Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- January 2000

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Inside The Beltway -- January 2000

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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red ballFund for Rural America Back from Grave?
red ballCMNP Action Imminent
red ballFerd’s “Year In Preview”
red ballERS Predicts Farm Income Drop in 2000
red ballCSREES Workshop on Animal Ag
red ballSARE/AMS Marketing News
red ballSmall Farm Advisory Committee Filled
red ballBeginning Farmer Assessment
red ballIFS and Research Establishment
red ballAscending the Conservation Summit
red ballMSAWG to Gather in Nebraska
red ballNat. Campaign in DC

red ballPrevious editions of Inside the Beltway

Inside the Beltway is Sustainable Farming Connection's online version of the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's Washington Report. We reproduce it with MSAWG's permission. Do not reproduce or post to any electronic network without specific permission. Contact Brad DeVries bdevries@cais.com for more information.

While it is impossible to draw firm conclusions just  a few days into this new year, this first issue of  the Washington D.C. Report might indicate that it is going to be a very busy one, with plenty of news from our nation’s capitol to report upon and make fun of. Not least among them Secretary Glickman’s welcome discovery of “multifunctional” agriculture just before the Seattle WTO meeting. “Just call me Mr. Multifunctional,” the Secretary enthused, prompting unbidden images (at least in my caffeinated brain) of the Kansan as a sort of human Swiss Army knife, ready for any cutting, fixing, tweezing, can-opening, cork-pulling, tooth-picking task that might come to hand. 

Or better yet this morning’s story in the BNA Daily Report that the expected wave of Y2K litigation won’t disappear just because 2000 came in like a lamb for most of the world’s computers. Since no one can find any notable “damages” to recover, innovative companies like GTE have their lawyers looking for ways to sue their insurance companies to recoup some of the costs they incurred getting their computers ready for Y2K. Who says you can’t sue somebody just because nothing bad happened? Still, it’s further proof that the loudest wailers about frivolous lawsuits America’s biggest companies are in fact their most flamboyant practitioners. 

Speaking of whom, a wonderful quote from an unidentified seminarian in the January 4 Washington Post: “The sin of gluttony is not in the dark, rich chocolate cake in front of you, but in the impulse to have it all for yourself.” Happy New Year!

Brad DeVries

red ballOur Top Story Tonight:  Fund for Rural America Back from Grave?

In an extraordinary turn of events, USDA has decided to move ahead with spending the Fund for Rural America ($60 million) and the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems ($120 million) this year despite legislative restrictions on operating those programs in the annual appropriations bill. How is that possible, given the Appropriators explicit “thou shalt not”? 

Budget and legal staff at the Department argue that since most of these impounded funds are statutorily available to be spent out over 2 years, and since the approps bill merely restricts the Department from spending the money in any given year, it follows that the funds become available once that given year has passed. Hence, restricted FY 99 funds magically reappear in FY 00. Sort of like pulling the rabbit out of the hat, only harder.

This decision is not public yet so details are somewhat sketchy, but we gather that some uses of the funds have been determined and plans for the rest have been set in motion. We expect at least $20 million from the Fund to pay for the research “center” proposals already reviewed and selected two years ago when the Fund was still a going concern, but left unfunded when Congress withdrew the money. Since they never received funding, USDA never released the list of the winning proposals, though rumor has it that there are several excellent projects on the list.

On the rural development side of the Fund, things are a bit more complicated. The final omnibus appropriations bill last year included a small across the board cut in all discretionary spending, but departments and agencies retained flexibility to decide where to take the hit. USDA’s plan would be to focus most or all of the cut in certain rural development accounts and then use the newly recovered Fund money to offset the cut. 

If they choose that path, more than half of the remaining $40 million will be used up just getting back to square one and nixing the threat of staff or program cuts. Another $8.5 million will likely go to bring to full funding the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmer (Section 2501) program. The small remaining rural development part of the Fund would likely fund backlog in housing, water and sewer, and rural business programs.

The Research Initiative, which unlike the Fund has never been implemented, presents a different sort of problem. An administrator needs to be hired, staff selected, a Request for Proposals written and circulated, review panels formed, projects evaluated and selected, and checks cut, all before September 30, 2000. This is, needless to say, a super quick timeline for a new competitive grants program of this size.

The prospect of $120 million in new research funds presents an enormous opportunity to make critical investments in farming systems and marketing alternatives that support family farms, sustainable agriculture, and long term solutions to the farm crisis. However, the competition on the use of the windfall will be enormous and other priorities will hold significant sway.

Action needed: With the development of an RFP for the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems on a fast track, now is the time to communicate with Secretary Dan Glickman urging him to:

  • Target at least two-thirds ($80 million) of the money to projects that simultaneously help solve the most critical environmental and farm income problems. [Background note -- The 3 goals of the Initiative are addressing future food production, environmental quality, and farm income. All proposals should probably meet all three objectives, but we want to be sure that productivity research does not eat up the lion’s share of the money, hence the 2/3rds recommendation.]

  • Target no less than one-sixth ($20 million) to the specific needs of small and moderate-sized family farms and include an emphasis on small and moderate-size farms and increased farming opportunities in all the funding categories, with specific language in the RFP calling for proposals that address these needs and noting that additional points will be awarded for proposals that do so. [Background note -- One of the 6 priority missions of the Initiative is farm profitability and the viability and competitiveness of small and moderate sized farms. We want to be sure that all the other funding categories (genomics, food safety, biotechnology, new uses, and natural resource management) include an emphasis on small and medium farms but at the same time ensure that at least one-sixth of the funds be completely dedicated to that objective.]

  • Target funds specifically to projects that would jump start implementation of Section 244 (organic agriculture), Section 405 (alternative crops and crop diversification), and Section 407 (small and medium size dairy, livestock, and poultry farm viability) of the 1998 research act. [Background note - These were the three priority new authorizations backed by the sustainable agriculture community during congressional consideration of the 1998 bill. None have been funded or implemented to date. Organic should be a major emphasis within natural resource management, diversification and alternative crops within new uses, and alternative livestock systems within farm profitability.]

  • Include within the future food production goal a genetic diversity and preservation initiative to identify and publish species within the national germplasm system in a way that is producer and user accessible.

This thing is moving fast, so please get letters in immediately. If you want to also send an action alert out to your members, call us and we can send you draft copy. Letters should be mailed or faxed to Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250 or 202-720-2166. 

Send copies of your letter to Miley Gonzalez, Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics (or fax: 202-690-2842) and to Charles Laughlin, Administrator of Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (or fax: 202-720-8987). 

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red ball And in other Breaking News: CMNP Action Imminent

On December 9, 1999,the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published in the Federal Register a draft Technical Guidance for Developing Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs). The comment period for the draft runs for 90 days, closing on March 7, 1999. Comments should be sent to Francine A. Gordon, Management Assistant, Natural Resources Conservation Service, ATTN: CNMP, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Stop Code 5473, Beltsville, Maryland 20705.

You can obtain a copy of the draft guidance through the Government Printing Office (GPO) Federal Register website at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html . The site has a browse feature for individual Federal Register issues, listed by date. The draft Technical Guidance is in the contents for December 9 under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). If you are unable to obtain a copy from the web, contact Martha Noble at the SAC office. 

EPA, in its draft guidance on Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), has indicated that the NRCS CNMPs will be the heart of the NPDES permit and that EPA intends to rely heavily on NRCS Conservation Practice Standards as standards for the regulation of CAFOs. Our preliminary review of the NRCS draft guidance indicates that it has significant flaws as a roadmap for NRCS technical assistance and voluntary programs and appears woefully inadequate as the basis for CNMPs for CAFO NPDES permits (EIEIO. On this farm, apparently, Old Macdonald raises mostly acronyms). 

The NRCS, itself, states in the Federal Register Notice for its draft guidance on CNMPs that its technical guidance is not intended to establish regulatory standards. In addition, the NRCS has failed to release to the public a comprehensive assessment of Conservation Practice Standards as standards for the protection of the environment and public health from the adverse effects of CAFOs. 

The NRCS draft guidance provides no information on how the agency intends to assess and reconcile variations in Conservation Practice Standards as they are implemented by State Conservationists in state Field Office Technical Guides. Moreover, the NRCS draft guidance indicates that an agricultural producer will be given total discretion to choose the elements that go into the producer’s CNMP. 

SAC will be working closely with the MSAWG Conservation Committee, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Clean Water Network’s Feedlot Work Group in evaluating the NRCS draft guidance. MSAWG organizations have leadership roles in both these organizations. Detailed talking points for comments by MSAWG members on the draft guidance will be available from the SAC office by mid-January. We’ll mail a copy to each MSAWG member group. For more information on actions that you can take on the NRCS draft guidance, contact Martha Noble by phone at (202) 547-5754 or by e-mail at mnoble@msawg.org.

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red ballFerd’s Year in Preview

What does the legislative year hold in store? In addition to the annual budget and appropriation funding battles - in a shortened timeframe as they always are in election years - the session about to start also will see the first farm bill hearings since passage of the 1996 act, possible completion of the crop insurance reform bill, and, in what is rapidly becoming commonplace, another major emergency farm spending supplemental appropriation. Add in the first major agricultural anti-trust hearings in a very long time, the next installment of the long-standing dairy program war, and 2002 farm bill trial balloons, and the year could prove to be busy and heated.

The major mega issue to be resolved early in the budget and appropriations cycle is whether Congress will honor the funding caps it set in the 1997 balanced budget act. If so (after accounting for 2001 spending already used as part of the gimmicks to fund the 2000 bills), domestic social programs, including agriculture, will be staring at unprecedented cuts on the order of 12% if calculated across the board. In the likely event the caps are broached, the blame game will be fierce and partisan. 

Even without the caps, however, the prospects for agriculture spending are likely to be the same as the past year - tight budgets for annual discretionary appropriations and spending like a sailor on shore leave when the emergency supplemental (conveniently excluded from spending limits) sails into port. 

Will the next supplemental include any spending beyond farm program and commodity payments? Not if the last three supplementals are a guide, though with the farm crisis continuing and deepening, and with continued pressure on regular ag spending, perhaps the barrier to emergency spending for longer-term solutions will crack. Despite our chagrin at not getting family farm retooling or conservation assistance in the mix last year, now - with an election pending - is definitely not the time to walk away from the battle.

Just how the supplemental will play out and how it might dovetail or not with the crop insurance bill remains to be seen. With $6 billion over 4 years sitting on the table in the crop insurance debate, the action will start early. Senate negotiations trying to reconcile the mainstream approach represented by the Kerrey-Roberts bill with Senator Lugar’s alternative risk management payment scheme are already underway, though without any signs of a true compromise emerging yet. 

However, new signs are emerging that additional issues - including food stamps, conservation, maybe even antitrust - might be added to the debate as the Agriculture Committee deals with what is likely to be its only major legislative vehicle for the year. The bill may be finalized early, or it may drag on and eventually become hitched to the emergency supplemental in one big election year package.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans on antitrust hearings related to food and agriculture in March. Several detailed bills are being readied in addition to the generic ones introduced last year. We should have further details to report in our next issue. Field and DC hearings on the Freedom to Farm commodity programs and other farm bill issues are scheduled in the House Agriculture Committee for February and March. 

The Administration has promised a new farm bill proposal by the first hearing, with some details likely to be previewed in the President’s budget at the end of January. With farm income numbers still moving down, reform proposals will be as thick as congressional interns at a DC Happy Hour, and it is not inconceivable that we’ll see some modest changes. Still, the smart money is still on the main action taking place in the supplemental. Stay tuned...

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red ballERS Predicts Farm Income Drop

No wonder they call economics the “dismal science.” USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) issued its projections for farm income in 2000, and the news isn’t cheery. 

They project a drop in net farm income from an estimated $48.1 billion down to $40.4 billion in the coming year, reflecting continued low commodity prices and reductions in government support to farmers. Total production expenses will stay about even, or may decline slightly as farmers shift production practices to reduce costs, according to the ERS estimates. 

The report forecasts shrinkage of government payments to $17.5 billion in the coming year from the record-shattering levels of 1999, when total support hit $22.7 billion and eclipsed the previous high water mark of $16.7 billion set in 1987. Like a lazy chef grabbing the same dull knife again and again, much of the federal support this year is likely to come in the form of Loan Deficiency Payments (LDPs) to grain, soybean and cotton farms. 

Of course, the wild card in all of this is Congress in an election year with trips to the “emergency spending” well becoming an annual rite, it’s hard to imagine farm state legislators going into November of this year without another deep draught of the stuff.

The full report is right at your tap-tapping fingertips at http://www.econ.ag.gov/Briefing/farmincome/fore/fore.htm

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red ballCSREES Stakeholder Workshop on Animal Ag

On December 7-8, 1999, the USDA CSREES held a workshop in Washington, D.C., which gave stakeholders an opportunity to provide their views on the agency’s priorities for animal agriculture research. The workshop focused on six areas of research: promotion of animal well being; protection of animal health; improvement of food safety and public health; enhancement of human nutrition; strengthening of global competitiveness; and environmental quality.

Most of the workshop participants represented scientific organizations and commodity groups. Wyatt Fraas, on behalf of the Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (C-SARE), Steve MacGregor, a Nebraska farmer representing the Center for Rural Affairs, and Martha Noble, representing SAC, gave oral presentations on a sustainable agriculture research agenda for these issues covered by the workshop. 

A written version of presentations at the workshop will be posted on the CSREES website. You may also contact Martha Noble at the SAC office for a list of workshop participants and text versions of presentations made at the workshop.

The CSREES has also announced that it is establishing a website to provide direct links to the research and education priority listing of organizations, including scientific organizations and commodity, farmer, environmental, consumer and other public interest groups that have established research and/or educational priorities. If your organization wishes to be listed on this CSREES website, contact Julie Simmons (e-mail: Jsimmons@reeusda.gov; phone: 202-401-6996; FAX: 202-401-3641).

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red ballSARE/AMS Marketing News

The Agricultural Marketing Service plans to invest $250,000 in partnership with an equal sum from CSREES’ Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program to create a special half-million dollar fund for producer-initiated marketing research and demonstration projects. If the plan receives final approval, approximately $125,000 will be available in each of the four SARE regions for competitively awarded producer grants that focus on alternative marketing ideas.

 Some or all of the regions are expected to emphasize group projects (more than one farmer), with each project possibly receiving a somewhat higher dollar amount than the usual SARE producer grant. Contact your regional SARE office for details. 

The funding was made available in the FY 2000 appropriations bill through the hard work of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), stimulated in part by the National Commission on Small Farms report. The SAC office first floated the partnership proposal. 

In other SARE news, The Office of Management and Budget sent its budget recommendations for FY 2001 back to each department and agency of government during the week of December 6. Final budget numbers should be congealing right about now in advance of the President’s budget release in early February. Gleaning from a variety of OMB, USDA, and Hill sources, we can report that the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is slated for a small increase of about $3.5 million, primarily to undertake work specifically on organic farming. The Agricultural Research Service had also proposed new spending on organic farming, but OMB turned ‘em down.

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red ballSmall Farms Advisory Committee Filled

Earlier this month, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman announced the make up of a 19-member Advisory Committee on Small Farms. It’s a good roster from our perspective, and should provide a helpful forum for airing small farm issues within the department. Glickman tapped Jesse Harness, who served on the National Commission on Small Farms, to chair the committee. Harness is the director of special programs and associate extension administrator of Alcorn State University in Fayette, Mississippi. 

Committee members from the Midwest and those who served on the National Commission include:

  • IOWA: Neil D. Hamilton Director of Agricultural Law Center and Professor of Law, Drake University Law School in Waukee; 

  • KENTUCKY: Karen S. Armstrong-Cummings Director, Commodity Growers Cooperative Association in Frankfurt, and a member of the National Commission on 
    Small Farms; 

  • NEBRASKA: Edgar J. Hicks President, DHV Inc., Minority owned farmers commodities corporation in Omaha; 

  • PENNSYLVANIA: Marion Long Bowlan Farmer and Executive Director of Pennsylvania Farm Link, Inc. in Manheim, and a member of the National Commission on Small Farms; 

  • SOUTH CAROLINA: Thomas Joseph Trantham, Jr. Dairy Farmer in Pelzer, and a member of National Commission on Small Farms; 

  • WISCONSIN: George L. Siemon Farmer and CEO, Organic Valley Cooperative in Viroqua. 

The Committee will hold its first meeting January 19 & 20 in Washington, D.C.

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red ballBeginning Farmer Assessment

On January 8, Ferd Hoefner will be presenting a proposal on behalf of the USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher Advisory Committee to an interagency tem of USDA administrators to undertake a comprehensive assessment & evaluation of USDA Beginning Farmer Programs. The proposal also calls for the development of a Beginning Farmer policy and economic research agenda. The next meeting of the full advisory committee is in March in Kansas City. If you would like a copy of the assessment proposal, call Ferd.

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red ballIntegrated Farming National Program Workshop

The Agricultural Research Service held a stakeholder workshop in Denver on December 7-9 for its Integrated Farming Systems national program. MSAWG stalwarts Dan Specht (Practical Farmers of Iowa), Tom Tomas (NE Sustainable Ag Society), John Hall (Michael Fields Ag Institute), Lisa French (Kansas Rural Center), Kevin Brussell (IL Sustainable Ag Society), Kim Leval (Center for Rural Affairs), and our man Ferd went and gave ‘em whatfer. 

One of 23 national programs, IFS is unique in its emphasis on whole farm and agroecological systems. The sustainable agriculture community was very well represented at the meeting of 140 people through coordination with ARS by SAC and the Center for Rural Affairs. Big vote getters in the stakeholder process included an emphasis on long term cropping and animal systems trials, concentration on research directly relevant to small and moderate-sized family farms, work on organic farming systems, integration of extension, and an overall partnership approach including ARS labs, university researchers and educators, NGOs, and farmers and farmer networks. 

NGOs in specific locations are following up with partnership proposals to regional ARS labs. ARS will also spend the next 6 months rewriting an action plan for the IFS program based on the stakeholder input and input from the labs. The new plan will then be available for public comment. For more detailed information, please contact Ferd Hoefner. 

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red ballConservation Summit in Ames Iowa

USDA Secretary Dan Glickman opened the December 7, 1999 “National Summit on Private Lands Conservation” in Ames, Iowa with the release of a new national study that shows dramatic shortfalls in conservation efforts around the country. The “Natural Resources Inventory” (Which even we can find at http://www.nhq.nrcs.usda.gov/CCS/NRIrlse.html without too much trouble) notes as of 1997:

  • Annual soil erosion of 2 billion tons;

  • Gross yearly wetland losses of 54,000 acres (net losses of 24,000 acres a year)
  • Loss of 3 million acres a year of agricultural and forest land to development.

Glickman’s speech included a call to the Clinton Administration to hold a national conference on conservation next year.

On a brighter note from the Summit, Loni Kemp of the Minnesota Project reports that "Virtually every speaker was impassioned about the need for major change in US farm policy emphasizing conservation. To be specific, stewardship payments in lieu of commodity subsidies were the theme of the day. What was most gratifying to me was the common understanding of sustainable agriculture. Although very few used that word; they all recognized the need to integrate economics, environment, and community. 

Secretary Glickman talked about the European's word, multifunctionality...all the things agriculture does for society besides production." She noted that virtually the entire USDA leadership was in attendance, and that the Secretary made a commitment to develop a proposal to integrate conservation efforts into broader farm policy. 

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red ballMSAWG to Meet In Early February

To make sure we are ready to tackle the impending administrative and legislative issues, MSAWG will be meeting in Lincoln, NE on February 4 and 5. While we set our priorities at the Columbia, MO meeting in November, our action strategies require greater attention. In addition to getting ready for this year’s action, we also will be continuing our preparations for the next farm bill. And, of course, organizational business, networking, and regional initiatives are as always on the table. Be sure to register right away!

In addition to the regular MSAWG meeting, the MSAWG Conservation Committee will be hosting a special one-day session to flesh out and reach consensus on conservation title issues for the next farm bill, particularly a major new comprehensive stewardship incentives program. Long and short-term land retirement programs, compliance, conservation technical assistance, farmland preservation and other issues will also be under review. This pre-meeting will start at (noon) on February 3 and end at (noon) on February 4, just prior to the start of the regular meeting. Registration materials will arrive with the regular meeting packet.

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red ballNational Campaign Annual Meeting

Neatly book-ending the month of February, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture will hold its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., February 25-28. The Campaign’s four Farm Bill committees (marketing/research, farm/rural entrepreneurship, stewardship programs, and farm programs) are working feverishly to hone a set of policy packages prior to this meeting. MSAWG Delegates are as follows:

MSAWG Committee Chair delegates:

  • Duane Hovorka (NE Wildlife Federation)
  • Jon Bailey (Center for Rural Affairs)
  • Matt Russell (National Catholic Rural Life) 
  • Kim Leval (Center for Rural Affairs)

MSAWG farmer delegates:

  • Kevin Brussell (IL Stewardship Alliance) 
  • Jim French (Kansas Rural Center)
  • Dan French (Land Stewardship Project)
  • Dave Serfling (Land Stewardship Project)

MSAWG staff:

  • Dave Butcher 
  • Martha Noble 
  • Brad DeVries

MSAWG members of Steering Committee:

  • Paul Johnson (Kansas Rural Center)
  • Chuck Hassebrook (Center for Rural Affairs) 
  • Loni Kemp (Minnesota Project) 
  • Ferd Hoefner (SAC) 
  • Margaret Krome (Michael Fields Agricultural 

Also attending as Religious Community delegates:

  • Bob Gronski (National Catholic Rural Life)
  • Dave Andrews (National Catholic Rural Life)

Be sure to contact your delegates to forward ideas and proposals to the NCSA Annual Meeting!

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red ballPrevious editions of Inside the Beltway

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Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- January 2000

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