations, to help to tell these critical stories.

Next week we will publish a detailed analysis comparing the House and Senate versions of the farm bill, including the Conservation Titles, with NSAC’s recommendations for conference negotiations. It is possible that Congress will formally head to conference as early as next week – stay tuned!

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GMO Labeling Proposed Rule Fails to Ensure Meaningful Standard

Grocery store aisle. Photo credit: Nupur Shah.

Grocery store aisle. Photo credit: Nupur Shah.

The members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) care deeply about ensuring the integrity of agricultural product labeling claims on behalf of consumers and producers. For this reason, NSAC submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) GMO Labeling Proposed Rule. Today is the last day to submit comments.

Many of the farmers with whom NSAC works choose to grow only non-genetically engineered (GE) crop varieties. They make this choice for many reasons: because the markets they serve demand GE-free products; because they have concerns about potential adverse economic, environmental, and agronomic impacts of GE crop technologies; or because they are USDA certified organic and not allowed to grow GE crops. NSAC therefore supports marketplace transparency regarding whether products have been produced with GE crops and technologies. However, we have grave concerns about the proposed rule, which we believe fails to ensure a robust, meaningful, and value-neutral labeling standard that will provide confidence to producers and consumers alike.

NSAC provided comments on the proposed rule to highlight the sustainable agriculture perspective in this debate, and to dispel the notion that this label is only about consumers concerned with the safety of their food. Rather, this label provides purchasers with information about the systems and processes that went into the production of their food, and the very real opportunity to vote with their food dollars for the type of agricultural system they wish to support.

NSAC believes labeling claims with integrity are rooted in the following principles:

  • Clarity/Simplicity of Meaning: The claim must be clear enough to distinguish certain producers’ products from others in the marketplace and convey information about practices that is meaningful for consumers to know, and not create confusion in the marketplace beyond what would be expected from legitimate competition.
  • Transparency of Process: A transparent process for developing, using, and verifying a particular labeling claim is essential in order to establish the integrity and meaning of the claim in the eyes of the public.
  • Accountability: In order for the labeling claim to retain its meaning and integrity, misuse of the label must incur consequences.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: The involvement of a variety of stakeholders, including producers and consumers, helps ensure the labeling claim is meaningful, reasonable, and rigorous, which in turn helps to establish legitimacy in the marketplace.
  • Independence: The degree of independence of the parties involved in verification increases in importance along with the distance in the relationship and/or the supply chain between producer and consumer.
  • Fairness/Equity: Information about the labeling claim should be readily accessible knowledge to all affected producers, and equitably accessible to consumers. The cost or bureaucratic requirements to use a labeling claim should not be prohibitive to small, disadvantaged, or limited capacity producers; nor should the method for accessing information behind the labeling claim be cost-prohibitive or otherwise difficult to access for consumers.
  • Value/Effectiveness: Use of the labeling claim has a positive impact on (or at least does no harm to) the future of family farming, sustainable farm and food systems, community development, and/or the environment.

We believe that the proposed labeling requirements fail to meet many of these principles, and will therefore fail to ensure integrity in the marketplace.

We recommend that USDA:

  • Include GE and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) as interchangeable with the proposed “bioengineered” or “BE” disclosure statements. Given the ubiquity of the term GMO, and the markets that have been built utilizing the term, we strongly recommend that AMS use the authority Congress granted it to include “GMO” and Genetically Engineered” into the disclosure standard as terms that are interchangeable with “bioengineered” and are more readily understood by consumers and the industry.
  • Broadly define bioengineered such that both transgenic and gene editing techniques trigger the disclosure requirement, and disclosure should be required of products containing highly refined ingredients produced with GE crops and technologies such as oils and sugars.
  • Adopt a symbol that is clear and value-neutral. The USDA Organic seal or the Process Verified shield provide examples of a straightforward, unambiguous, and non-promotional symbol. An appropriate symbol would not be easily confused with any existing symbols (such as the USDA Organic seal), and should not convey any positive or negative attributes, unlike the current proposed symbols.
  • Align the threshold with existing industry and international trading partner expectations such that any intentional use of GE material in food manufacturing should trigger the requirement to disclose, and the inadvertent or technically unavoidable presence of GE material should not exceed 0.9 percent before triggering the requirement to disclose.
  • Establish strong rules that govern the use of QR codes, and provide meaningful comparable options to accessing the disclosure if electronic or digital disclosure is selected to ensure that product information is equitably accessible.
  • Not disrupt existing Organic and non-GMO marketing claims.
  • Make the most of its enforcement authority by developing, publicizing, and then implementing a regular schedule for conducting audits, and making the results of those audits available to the public in a timely and accessible manner.

You can read our comments in full here.

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Senate Farm Bill Offers Hope to Sustainable Agriculture Advocates

North Dakota Farmer Stephanie Blumhagen with Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

North Dakota Farmer Stephanie Blumhagen with Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

On June 28, the Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill with strong, bipartisan support – 86 Senators voted in favor of passage, and only 11 against it. The Senate’s swift movement on their bill keeps hope alive that a final bill might be finished before the 2014 Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2018.

The Senate farm bill stands in stark contrast to the House, which one week prior to the Senate vote had just barely passed their own version of the farm bill. Unlike the Senate bill, which had support from most Senators (of both parties), the House bill barely squeaked through passage 213-211; 20 Republicans joined all Democrats in voting no.

The Senate bill aligns with many of the priorities of family farmers and sustainable food advocates and was applauded by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), as well as many other leading farm and food groups. The bill, for example, contains important provisions to increase investments in farm-to-fork initiatives and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs, and also makes important policy improvements to federal conservation programs.

Between committee markup and final passage, 171 amendments were introduced in the Senate, 33 of which were included in one of two managers packages – the managers package is a block of amendments that the managers of a bill, in this case Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), agree to include without a formal roll call vote.

The Path to Passage

Throughout much of the week, the farm bill legislative process for the considering amendments and the final bill was slowed down by a debate over Cuba. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) held up the process because of the inclusion of an amendment offered during committee markup by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Heitkamp’s amendment was designed to relax restrictions of federal trade promotion dollars being used to develop new agricultural markets in Cuba. Senator Roberts, Stabenow and Heitkamp were eventually able to reach an agreement, and a compromise amendment on the Cuba provisions was in the second managers amendment package.

Once that agreement was reached, a process that seemed stuck in neutral began to accelerate toward final passage as Senators grew increasingly eager to wrap up business ahead of the 4th of July recess. Before moving to final passage, Senators overwhelmingly defeated an attempt by Senators Kennedy (R-LA), Cruz (R-TX) and Lee (R-UT) to attach increased work requirements for SNAP recipients and require photo IDs for SNAP purchases. That the Senators proposing the amendment could only garner 30 votes suggests that draconian attempts to weaken SNAP, which were sadly included in force in the House bill, stand little chance of being approved in a conference agreement.

Actively Engaged in Farming Commodity Program Amendment

The inclusion of Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) “Actively Engaged in Farming” amendment in the final bill was a big win for family farmers and good government proponents. The NSAC-championed amendment, which was co-sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), is a critical first step toward ensuring more equitable commodity subsidy programs. It would make the current $125,000 per farm per year cap on commodity payments ($250,000 for married couples) a real limit by counteracting the most egregious loopholes in current law that allow the nation’s largest commodity farms to get around the limit.

A similar amendment was adopted by both the House and the Senate in 2013, only to be jettisoned by the Agriculture Committee leadership in the final 2014 bill. Unlike the 2013 experience, when there were identical measures in both bills, in 2018 this measure was only included in the Senate bill. The House-passed bill takes an opposite course by adding even more loopholes to current law, going so far as completely eliminating payment limits for all practical purposes. NSAC will be fighting to have Senate version retained in the final bill.

Adjusted Gross Income Crop Insurance Amendment

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) also offered an amendment to reform loopholes and abuse in our farm safety net programs, this one focused on the federal crop insurance program. Although Senator Durbin’s amendment, which was co-sponsored by Senators Grassley, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), John McCain (R-AZ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Mike Lee (R-UT), had bipartisan support in the Senate, leadership did not allow it to come to a vote.

The Adjusted Gross Income Crop Insurance amendment would have reduced the level of crop insurance premium subsidies for millionaires and only have applied to individuals making an adjusted gross income (similar to net income) of more than $700,000 per year, and at least double that for married couples. It would have required the wealthiest individuals to pay about half of their own insurance premiums rather than having the bulk of the premium paid for by the taxpayer. This amendment has passed the Senate during previous farm bill cycles and likely would have passed again, if given a chance.

Conservation Reserve Haying and Grazing Amendment 

An NSAC-supported amendment championed by Senator John Thune (R-SD) to liberalize haying and grazing rules on Conservation Reserve Program land was approved by voice vote. The provision would make it easier for producers to hay and graze on land enrolled in CRP, while retaining important protections for wildlife and other critical natural resources. Allowing limited economic uses of CRP acres is a win-win for farmers and the environment by allowing producers to efficiently utilize their land while protecting soil, water, and wildlife.

Heirs Property Amendment

Congratulations to the Rural Coalition and its members, and to Senators Doug Jones (D-AL) and Tim Scott (R-SC), for getting their “heirs property” amendment included in the managers package.

This amendment, which was also supported by NSAC, authorizes USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to accept certain alternate forms of documentation defining who controls a parcel of land. This would enable operators farming on land without a clear legal title due to heirs property issues to receive farm numbers from FSA and thereby qualify to participate in farm and conservation programs. FSA would also be authorized to loan funds to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families to resolve heirs’ property issues and clear title to farm land.

What’s Next?

Following final passage, the Senate and House are on recess for a week to celebrate the 4th of July. After the 4th of July recess, the Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders will begin the monumental task of forming a conference committee and working to reconcile their two very different farm bills. Farmers and food advocates will be closely watching this process to see how the House and Senate reconcile the significant differences between their draft bills. Key differences include:

  • The Commodity Title of the House bill adds layers of new subsidy loopholes for mega-farms, while the Senate wisely tightens payment eligibility rules.
  • The Conservation Title of the House bill weakens conservation program funding and eliminates USDA’s largest working lands conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), while the Senate Bill preserves CSP and protects overall conservation title funding.
  • The Horticulture Title of the House bill eliminates key farm-to-fork investments while the Senate builds those programs up.
  • The Research and Miscelleneous titles in which the Senate increases and makes permanent funding for organic research and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer training and outreach, while the House bill keeps them on non-permanent status.
  • The Nutrition title of the House bill cuts funding by $23 billion and results in several milllion people losing benefits, while the Senate bill largely keeps current SNAP provisions intact.
  • Finally, the House bill would weaken environmental laws related to clean water, endangered species, national forests, and factory farms, while the Senate bill steers completely free of extraneous anti-environmental riders.

For family farmers, sustainable agriculture advocates, and anti-hunger champions, there can be no compromise on many of these critical issues – the Senate farm bill model will be the only workable choice. There are, however, many less contentious differences on which compromise will certainly be possible. NSAC looks forward to working with the conferees and other Members of Congress to finalize a strong, family farmer-forward farm bill before the September 30 deadline.

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COMMENT: Senate Farm Bill Paves the Way for Farmer-Forward Farm Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Reana Kovalcik
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
202-547-5754, rkovalcik@sustainableagriculture.net 

Senate Farm Bill Paves the Way for Farmer-Forward Farm Bill
National Sustainable Agriculture praises bill, but laments lack of action on crop insurance reform 

Washington, DC, June 28, 2018 – Upon passage today of the Senate farm bill, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) issued the following statement:

“We congratulate Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for the timely passage of H.R. 2, the Senate farm bill. The farm bill is the primary legislative vehicle for critical investments in the programs that support family farms, rural communities, conservation, and healthy food access. Given the immense importance of this legislation, it is imperative that Congress completes a new farm bill before the expiration of the 2014 bill on September 30 of this year. The Senate’s swift movement on their bill takes us closer to our goal of an on-time bill.

We are pleased that the Senate farm bill, in stark contrast to the House bill, aligns with many of the priorities of family farmers and sustainable food advocates. This bill, for example, contains important provisions to increase investments in farm-to-fork initiatives and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs, and also makes much-needed policy improvements to federal conservation programs. We also commend Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for including Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) “Actively Engaged in Farming” amendment in the Senate substitute package. This is a critical first step toward ensuring more equitable commodity subsidy programs.

We are deeply disappointed, however, that Senate leadership made an 11th hour decision to block a widely supported, bipartisan amendment led by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to reduce crop insurance premium subsidies for the wealthiest farming operations. This modest reduction would apply to individuals making an adjusted gross income of more than $700,000 per year, and at least double that for married couples. In other words, the wealthiest individuals would be required to pay about half of their own insurance premiums rather than having the bulk of the premium paid for by the taxpayer. This amendment has passed the Senate during previous farm bill cycles and would have passed again, if given a chance.

The focus now turns to conference, where farmers and food advocates will be closely watching to see how the House and Senate reconcile the significant differences between their draft bills. This is true for the Nutrition Title, wherein the House bill attempts to run roughshod over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and would cause millions of American families to lose access to food assistance. Conversely the Senate bill would preserve food access for these families. It is true for the Horticulture Title – wherein the House bill eliminates key farm-to-fork investments while the Senate builds those programs up. It is true for the Conservation Title – wherein the House bill weakens conservation programs and eliminates USDA’s largest working lands conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program. And finally, this is true for the Commodity Title, to which the House bill adds layers of new subsidy loopholes for mega-farms, while the Senate wisely tightens payment eligibility rules.

For family farmers, sustainable agriculture advocates, and anti-hunger champions, there can be no compromise on many of these critical issues – the Senate farm bill model will be the only workable choice. There are, however, many less contentious differences on which compromise will certainly be possible. NSAC looks forward to working with the conferees and other Members of Congress to finalize a strong, family farmer-forward farm bill before the September 30 deadline.”

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About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
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. Learn more and get involved at: http://sustainableagriculture.net

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Farmers Take Sustainable Agriculture Priorities to Congress

Georgia farmer and NSAC farmer fly-in participant Timothy Melvin Robinson II with NSAC Policy Specialist Wes King on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

Georgia farmer and NSAC farmer fly-in participant Tim Robinson II with NSAC Policy Specialist Wes King on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

Last week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) hosted our second farmer fly-in of 2018, bringing in farmer advocates from across the country to make their priorities known on Capitol Hill. Ten growers and advocates from Alabama, California, Mississippi, Montana, Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota, Oregon, Michigan, and Vermont took time out of their busy schedules to bring food and farm policy issues before their legislators as both the 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2 )and fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations bill are both under active debate.

Mississippi Farmer Felicia Bell with Representative Kelly (R-MS) and staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

Mississippi Farmer Felicia Bell with staff of Representative Kelly (R-MS) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

During the fly-in, farmers advocated for and shared their experiences with sustainable agriculture programs, including: the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program, Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (Section 2501), Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), farm loan programs, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program (BFRDP). A summary of their experiences on the Hill and the priorities for which they advocated are detailed below by issue area.

Conservation

Linda Pechin-Long of Graze The Prairie – a Kansas-based American Grassfed Association Certified ranch – was excited to share with her legislators how critical CSP and EQIP have been to the development of her operation:

“Projects like putting in water tanks are incredibly expensive,” said Pechin-Long. “I could not have managed as effectively as we are now, [without the help of USDA conservation programs], our cattle would have had to go too far to water. In Kansas, we’re either going into a drought or out of a drought; we run out of water in our ponds & creeks all the time. [Without the water tanks], we would have had to sell-off most of our stock, but with water available year-round, we’re able to keep a healthy, closed herd and we don’t have high death-loss because we’re able to keep them on healthy pasture.”

Kansas Farmer Linda Pechin-Long and Senator Moran’s (R-KS) staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

Kansas Farmer Linda Pechin-Long and Senator Moran’s (R-KS) staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

With maps of her acreage and detailed summaries, Pechin-Long illustrated to her members of Congress how working lands conservation support had helped to keep her operation sustainable. The funding Pechin-Long received, combined with consultation support from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agents, allowed her to evaluate, plan, and implement a seasonal herd rotation schedule on her operation. She was also able to install tanks that provided year-round water for her stock, which help her both to care for her herd, as well as to protect the long grass prairie.

Several other fly-in farmers, including Alabama farmer Randy Moody of Moody Hill Farm and Montana farmer Chad Doheny of C & E Farms, also spoke to their elected officials about the important roles federal conservation programs like CSP and EQIP have played on their operations.

Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged, Veteran, and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

California Farmer Angela Ipock with Representative Costa (D-CA) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

California Farmer Angela Ipock with Representative Costa (D-CA) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

Angela Ipock, a Latina farmer and military veteran from California, came to Washington with a mission to share her story with her state’s representatives. After serving in the Navy, Angela returned home and started Neverending Sunshine Farm in 2016. She received early technical assistance and veteran-specific support funded by the Section 2501 program from the Farmer-Veteran Coalition (an NSAC member organization), which was instrumental to her successful start in agriculture.

For decades, the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (aka the “Section 2501” program) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of farmers who have been historically underserved by USDA programs. In 2014, the program was expanded to also serve military veterans. Section 2501 helps institutions and nonprofits to provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to farmers of color and military veteran farmers.

“I’ve seen how veterans will benefit from this holistic approach to healing,” said Ipock, speaking about the Section 2501 program. “For me, farming is about continuing service to my community and to my nation, about about finding your humanity again. This also leaves a legacy behind for my children. And if [farming] worked for me, if it helped me overcome my difficulties with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and anything else like that, then I know I’m doing it right.”

Ipock plans to continue expanding her operation, and hopes to soon offer educational classes for youth and veterans. She was very grateful for the opportunity to share her experiences with her legislators and to impress on them how important these programs are to farmers like her.

“Being able to convey my story and passion to my staff, to show them that we chose this, was so important,” said Ipock. “If they understand the critical need to maintain or maybe increase funding for this program, that means the world. I hope that when they think about farmers, they think of me. I hope they keep track of Neverending Sunshine. That they say, look, she succeeded, she expanded.”

Fly-in farmers Tim Robinson II of Robinson Farms in Georgia and Felicia Bell of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) also spoke to their elected officials about the important role Section 2501 has played in their states, including technical assistance and support accessing local and regional markets for their products. Bell’s work in Mississippi includes direct technical assistance and offering issue-specific workshops with a range of farmers across the state. Robinson, a military veteran, has accessed 2501-funded training that helped him expand his food safety certification and access new markets for his certified organic produce in Georgia.

Local and Regional Food Systems and Food Safety

Michigan Farmer Evan Smith with NSAC staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC. 

Michigan Farmer Evan Smith with NSAC staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

Evan Smith brought over three decades of experience in food safety and regulatory compliance and local food systems with him from Michigan to DC. Currently, Smith serves on the board of Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), an NSAC member organization. As part of the NSAC farmer fly-in, Smith had the opportunity to meet with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Gary Peters’ (D-MI) offices, where he thanked them for their work on local food systems and expressed the need for increased funding for programs that provide food safety training and systems development.

Stephanie Blumhagen also came to DC to speak about the benefits of programs that support farmer entrepreneurship. She was so excited, in fact, that she brought samples of her Meadowlark Granary products all the way from North Dakota for her meeting with Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Blumhagen comes from a family of grain farmers, and four years ago she took a Farm Beginnings class offered by FARRMS, a sustainable farming organization in Medina, ND. Shortly afterwards, Blumhagen launched Meadowlark Granary, which sells whole wheat flax bread at the Bottineau Farmers Market.

North Dakota Farmer Stephanie Blumhagen with Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

North Dakota Farmer Stephanie Blumhagen with Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

FARRMS’ training and outreach programs are supported by federal farmer support programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and Blumhagen now serves as the Executive Director of FARRMS, helping to implement beginning farmer training across North Dakota. Her own value-added farm enterprise has benefited as well from the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), which  offers grants directly to farmers; Blumhagen has utilized the program to help her to develop her value-added products and market them through local and direct market outlets.

Agriculture Research

Several farmers, including Jim Bronec of Praying Mantis Farm in Oregon, visited their members of Congress to discuss the importance of supporting agricultural research programs generally, and the SARE program specifically. Funding for these research initiatives is important because the projects and resources they produce help farmers to improve crop rotation practices, develop alternative fertilization methods, and discover new crop production methods, among other benefits. The research and testing to required to achieve these results would be too costly for farmer to undertake on their own; but public, farmer-led research programs produce innovative results from which all growers can benefit.

Bronec has long collaborated with researchers at Oregon State University thanks to the SARE program. Bronec’s farm participated in garlic variety trials with Oregon State and he has also worked with the university on a SARE-funded project to develop a cover crop calculator for growers; this free tool helps Northwest growers determine the most cost-effective and well-balanced nutrient management programs for their farms.

SARE is the only USDA competitive grants research program with a clear and consistent focus on sustainability and regionally-specific, farmer-driven research. The Senate FY 2019 appropriations bill raises total SARE funding to $37 million; this would be SARE’s highest level of funding since its creation in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, the House appropriations bill proposes a $5 million cut to the program. NSAC strongly supports the level provided in the Senate appropriations bill.

Farmer Advocates and the Farm Bill

June 2018 Fly-In participants and NSAC staff Photo credit: NSAC.

June 2018 Fly-In participants and NSAC staff Photo credit: NSAC.

NSAC is grateful to our farmer fly-in participants for taking the time to share their stories and advocate for the programs and policies that support their work and farms – especially during such a busy time of the season! For more information on NSAC’s farm bill priorities, click here. For updates on the budget and appropriations processes, click here.

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Over $5 Million in Farm to School Grants Awarded

Kids with healthy farm to school lunches. Photo credit: USDA.

Kids with healthy farm to school lunches. Photo credit: USDA.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would award 73 grants through the Farm to School Grant Program, worth over $5.1 million, to Farm to School programs across the country.

Farm to School programs broaden students’ access to fresh, locally sourced foods in a number of ways, by: supporting local food production through training and guidance, fostering connections between local producers and schools, offering consultation services for beginning programs, and developing agricultural-based education for students.

This year, grants will be issued to organizations in 42 states, Washington D.C., and Guam. They are expected to reach over 2.8 million students throughout 6,006 individual schools. This round of grants will also devote over $350,000 to programs in five Tribal communities. Providing support for tribal communities is an essential part of working toward a more sustainable and equitable food system.

Award Highlights

We are excited to congratulate the following National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) members and affiliated organizations for receiving Farm to School Grants this year.

Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (NSAC Member)

The Northeast Organic Farming Association New Jersey chapter (NOFA NJ) will receive a $39,467 grant in order to coordinate a new Farm to School program based upon an already-existing program in the area. They will work closely with the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, Cherry Valley Coop, and Princeton Montessori School to further develop regional food systems and strengthen the district’s supplier database.

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NSAC Member)

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont was awarded a Farm to School Grant of $85,565 to build upon their successful farm-based educational program. In addition to teaching students about the importance of sustainable food systems, the program will generate growth in locally-produced food markets. Both the Vermont and New Jersey chapters of NOFA are represented by the NOFA Interstate Council, an NSAC member organization.

Rural Action

Rural Action is part of the Central Appalachian Network (CAN), a participating member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Rural Action was awarded a grant totaling $99,820 from the USDA to develop a cooperative Farm to School network among four groups: RA, Live Healthy Appalachia, Community Food Initiatives, and the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks. Together, the organizations will work to solidify regional accessibility of healthy, locally-sourced food.

NSAC is also congratulates the five Native American communities who have secured grants under the USDA Farm to School program:

Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians received a $100,000 grant that will allow them to produce fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats for eight tribal schools. The Choctaw Fresh Produce Enterprise, which operates high tunnel greenhouse farms, will be responsible for growing most of the food.

Native American Community Academy Foundation

The Native American Community Academy (NACA) Foundation of Albuquerque, New Mexico received $95,609 to grow the NACA charter school’s native-based curriculum. This will educate students on local agricultural practices and general nutritional well being.

Cherokee Nation

The Oklahoma Cherokee Nation secured $49,318 in funding for a Cherokee Nation Sequoyah High School program that will provide farm-fresh food and agricultural education to students.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation

The Oklahoma Muscogee Nation received $29,466 in support of a joint-effort between the Muscogee Nation Department of Education and Henrietta Public Schools to develop an agricultural curriculum that supports native students and meets their nutritional needs.

Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians

The Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and School District of Bayfield, Wisconsin are cooperating on the Mino Bimaadiziiwin Sugarbush & Agricultural Education Project with the goal of encouraging student participation in local agricultural processes. In particular, the program is meant to acquaint students with the processes of, making traditional indigenous foods like sugarbush maple syrup. The tribe received $82,605 to further develop the program.

NSAC would also like to recognize the following awards:

Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government

The Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government was awarded $100,000 to support the efforts of the Louisville Farm to Table Program and The Food Literacy Project at Oxmoor Farm–programs that aim to increase access to local foods among Jefferson County Public School students; it focuses particularly on those who rely upon free and reduced-priced meals.

Market Umbrella

Market Umbrella was awarded $99,199 for the purposes of broadening access to fresh produce, Farm to School education, and special certification programs for schools, farmers, food providers, and non-profits in the Orleans Parish. Market Umbrella currently administers the Crescent City Farmers Market and various other programs geared toward increasing the accessibility of fresh foods; they will utilize connections with partner organizations to advance Farm to School programming.

Mississippi Association of Cooperatives

The Mississippi Association of Cooperatives will receive $40,000 to develop school gardens in two districts. They will provide school tours to farmers and farm tours to the students in an effort to expand everyone’s understanding of the importance of local, high quality foods. They will train farmers in the processes of developing an edible school farm, as well as train students to make nutritious food choices.

For the full list of 2018 Farm to School awards, you can visit this link.

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COMMENT: NSAC Cheers Inclusion of “Actively Engaged” Amendment in Senate Substitute

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Reana Kovalcik
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
202-547-5754, rkovalcik@sustainableagriculture.net 

NSAC Cheers Inclusion of “Actively Engaged” Amendment in Senate Substitute

Washington, DC, June 27, 2018 – The inclusion of Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) “Actively Engaged in Farming” amendment in the Senate substitute package is a critical first step toward ensuring more equitable commodity subsidy programs. Family farmers nationwide have been waiting for these reforms, which passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate in 2013, only to be stricken from the final 2014 Farm Bill at the 11th hour by congressional leadership. The reforms that Senator Grassley has put forward will finally make the “limit” in “payment limit” mean something when it comes to taxpayer-funded commodity subsidies. We applaud Senate leadership for including much-needed payment limit reforms in their farm bill, and urge House members to adopt these provisions whole-heartedly when bill conferencing begins. Thanks to the Senate, Congress now has real options to reform the loophole-ridden commodity subsidy program in the final farm bill. We sincerely hope that commonsense will finally win the day in the 2018 Farm Bill, and that Congress will choose to stand for family farmers and the rights of taxpayers instead of kowtowing to the nation’s most influential mega-farms and wealthy non-farmer investors.

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About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
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. Learn more and get involved at: http://sustainableagriculture.net

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