Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- February 2000

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Inside The Beltway -- February 2000

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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red ballVP Gore Announces Ag Conservation Budget
red ballBuffer Initiative Package
red ballUSDA Biotech Advisory Group
red ballInternational GMO Protoco
red ballMore GMOs: Bt Refuge, Allergenicity, Monarchs
red ballSupplemental Guidance on Non-Point Grants
red ballCorps Extends Nation-wide Permit #26
red ballWhite House Wants Biofuels Boost
red ballUSDA Brings Home Poor Report Card
red ballCRP Sign Up Announcement
red ballWhere 2B: Rally for Rural America

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.

I love it when we get snow here in Washington, D.C., not least because it opens the door to wonderful vignettes like the one I spotted just yesterday.  A power-suited, attaché-cased young woman was setting a daring pace past me on an ice-covered sidewalk, explaining to someone via her cell phone that “…The thing I really like about snow around here is that it forces you to slow down…”

Since slowing down isn’t in the cards for us with the Lincoln, Nebraska MSAWG meeting right around the corner, I’ll quickly share some of the quotes that we considered for the frontispiece of this year’s MSAWG Annual Report, but rejected, some for obvious reasons.

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.”
-- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1956 in Peoria, Illinois.

“Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.”
-- Peter DeVries, U.S. Author, Comfort me with Apples, 1956

“Farm policy, although it’s complex, can be explained. What it can’t be is believed. No cheating spouse, no teen with a wrecked family car, no mayor of Washington, D.C., videotaped in flagrante delicto has ever come up with anything as farfetched as U.S. farm policy.”
-- P.J. O’Rourke, U.S. Journalist, Parliament of Whores, 1991

red ballVP Gore Announces Ag Conservation Budget

While the presidential candidates were inflicting themselves on Dan Specht and his fellow Iowans, there was a scramble to find something cogent to say about farming and congressional moves to reopen the farm bill. 

Vice President Gore (no jokes about agro-forestry, we promise) issued the Administration's conservation budget proposal on January 7th. This is the fulfillment of White House Chief of Staff John Podesta's announcement in early December that the Administration would have a farm bill proposal that would include “safety net” additions to Freedom to Farm (yet to be announced) and conservation improvements.

In summary, the conservation proposal includes:

  •  $600 million a year for 2 years to fund a pilot version of a mixed income support, environmental enhancement stewardship incentive program, modeled in part after Senator Tom Harkin’s Conservation Security Act.
  • Increasing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to from 36 to 40 million acres.
  • Increasing Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) from current $174 million to $325 million per year, as per the Clean Water Action Plan.
  • Reauthorizing the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) at 250,000 acres/year, as per the Clean Water Action Plan.
  • Reauthorizing the Farmland Protection Program (FPP) at $65 m/year.
  • Reauthorizing the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) at $50 m/year.
  • Approval of FSA's long overdue plan to increase incentives for buffers under the CRP continuous enrollment through a sign-up bonus (see story below).

The first two proposals -- stewardship incentives and a larger CRP -- are new. The others have all been included in one or more of the President’s budgets for each of the past three years. All of the proposals, except for the CRP buffers, would require legislation and appropriation, so the key question becomes will the White House actually fight for any of this in the emergency supplemental appropriations or the crop insurance reform bill this year.

Neither USDA nor the White House pushed for conservation funding of any kind during the last 3 emergency supplementals, but this election year announcement may increase the nature of the commitment.

The other big step forward here is the support or something like the Harkin bill, perhaps marking the beginning of the conceptual shift within the Administration to greening farm income support.

Interestingly, as originally sent out of USDA, the Harkin bill-type feature was part of a much larger package. The Department had proposed an options menu of different kinds of payments, including the conservation payments but also countercyclical income payments and grants for farming systems changes and alternative marketing projects, among others. In the end, the White House approved only the conservation payments as a separate, stand-alone item.

We are told USDA's thinking on the $600 million proposal would be to use the bulk of the money to support basic management practices rather than crop rotations, rotational grazing, buffers, or whole farm, total resource management planning. In terms of the Harkin bill, this would be “class one” practices, rather than class 2 or 3. The arguments for this choice are basically to move something out fast, reaching as many conventional growers as possible, with the least amount of planning time and technical assistance possible.

However, following a push from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, they are considering a 20-25% set aside for pilot testing of class 2 (buffers, rotations, etc.) and class 3 (whole farm planning). We have argued that these are the approaches that most need to be piloted given the wider experience with class 1 via EQIP and earlier programs and given the Administration’s lack of support for the Conservation Farm Option which would have provided major funding for whole farm planning and for sustainable economic uses of buffers.

Letters and phone calls to NRCS and USDA leadership to reinforcing this message would be very timely. For more information, contact Ferd Hoefner at the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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red ballBuffer Initiative Package

In a somewhat strange mixing of apples and oranges, the Vice President’s Iowa announcements included not only the conservation budget proposals, but also the announcement of administrative action on CRP buffer enrollments. The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and others have been asking for administrative action on this for the past 2-plus years. We thus welcomed the long overdue announcement, but also were disappointed in what it did not include.

The announcement indicated $100 to $125 million was being added to this year’s CRP funding to allow increased bonuses for continuous sign-ups. This will allow a $100 to $150 per acre signing incentive payment plus reimbursement of most of the landowners installation costs, higher pastureland rental rates, and increased maintenance payments. These funds would allow for enrolling approximately 500,000 acres per year with the bonuses.

In a major disappointment, the proposal specifically excludes contour buffer strips from the bonus payments. In-field strips are, according to USDA’s own research, among the most effective practices to improve water quality and also are among the most relevant buffer practices in sustainable agriculture systems. The Farm Service Agency, which developed the proposal with an interagency team, has offered no substantive reason for this most unfortunate omission.

The incentive package will not be operational until OMB approves an allocation of funds, which as we go to press has still not happened. Timing is of major concern because the regular CRP sign-up has started and will end in mid-February. Field offices cannot provide the new incentives until the allocation is made. Landowners considering partial field enrollments may opt for whole field enrollment given the uncertainty. Rumors are circulating that the allocation and subsequent instructions to the field and public announcement is purposely being stalled until the regular sign-up has ended.

The package, when the details are announced, is anticipated to include some or all of the following:

  • Signing Incentive Payment (SIP) -- $150 per acre for a 15-year contract or $100 for a 10-year contract for acreage devoted to filter strips, riparian buffers, living snow fences, grassed waterways, shelter belts, and windbreaks. (Cost = about $85 million/year.)
  • Practice Incentive Payment (PIP) -- A one time payment equal to 40 percent of the cost of installing a practice. This will be paid upon completion of a practice and will be in addition to the 50 percent cost share now paid. (Cost = about $50 million/year.)
  • Higher marginal pastureland rental rates -- Marginal pastureland rental rates will be adjusted to better reflect the agricultural value of riparian pastureland. Along with the paying of 90 percent of fencing costs, the increased rental rate will be especially important for increasing enrollment in the west. (Cost = less than $5 million/year.)
  • Annual Maintenance Payments -- The annual maintenance incentive payments for the continuous practices will be raised from the present $5 maximum to not more than $10 per acre depending on need. State FSA committees will be responsible for setting the actual rates based on expected costs. (Cost = less than $5 million/year.)
  • Squaring Off Fields -- The total acreage of filter strips and riparian buffers enrolled may be increased up to 20 percent to allow squaring off of fields.

Not included in this package were several key proposals offered by the Coalition and others, including:

  • providing bonus rates on in-field buffer practices.
  • increasing the bonus rental rates for all partial field enrollment options.
  • providing an option for up-front or accelerated lump sum rental payments.
  • providing incentives for joint enrollments within same small watershed by multiple landowners.
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red ballUSDA Biotech Advisory Group

Late in January, Secretary Glickman unveiled the roster for the Department’s new Biotechnology Advisory Committee, and  lo and behold  it is shockingly balanced!  

The Committee, which former Ohio Congressman Dennis Eckart will chair, includes many of the most persuasive voices from the sustainable ag, environmental, and consumer worlds.  

We’ll see service from Carolyn Brickey (National Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform), Carol T. Foreman (Food Policy Institute, Consumer Federation of America), David Fredrickson (Minnesota Farmers Union), Rebecca Goldburg (Environmental Defense Fund), Michael Hansen (Consumer Policy Institute, Consumers Union), Neil Harl (Iowa State University), Sharan Lanini (Rocket Farms & California Organic Food Act Advisory Committee), Mark Lipson (Farmer & Organic Farming Research Foundation), Mary-Howell Martens (Farmer & Finger Lakes Community College, Pen Yan, New York), Margaret Mellon (Union of Concerned Scientists), Lorraine Nakai (Farmer, Navajo Agricultural Products Industry), Michael Sligh (RAFI-USA), and Margaret Wittenberg (Whole Foods Market & National Organic Standards Board).

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red ballInternational GMO Protocol

Still more news from the Brave New World right at the end of January, 135 nations involved in talks on a biosafety protocol that will set rules for the movement of GMOs across national boundaries.  

One of the biggest steps in this protocol is the provision that allows countries to apply an explicit precautionary principle to imports of living GMOs, to wit: “potentially dangerous activities can be restricted or prohibited even before they can be scientifically proven to cause serious damage.”  The agreement allows nations to apply these standards as well to living GMOs imported for food, animal feed, or for processing. 

Note that pesky adjective “living,” however. At the insistence of U.S. negotiators, the biosafety talks put off for two years steps that would have led to the labeling of products made using GMO ingredients.  Still, the U.S. side admitted that the restrictions on living GMOs would almost certainly lead to product segregation from the field onward in the very near future, and would therefore remove the primary practical objection to food labeling.

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red ballMore GMOs: Bt Refuge, Allergenicity, Monarchs

Heard enough about GMOs for one month?  Tough.  EPA has been quite busy of late with Bt Corn. 

On December 15, 1999, EPA issued a data call-in for all Bt corn plant-pesticides for data on effects of Bt corn on all non-target lepidopteran (butterfly and moth) species. Data required include toxicity testing on Monarch butterflies and a species related to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly, milkweed dispersal, and Bt corn pollen dispersal.  

Bt corn registrants are required to submit protocols for their data collection strategies to the EPA by March 2000 and the data are to be submitted to EPA by March 2001. More information on the data call-in is accessible from the EPA biopesticide webpage at www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides.

Then on December 21, 1999, EPA announced that it is taking public comment on the Cry9C insecticidal protein derived from Bacillus thuringiensis and expressed in field corn. Federal Register, Vol. 64, p. 71425 (Dec. 21, 1999).  The comment period is related to a petition from AgrEvo USA Company. The petition, 9F5050, proposed an amendment to expand the current exemption from the requirement of a tolerance for Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies tolworthi Cry9C protein and the genetic material necessary for its production in corn from corn used for feed only (and associated residues in meat, poultry, milk, or eggs resulting from animals fed such feed) to all food commodities.

EPA has completed its initial review of the data submitted in support of this petition and is soliciting public comment on the data evaluation records, and a list of questions regarding human allergenicity assessment for non-digestible proteins expressed as plant-pesticides.   This issue will also be one of the subjects of a FIFRA Science Advisory Panel (SAP) meeting in early February 2000. 

Public comments must be submitted to EPA by February 21, 2000.  More information, including the procedure for submitting public comments, is accessible on the web at www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides

Finally, EPA capped off a rough month for Bt Corn backers On January 14, 2000, when the agency announced its agreement with Bt corn registrants for measures to manage pest resistance in the year 2000 growing season.  Bt corn registrants must require that growers plant a minimum, structured refuge of at least 20 percent non-Bt corn.   

For Bt corn grown in cotton growing areas, the refuge is increased to at least 50 percent non-Bt corn.  Registrants are to expand field monitoring for the emergence of pest resistance and are also required to communicate to EPA voluntary measures for protecting non-target species, particularly the Monarch butterfly.  Note also that the conditional registrants for Bt corn varieties in current use expire in early 2001. 

In the next few months, the EPA must consider whether to extend the conditional registrations. This decision will require EPA to assess whether current measures for pest resistance are effective.  For more information on Bt corn registration, see www.biotech-info.net 

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red ballSupplemental Guidance on Non-Point Grants

EPA has issued a supplemental guidance for the award of Section 319 nonpoint source grants in FY2000.  The guidance implements actions consistent with the Senate Appropriations Committee’s report for FY2000 EPA appropriations (S. 1596).  The report language directed that Clean Lakes program activities be funded through Section 319 and that 5 percent of the section 319 funds be allocated to clean lakes.  The report also directed EPA to better integrate the Clean Lakes and Section 319 programs by incorporating the Section 314 clean lakes guidance with the section 319 guidance.  The supplemental guidance also summarizes other recent EPA Section 319 guidance and provides a listing of FY2000 Section 319 allocations for each state.  A copy of the supplemental guidance is available on the web at www.epa.gov/owow/nps/Section319/fy2000.html.

And if you understood all that  heck, if you just managed to read all of it without lapsing into a deep sleep at “EPA has issued a supplemental guidance”  you’re a certified, gold-medal policy wonk.  Be sure to bring this up frequently at parties and other social situations.

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red ballCorps Extends Nation-wide Permit #26

EPA wonkosity didn’t scare you off?  Try the Corps of Engineers on for size, then, tough guy/gal!

In July, 1999, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed replacing Nationwide Permit (NWP) No. 26, which authorizes dredge and fill activities in headwaters and isolated waters, with six modified and three new NWP permits.   The proposal included modifications to NWP No. 40, which concerns Clean Water Act Section 404 dredge and fill activities on agricultural wetlands.  The Army Corps has announced that it needs additional time to assess the 1,700 responses to its proposal. Federal Register, Vol. 64, p. 69994 (Dec. 15, 1999). 

Therefore, the Army Corps intends to begin issuing new and modified NWPs under the revised program on February 14, 2000.  These NWPs will become effective on April 14, 2000.  In the meantime, the expiration date for NWP No. 26 has been extended to April 14, 2000.

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The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has announced that it is taking proposals for FY2000 Federal State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) grants.  FSMIP has $1.2 million available for FY2000.  Proposals received by February 18, 2000 will be considered during a first round of grant awards.  Proposals not funded in the first round and proposals received from February 19, 2000 until May 1, 2000 will be considered in a second round of grant awards.  Proposal applications should be sent to FSMIP Staff, Transportation and Marketing, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA, Room 4006 South Building, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, D.C. 20090-6456. 

FSMIP is a matching fund program designed to assist state Departments of Agriculture or other appropriate state agencies in conducting studies or developing innovative approaches for the marketing of agricultural products.  AMS is encouraging states to submit proposals related marketing research and marketing services for small farms; proposals that will increase opportunities for producers to market products directly; and proposals for projects that will support sustainable agriculture by expanding consumer choices with regard to the environmental impact of alternative production and marketing technologies.

Although eligibility to apply for funds is limited to State Departments of Agriculture and other appropriate state agencies, AMS encourages these agencies to partner with community-based organizations on FSMIP projects.  Organizations interested in the program should contact their State Department of Agriculture or other state agencies that may be eligible to apply for funds.  

For FSMIP program guidelines and further information, contact Dr. Larry V. Summers, USDA STOP 0264, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, P.O. Box 96456, Washington, D.C., phone:  (202) 720-2704.  Program guidelines, application forms, and other related information are posted on the Web at www.ams.usda.gov/tmd/fsmip.htm.

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red ballWhite House Wants Biofuels Boost

According to a mid-January White House announcement, the President’s FY2001 budget will ask for funding for biofuels research and other support that would more than double funding for these efforts next year.  Last August, the president set a goal to triple the use of grasses, crops and trees to produce ethanol, electricity and other energy forms by the year 2010.

Congress last year allocated about $194 million for these efforts, to which the White House budget would add more than $240 million in new funds, $49 million of which would be earmarked for the Department of Energy, and the balance of $194 million to the USDA.

President Clinton’s announcement claimed that this initiative would result in up to $20 billion in new farm income, less reliance on oil imports and less risk of global warming. 

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red ballUSDA Brings Home Poor Report Card

Looks like somebody’s facing a grounding and limited TV privileges, based on this report card!  The Time to Act Campaign, which formed to push the USDA to make good on the goals outlined by the Secretary’s National Commission on Small Farms, issued its second annual “Report Card” on departmental performance.  Theresults aren’t pretty. 

  • Market Access D
  • Market Development B+
  • Research and Extension C-
  • Conservation C
  • Credit C
  • Beginning Farmers B-
  • Farm Workers D-
  • Civil Rights D
  • Risk Management C+
  • Outreach and Organization C

The mix of C’s and D’s  including a headlining grade of D on ensuring market access for small farms  were mostly lower than even last year’s lackluster showing.  The Department and Secretary Glickman came in for harsh criticism on promises unfulfilled and laws unenforced that might help end market discrimination against smaller producers.   The highest marks were a B- on Beginning Farmers, and a B+ on Market Development. 

The report card is available through the Center for Rural Affairs; call Marie Powell at 402-846-5428 or visit the Website at www.cfra.org to get a copy.

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red ballCRP Sign Up Announcement

The 20th CRP general signup began on January 18 and will run through February 11, 2000.  CRP contracts awarded under this signup will become effective on October 1, 2000.  The current enrollment cap for the entire CRP, including general signup, continuous signup, and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) acreage, is 36.4 million acres.   By October 1, 2000, an estimated 31 million acres will be enrolled in the CRP.  The amount of acreage available for this 20th signup will depend on the acreage USDA reserves for continuous signup and the CREP.  In a recent USDA news release, Secretary Glickman noted that the Environmental Benefits Index for the signup is highly competitive.  He recommended that producers also consider the continuous signup option, which enrolls smaller amounts of buffer-type acreage automatically in a less competitive program.  The USDA has announced that it will increase the incentives for the continuous signup option, including rental rates but has delayed implementing these incentives.  This leaves producers uncertain about the relative benefits of enrolling land in the general signup or the continuous signup option.  A fact sheet for the 20th general signup is available on the web at www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/facts/crp20.pdf

 A fact sheet for the Environmental Benefits Index for the signup is available at www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/publications/facts/ebiold.pdf

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red ballWhere 2B: Rally for Rural America

Building on the work of its Green Ribbon Campaign, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference is a leading organizer of a March 20-21 “Rally for Rural America,” here in Washington, D.C.  National Farmers Union is heading up the effort.  The Rally will call attention to the contradiction between prosperity in most of the U.S. economy and the spreading depression in this country’s farm and rural economy.   Monday, March 20 will kick off with a farmer’s share luncheon and town hall meeting with farmers, members of Congress, and agency officials to discuss the farm crisis. The centerpiece of the event will occur on the following day, March 21, when participants will rally on Capitol Hill, followed by meetings with their legislators. Contact Matt Russell at the National Catholic Rural Life Conference on how to participate at ncrlcmr@aol.com (email), 515-270-2634 (phone), or 515-270-9447 (fax), or in Washington, D.C. contact Jodi Niehoff,  national rally coordinator, at 202-314-3104 (phone) or 202-554-1654 (fax). 

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red ballPrevious editions of Inside the Beltway

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Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- February 2000

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