Posts filed under ‘Agriculture Policy’

Organic programs lost in Farm Bill extension

The 9-month farm bill extension that went into effect at the start of this year does not include important programs that support organic agriculture, reports Food Safety News. These programs were in the 2008 farm bill but did not qualify to be automatically part of the extension:

Among the organic programs that weren’t included in the extension of the 2008 farm bill are those that fund organic research and extension, cost share to become certified as organic, and an organic data collection system — the same sort of data collection system that has long been a mainstay for conventional agriculture and that qualified to receive continued funding.

Cuts to these programs will have a significant impact on organic farmers, especially those that are small and mid-sized operations. The cost share program, funded at $22 million in the 2008 bill, was intended to help these farmers cover their certification costs by providing a reimbursement on application fees, inspection fees, travel, and postage.

The cuts to research will also be significant, as the Cooperative Extensions  which operate out of universities in each state, were working to provide “research-based information” to producers, including organic farmers. Already, research for organic agriculture does not get enough funding to keep up with the growing industry. These cuts will only make this more severe.

As Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, says:

“It (the 2008 farm bill extension) undercuts where markets are going. Instead, with this extension, we have the government giving more money (in direct payments) to commodity farmers even though they don’t need payments now because they’re doing well. They’re ignoring what the consumers are voting for in the marketplace.”

Supporting organic agriculture is important in order to diversify our farming industry and expand access to healthy foods. These programs were established because our lawmakers recognized their important public benefits. Not being included in the farm bill extension is 9 months of continued uncertainty for these farmers. Let’s hope that Congress recognizes their importance in September when it takes up the farm bill debate again.

January 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

More signs that farm bill could be a part of deficit reduction

There is still no definitive news about the farm bill, but as the deadline for the “fiscal cliff” approaches, there are more hints that the farm bill may be pushed as a part of  a deficit reduction package. As we blogged about previously, the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) are being sold as a solution to averting the fiscal cliff. Now, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, has spoken out about the issue:

“The farm bill is one of the only bills that provides substantial deficit reduction that passed the Senate this year,” Stabenow says. “It only makes sense that this deficit reduction bill would be included in a larger deficit reduction agreement.”

The Senate version of the bill would include $23 billion in cuts to nutrition assistance and farm subsidies over 10 years. The House version– which was never brought to a floor vote– would include $35 billion.

While agriculture groups are anxious for a farm bill to be passed, the cuts to SNAP would be devastating to the nearly 50 million people who rely on them, especially in these challenging economic times. We’ve shown before how safety net programs are key to keeping many families out of poverty.

A related news story reports that without a new farm bill, the price of milk could go up to $8 per gallon. The law will revert to the 1940s regulations, which include an out-dated formula for determining the cost of milk.  This would not only be a blow for consumers, but for dairy farmers as well. Even if the cost does not increase all the way up to $8, it is likely that prices will increase both because of a lapse in the farm bill  but also because of the severe drought that affected midwestern farmers.

The issues before Congress right now are pressing and critical to our economy, our agriculture industry, and our families. Hopefully an effort to expedite the passage of a new farm bill won’t compromise the needs of working families across America. As always, the issues are interrelated. A long-term solution would incorporate the needs and perspectives of both.

December 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm 1 comment

Food stamp cuts in Farm Bill may lead to action

Amid the debates about the “fiscal cliff”– the spending cuts and tax increases to take effect on January 1, which could plunge the economy back into recession– farmers and advocates from across the country have also been pushing for the passage of a new farm bill. The 2008 farm bill expired at the end of September and compromise between the House and Senate toward a new farm bill was stalled as Congress went into recess. Now that Congress is back for the “lame duck” session, the House and Senate have just weeks to reach a decision on the farm bill and take action to avert the fiscal cliff.

The Washington Post reports that spending cuts in the farm bill may be a component of an agreement on the fiscal cliff, and could expedite the passage of a new bill.  At hand is the significant cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) in the House version of the farm bill. While the Senate version cut the program by $4 billion, the house quadrupled that for a $16 billion cut. Given that legislators are looking for ways to cut spending ahead of the looming January 1 deadline, these cuts could become part of a compromise.

Farm advocates like the American Farm Bureau Federation are pushing for the new farm bill to be passed as a part of a package along with the fiscal measures.  While this may be expedient for farmers and agriculture, the 47 million Americans who receive food stamp benefits are hanging in the balance. As both the unemployment and the poverty rates remain high, SNAP provides necessary aid to struggling families. We have blogged before about how SNAP and other safety net programs help keep many families out of poverty– without them, the poverty rate would be much higher.

A new farm bill is needed to provide policy and regulatory guidance for a strong, healthy and sustainable agricultural industry in the U.S. This bill should also the preservation of SNAP and the essential service it provides to millions of families across the nation. It’s important that in any compromise, the viability and importance of agriculture policy and safety net programs like SNAP are preserved. Both are needed to address hunger, food access, and poverty.

November 19, 2012 at 9:30 am 1 comment

Farm bill could be delayed until April 2013

Today is election day. In a week, Congress will be returning to Washington for the ‘lame duck’ session. It’s uncertain whether or not the political gridlock that has characterized this Congress will continue, or if it will ease up and allow for some important business to get done. Either way, there are some significant issues that will be taken up. The biggest priority for Congress will be passing a  budget to avoid the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’ but there are other issues that need to be resolved as well– namely, the Farm Bill. However yesterdayBarry Flinchbaugh, a Kansas State University agricultural economist and top farm policy expert told attendants at an agricultural bankers meeting that he predicts the Farm Bill will not be enacted until April of 2013.

As we have explained before, the lapse in passing a new bill will not have impacts until the start of the new year. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, will continue through March, as it was extended under the six-month spending bill passed by Congress before the recess. Waiting until April would trigger some of these impacts, which include a lapse in conservation programs and spikes in milk prices.

Some have argued that this pause can allow for reforms of the farm bill provisions, while farmers and others in the agriculture sector are impatient for the next Farm Bill, as the uncertainty of not having a long-term policy makes planning for the upcoming year difficult.  Since October 1, farm policy has been reverted back to the 1938 Agricultural Adjustment Act. If Congress can’t manage to pass a new Farm Bill by the end of the year, Reuters reports that a short-term extension of the 2008 bill could be a likely outcome. But Flinchbaugh points out that ultimately, Congress can elect not to pass a one-year extension, which has happened in previous years.

Neither scenario is good for farmers, consumers, or low-income families. Reform might be possible if our elected officials could work together toward some semblance of a compromise. So far, the current Congress’ track record makes it hard to have faith in any bipartisan cooperation– but perhaps there is still some hope. Reform or not, something must be done about farm policy to avoid the consequences of having to abide by outdated policies. Kicking the can down the road won’t fix the problem, it will just drudge up the same argument one year from now. Hopefully, our Senators and Representatives will return to D.C. next week with an intention to get to work and pass both a resolution to the impending fiscal cliff and a new Farm Bill.

November 6, 2012 at 9:30 am

New Innovation in Urban Agriculture

Ben Greene has designed a new way to bring sustainable, organic agriculture to convenient urban settings.  His answer is The Farmery. Designed as part of his master’s thesis at N.C. State University, the idea is for a  building which serves as an integrated retailing and growing system.    By consolidating the production, distribution, and retail components of the healthy food economy, he will be able to increase the value of purchasing healthy foods while reducing the actual cost.

How does this work?  The design, which is here, involves using shipping containers to create a small greenhouse space.  The plants grow in a proprietary growing system allowing edible plants to grow vertically on the sides of the shipping containers.  The interior space, where sunlight will not reach, will also be used to cultivate mushrooms.  Being able to sell the produce directly where it is grown also limits spoilage and loss because the produce is not picked until it is purchased.

While the project is still developing their prototype greenhouses, they are already selling produce in Raleigh, NC.  To find out more, visit their website or check out this short video featuring Ben Greene on his design.  We are happy to have such an innovative team joining us in the battle to fight food deserts.

October 26, 2012 at 11:47 am 1 comment

2012 Food Day celebrates healthy, affordable, sustainable food

If you didn’t know, today is the annual Food Day, which is a “nationwide celebration and a movement toward more healthy, affordable and sustainable food.” Coordinated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day is supported by a coalition of dozens of organization from across the country and an advisory board that includes some notable names, including author Michael Pollan and actress Jane Fonda. The goal of strengthening and uniting the healthy foods movement is centered around five priorities (click on each of these links for more information):

There are many great resources on the Food Day website, including recipes, videos, information on how to get involved, etc. Events are going on today all across North Carolina, and Boone is hosting a High Country Food Day Celebration.

The issues surrounding healthy foods are often discussed from the perspective of consumers– those who need access to healthy foods– but it is equally important to shine a light on the issues faced by workers across the food industry. One of the interesting things posted on the site is a report by the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California,  Berkeley and the Food Chain Workers Alliance and The Restaurant Opportunities Centers. The report looks at the impact of increasing the federal minimum wage, which has not been increased in 20 years, on food costs. Over these past two decades, inflation and rising costs of living have eroded the purchasing power of the minimum wage. The report found that increasing the minimum wage would have an impact of less than half of one percent on food costs. Restaurant food prices would also increase by less than one percent.

Of the 20 million workers in the U.S. food system– the largest employer of minimum wage workers– half are at the poverty level because of low wages. Increasing the minimum wage would benefit 29 million workers in all industries, and the average household would only have to pay 10 cents extra per day for food. As the authors of the report state on the Food Day blog,

… we had to confront the myth that raising the minimum wage would make food too expensive for all of us. In fact, raising the minimum wage would not only not prohibit us from being able to put food on the table, but it would also allow the millions of workers who work in the food system to put food on the table as well. They can’t right now because their wages are just too low.

So today, go out and participate in Food Day activities in your community. Join the movement to help make healthy foods accessible, affordable, and sustainable for all families. And while you do that, keep in mind the links between social justice, food justice, environmental justice, and economic justice. We need to address all of these in order to achieve systemic change in our healthy foods system, both here in North Carolina and nationwide.

 

October 24, 2012 at 11:04 am

R&D focuses on crops, but what about communities?

The Economic Research Service, a division of the US Department of Agriculture, issued a report last month on the role and effectiveness of public and private investment in research and development in the country’s agriculture sector. The report mostly focused on this topic, but also included one insightful chart that Daily Yonder posted about last week:

As the Daily Yonder puts it:

The chart shows the descending amounts spent by public and private dollars on various topics. Most of the research is conducted on food manufacturing and crops. Less on animals, farm machinery and the environment. Even less on nutrition, food safety and statistics. And then, over on the far right hand of the scale, we can see that a bare amount was spent on “social and community development.” Literally, we spend billions of dollars trying to understand how crops and animals live, but only a smidgeon on how humans and their communities can grow and develop.

If we look just at the public sector investments, the green bars, it’s true– resources are heavily weighted toward crops and animals, and much less on the things that would help us understand how to make rural communities strong and resilient. Daily Yonder also points out that even crop research is mostly spent on just three commodities (corn, soybeans, and cotton).  Also, while biotechnology has boosted this research in the past few decades, there  has not been a corresponding boost in research on communities and local economies.

This is a far cry from what our rural communities need right now.

And that may be one reason why we know a heck of a lot about how to grow corn in a drought but not so much about how to develop rural communities that thrive.o wonder we have bountiful harvests and troubled towns.

 

 

October 15, 2012 at 10:28 am

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