Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- May  2000

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Inside The Beltway -- May 2000

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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Capital Hilltop:

red ballCrop Insurance Plus Conference
red ballAg Approps Report

Executive Session:

red ballBusting Supersodbuster
red ballNew Organic Standards Board Members
red ballBeginning Farmer Committee News
red ballEPA on Pathogens in Groundwater
red ballEPA Nutrient Criteria
red ballCRP 20th Sign-up
red ballEPA Nixes GE Plant Pesticide Petition
red ballTMDL Joint Agreement
red ballWhite House Food & Ag Biotech Initiatives
red ballLoans for On-Farm Commodity Storage

NGOs A-Go-Go

red ballWORC Calls for Calls
red ballNominations Needed for REEE Advisory Board

Brief but Bueno!

red ballRFPs for Community Food Projects & Rural Cooperative Research, New Info from SAN and SARE, and More, More, More!

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.

There's nothing quite like a big trade vote to remind you just how this place works, as the big debate over Permanent Normal Trade Relations, or PNTR, with China rages right outside our window. 

The apocryphal but highly believable story back during the waning days before the NAFTA vote was that National Airport was turning away private aircraft, because its parking for private jets was full to bursting. 

Just yesterday, I discovered a brand-new way to gauge the importance of a given bill in boardrooms around the country. In a short walk near the Senate and House office buildings, I counted no fewer than a dozen large black sedans including three completely obsequious stretch limos parked in close proximity to their legislators, drivers at the ready with cell phones awaiting the call of battle.

In Washington, DC money does not just talk; it often babbles incoherently. Exiting the Capitol South subway station the last two days, I've been surrounded by gangs of perky college-aged kids, well-scrubbed in their yellow pro-PNTR polo shirts, insisting that I take one of their free 10-minute long-distance cards with "The Right Call: YES on PNTR" superimposed over a waving United States flag and stuck on a card that gives all the reasons why rejecting PNTR might induce Alan Greenspan to furrow his brow (more than usual, that is) and drop the U.S. into the depths of depression, despair and '70s disco music. 

It's hard to picture how this opulent offensive might have even a slight impact on even a single undecided vote, but maybe it's simply intended to show PNTR opponents that the "pro" side has so much money to burn on this thing that they can afford to be complete idiots.

In this great country, of course, there is no shortage of folks willing to relieve the wealthy-but-dim of some of their lucre. As we take this DC Report to press, we get the word that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott will postpone the Senate PNTR vote until July, and that he can't guarantee the bill won't be amended, which means a conference committee and brand new votes in House and Senate. 

This particular gravy train looks to stay on track all and plumping up campaign contributions and lobbyists' billable hours the way through the summer. A fool and his money to mix our aphorisms are a man's best friend.

-- Brad DeVries

red ballCrop Insurance Plus Conference

Every once in a while in the maelstrom of nonsense, confusion, and subterfuge that marks the disbursal of large sums of money by Congress, there's a telling moment, usually unintentional. In the midst of the confusion surrounding the Crop Insurance bill and just what other major legislation would or would not be spliced onto it, CongressDailyAM served up the following wonderful headline: "GOP Moves Bankruptcy Into Crop Bill." But wait, it gets even stranger.

On their last day before Memorial Day recess, both the House and Senate approved the combined $8.2 billion crop insurance reform bill and $7.1 billion emergency farm aid bill on July 25, with virtually no opposition. The bill had gone to a hurriedly called conference committee the day before, following a week of GOP-only staff conferencing. The emergency bill underwent no hearings, no subcommittee or committee markups, and no public deliberations of any kind. The crop insurance bill, on the other hand, has been working through more or less normal legislative process for over a year - though even it didn't have a formal conference committee until the final moments when a take-it-or-leave package was put before the members. The President has indicated he will sign the bill shortly.

There is a great deal to report, so to make it easier to read, we'll use paragraph headings, starting with crop insurance issues and finishing with emergency aid provisions.

1. Crop Insurance - Agricultural Risk Protection Act
of 2000

Basic Crop Insurance Package: The final crop insurance package includes nearly all of the previously advertised items -- higher premium assistance levels (ranges from 38% to 67% subsidized) with no limitations on the amount of subsidy per farm, inverted subsidies (e.g., higher subsides at all levels of coverage but with the biggest increases at higher levels of coverage), continued catastrophic (CAT) coverage at $100 per year with no limitation on the size of potential payouts, special production history protection for producers suffering multiple disaster years, a new individual loss trigger rather than area-based trigger for Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance (NAP), increased penalties for waste, fraud, and abuse on the part of producers, agents, and loss adjusters, and a new directive for RMA to pay companies for R&D related to new insurance products (including retroactive payments for earlier R&D costs).

Cost: The 5-year cost of the bill of the bill is $8.2 billion, essentially doubling the per year cost of the program to over $3 billion per year.

Conservation Compliance: The SAC-supported Senate provision to re-link swampbuster, sodbuster, and conservation compliance to crop and revenue insurance subsidies was deleted in the final bill. A mild counterproposal by Senator Harkin, who sponsored the original Senate provision, to increase premium assistance for producers who receive crop insurance subsidies, are not currently subject to conservation compliance, and who voluntarily adopt conservation compliance plans, was also shot down. Senate Chairman Lugar, who is often considered the father of the original conservation compliance provisions, did little to help retain the Senate provision, and the rest of the Senate committee members on both sides of the aisle seemed anxious to jettison the provision, especially in the face of near unanimous opposition from the House conferees. Conservation, wildlife, and environmental organizations also did little to engage on the issue, though a letter of support was sent by SAC, National Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Sustainable and Organic Practices: SAC-backed language contained in both bills expanding the understanding of "good farming practices" for crop loss purposes to include scientifically sound sustainable and organic practices was retained in the final bill. Additional language was added to allow producers who dispute a "good farming practices" determination to go through an informal administrative review process and/or proceed to judicial review, but disallow consideration of the complaint through the National Appeals Division of USDA.

Whole Farm Revenue Insurance Coverage: The final bill retains expanded general authority for revenue insurance pilots, as well as specific, discretionary language for whole farm coverage. Pilots may be on a regional, state, or national basis, and may operate for four years, or longer at the discretion of FCIC. The bill also includes specific authorization of small pilot program for livestock coverage. The new bill improves, but does nothing to guarantee, chances for whole farm coverage being offered nationally or at least in many more regions of the country.

Risk Management Assistance Payments: The original Senate provision for $500 million of optional risk management payments in lieu of insurance to support a wide variety of risk reduction strategies was whittled down in the final bill to just $10 million per year, to be offered in 10-15 states that have historically low participation rates in the crop insurance program (e.g., New England, eastern Corn Belt, fruit and vegetable areas). The payments will be available as cost share for building irrigation structures, planting trees for erosion reduction or water quality purposes, implementing diversification and conservation strategies (including IPM and organic transition), and buying future/hedging/options contracts. Precisely how USDA will implement this remains to be seen. SAC will be developing an implementation proposal.

Risk Management Outreach and Education: The bill provides $5 million per year for RMA to operate an education and information program in states with low levels of crop insurance participation and underserved producers and $5 million per year for CSREES to run a competitive grants program for risk management education, which may include (based on SAC-backed language) production diversification and farm resources risk reduction as well as futures and
trade options, forward contracting, crop insurance, etc.

Dairy Options Pilot Program: The bill expands the dairy options pilot program from 100 to 300 counties.

2. Emergency Farm Assistance Bill

Basic Emergency Aid Package: Slightly more than $5.5 billion of the $7.1 billion emergency bill is spent on doubling AMTA (AKA Freedom to Farm) payments for 2000 at their 1999 levels. (Doubling the 2000 levels would have resulted in smaller payments than last year since under the 1996 farm bill payment amounts were intended to go down each year.) The bill continues to double the basic AMTA payment limitation of $80,000, allowing payments of up to $160,000 per farm, not counting legal loopholes that can push it higher. However, in a change from last year's emergency supplemental, the $150,000 limit on loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains is not doubled. Nonetheless, given USDA's decision early this year to implement commodity certificates, the issue of limitations on loan payments is essentially moot - the sky's the limit.

Other commodity support in the package includes $500 million for payments to soybean and other oilseed producers (up from $475 million in 1999), $100 million for payments to cottonseed producers (up from $85 million) $340 million for payments to tobacco growers (up from $328 million), $47 million for peanut producers, and $302 million for fruit and vegetable assistance, including $200 million for government purchase of surplus crops. The package also includes a partial, temporary restoration of the honey, and wool and mohair programs.

Special LDP Grazing Provision: The bill allows producers to graze wheat, barley or oats and still receive loan deficiency payments, starting in 2001. While small step in the right toward decoupling LDPs, this special allowance was not applied to feed grains, much less to conversions to grass and forage.

Conservation: After two years in which no conservation money was added to the emergency spending bill, the fire wall has finally come down, if only a little. The bill provides $10 million for the Farmland Protection Program, along with helpful language allowing private nonprofits to hold easements in states without farmland protection programs. It also provides $40 million in conservation cost share and incentives payments, presumably through EQIP. Unfortunately, the language prohibits any of the money to go to EQIP priority areas and prohibits NRCS from using any of the funds for technical assistance. Bad report language explaining the provision also notes "The Managers believe many water quality concerns can be handled without the time-consuming and expensive development and writing of whole farm plans. One or two practices properly completed are the best conservation."

The other part of the conservation story is what is not in the bill. The SAC office was at the center of an effort by conservation groups to secure funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program for 2001 through this emergency bill. Some 15 national groups indicated to Congress that this was the top priority for conservation spending within the emergency bill. Senator Harkin proposed an amendment to add $40 million for WRP, but it was rejected by the conferees. There is still one more bite at the apple in the final deliberations over the ag appropriations bill, but finding an offset within that bill will be very difficult.

Value-Added Market Development Grants: The bill includes $10 million for grants (up to $500,000 each) to independent producers to develop business plans, strategies, and alliances for marketing value-added agricultural commodities or products, plus $5 million for establishment of a resource center with electronic capabilities to coordinate information on value-added opportunities. Senator Grassley, who afterwards accused the American Meat Institute of lobbying against the effort and successfully getting it knocked down from $35 million, sponsored the provision.

Research: Before the emergency bill stopped spending money, it became a mini-appropriations bill, with members of the Ag Committees who were unsuccessful in getting all the special earmarks they wanted in appropriations adding the orphan items to the emergency bill. The winners included Kansas State with $15 million for carbon sequestration research, to be shared with a consortium of other land grants, North Carolina State with $3 million for GMO tobacco/cancer vaccine research, University of Nebraska with $10 million for buildings and facilities (a particularly surprising earmark since ag appropriations bills have not funded new buildings and facilities for some years now), and Southern Illinois University with $14 million for corn-based ethanol research. The bill also includes $5 million for livestock and poultry associations and related foundations to improve environmental performance of animal waste storage systems, presumably aimed at America's Clean Water Foundation and its collaboration with NPPC on "environmental assessment," which will now expand to include poultry.

Farm Credit and Beginning Farmers: The bill suspends through 2002 the graduation provisions in existing law that limits FSA borrowers to 7 years of direct operating loans and 15 years of direct and guaranteed loans combined. In doing so, it nonetheless preserves a priority for lending to beginning farmers, but the technical drafting of the provision may cause problems in the administration of beginning farmer lending. It is undergoing further program and legal review at the Department.

County Offices: The bill suspends, through June 2001, any further consolidation of county offices.

Biomass Research and Development: The bill includes a new authorization for a biomass research and development program, originally sponsored by Chairman Lugar and passed in the Senate as S 935, to promote the production of bio-based industrial products, including co-production of food and industrial products, from agricultural, forestry, and municipal biomass sources.

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red ballAg Appropriations: Forward Motion

In unprecedented fashion, the House and Senate Ag Appropriations subcommittees marked up their FY 2001 bills on the same day in early May. There was much to celebrate in both bills on our sustainable agriculture research, marketing, and rural development priorities, though with causes for concern on the conservation and credit fronts. More than a little confusion reigned as the bills moved toward floor action the week prior to Memorial Day recess. Several very substantial conflicts, most unrelated to funding levels, prevented floor action, which will now be put off until after the one-week Memorial Day recess. As a result, conference committee is off until later in June or July.

First to the good news. Congratulations to all of you - particularly our "key state and district" folk on appropriations - for your continuing work to educate Congress on the importance of our programs! It paid off the last few years as we maintained funding in the face of major budget cuts. Now, with some extra money in the till (though precious little for domestic discretionary programs), some of our top priorities are among the programs receiving long-awaited increases, as follows:

  • The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program received a $1 million and $2.2 million increase in the House and Senate bills, respectively, above the existing $11.3 million.

  • The Senate bill increases Integrated Farming Systems funding in Wisconsin from $0.5 to $0.8 million; this item traditionally is only in the Senate bill, so no funding in the House is not alarming. However, a request for a new IFS Upper Mississippi partnership project was not funded; we will seek a floor amendment.

  • The House bill includes $1 million for a new "organic transition program" to spur marketing of organic crops.

  • The House bill increases ATTRA and Rural Coop Development grants by $0.5 million each, while the Senate bill increases coop grants by $2 million without an increase for ATTRA. (In conference, we hope to secure the House level for ATTRA ($2 million), plus a $1.5 million increase for coop grants for a total of $5.5 million.)

  • The House bill increases the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program for small farm and sustainable agriculture grants from $1.2 million to $1.5 million.

  • Both bills include about $1 million for implementation of the National Organic Program, plus $639,000 to cover first round accreditation fees for certification organizations.

  • The Senate bill increases the Farmers Market Nutrition Program from $15 million to $20 million.

  • The House bill increases the Resource Conservation and Development program by $5.7 million to $41 million, compared to a $1 million increase in the Senate bill.

  • Both bills increase Rural Business Enterprise grants by $3 million to $40.7 million and Rural Business Opportunity grants by $4.5 million to $8 million.

In a major point of disagreement, the Senate bill, while prohibiting USDA from using FY 01 money in FY 01 for the $120 million per year Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems and the $60 million Fund for Rural America, would nonetheless allow USDA to spend FY 00 money (same amounts) in FY 01, FY 01 money in FY 02, and so on. This sleight of hand provides the appropriators with a large pool of funds to transfer to other programs, yet allows USDA to continue programming the money on a one-year time lag. The House bill, on the other hand, closes this loophole and would thus shut down both the Initiative and the Fund. This will likely be a major bone of contention in conference deliberations.

Conservation program spending was given status quo treatment in both bills. Money for EQIP remains frozen at $174 million and no new funding was provided for the Wetlands Reserve Program - which will be down to just 40,000 acres remaining in its authorized level of 975,000 in FY 01 - or Farmland Protection Program - which as you will recall used all of its authorized funding in FY 96 and 97. The general NRCS conservation operations budget did go up - by $16 million to $677 million in the House bill and by $54 million to $714 million in the Senate bill. (For other conservation funding action, see the story on the crop insurance/emergency farm aid bill above.)

The conservation program news grew worse as the House bill was readied, and then withdrawn, from floor action. In order to offset emergency disaster funding for apple and potato growers, the House Rules Committee gave its approval to using all that was left of WRP funding, plus some rural development funds, to pay for the disaster payments. We will be working during the recess to get this raid on WRP stripped from the rule.

In report language, the Senate bill includes important direction to USDA to maintain its commitment to at least 4 million acres for CRP buffer enrollments through the continuous sign-up and CREP. The language also urges USDA to provide CRP bonus payments to contour grass strips and cross field wind traps. The Senate bill also provides legislative authority for NRCS to sign non-competitive cooperative agreements with public or private entities or individuals to help carry out the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative or any other NRCS program or objective.

On the farm credit front, the picture is mixed. Neither bill maintains level funding with FY 00, despite the continuation of low prices and financial pressure. Worse, as interest rates climb, the money that is appropriated will actually support fewer loans than projected. That said, the House bill is much better than the Senate, with funding at the levels requested by USDA. The House bill, for instance, would provide $128 million in direct farm ownership loans and $700 million in direct operating loans, compared to $128 million and just $500 million in the Senate, and $178 million and $935 million in FY 00. It would appear either an emergency supplemental appropriation will be enacted later this year or early next year, or large numbers of farmers will not be getting direct or guaranteed loans next year. We will continue to highlight the problem to Congress and work for a supplemental fix at the earliest date possible.

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red ballBusting Supersodbuster

SAC has led an effort to reverse last year's emergency supplemental sneak attack provision, sponsored by Senator Roberts, that eliminated sodbusting prohibitions on CRP beneficiaries. The corrective language is expected to be offered by Senator Kohl during the ag appropriations process this year.

In March of this year, FSA sent out notices to all CRP participants, notifying them of their new right to sodbust without losing CRP benefits. Early reports from Texas, Colorado and other Plains and Mountain states indicate that they are being taken up on the offer.

One reason for the new commodity production is the ability of the landowner to plant a crop for a few years and then have marginal, highly erodible cropland eligible for a new CRP contract. The original supersodbuster provision was enacted in the 1990 farm bill precisely to prevent this abuse of the system. With new language in the emergency part of the crop insurance bill allowing landowners without AMTA contracts to nonetheless collect LDP payments, it becomes the near perfect scam - break out new land, collect commodity payments, and then enroll in CRP, all at taxpayer's expense. With 7 million acres of highly erodible rangeland designated as having "high potential" to convert to commodity production, the potential environmental devastation is quite significant.

Shockingly, on May 15, just as the appropriations bills were being readied for possible floor action, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman wrote to Senate Ag Appropriations in support of last year's repeal of supersodbuster, stating in part that it was fully consistent with the conservation objectives of the program. SAC, The Environmental Working Group, Environmental Defense, National Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club Ag Committee, and NRDC sent a letter of protest on May 16. We've not yet received a formal response. Final resolution of the issue awaits possible action on the Senate floor on the appropriations bill.

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red ballNew Organic Standards Board Members

The USDA announced five new members to the National Organic Standards Board, all of whom hopefully know just what they heck they're in for! The new members are: Owusu A. Bandele, Baton Rouge, LA (Organic Farmer); T. Mark King, Indianapolis, IN (Retailer); Kim M. Burton, Chico, CA (Organic Handler; works for Smucker's and serves on the Organic Trade Association's processing task force); William Lockeretz, Brookline, MA (Environmentalist, Tufts University and long associated with the Wallace Institute) and Rebecca J. Goldburg Montclair, NJ (Environmentalist, GMO and aquaculture scientist at Environmental Defense in New York).

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red ball Beginning Farmer Committee News

The USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers held its second meeting April 11-12 in Kansas City. The well-attended meeting resulted in a letter to be sent to the Secretary of Agriculture with 18 recommendations, including:

  • Increase FY 01 budget requests for FSA farm loan programs to the FY 00 levels to reflect expected demand in light of continuing economic downturn.

  • Support HR 1810 and S 1038 to remove aggie bonds from existing state volume caps on industrial revenue bonds.

  • Allocate funds for a survey of users and administrators of existing beginning farmer programs.

  • Add questions to the annual NASS farmer survey regarding beginning farmers and farm entry and transfer.

  • Develop a legislative proposal to make the existing federal-state beginning farmer partnership more flexible and more attractive to states.

  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the borrower training program, including the issue of waivers, cost, and number/location of vendors.

  • Consider development of a legislative proposal to lengthen the repayment period for the FSA portion of beginning farmer down payment loans.
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red ballEPA on Pathogens in Groundwater

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued for public comment a proposed rule, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which provides for the protection of ground water sources of drinking water which are at high risk for contamination from bacteria and viruses. Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p.30192 (May 10, 2000). The proposed rule specifies requirements for monitoring and disinfection of ground water used in public drinking water systems and addresses other measures for protecting ground water sources of public drinking water. The EPA must receive comments on the proposed rule on or before July 10, 2000. The EPA has posted the proposed rule, a Question and Answer Fact Sheet and a 274-page regulatory impact analysis of the proposed rule on the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water website at www.epa.gov/safewater/gwr.html.

Historically, public health authorities considered ground water that is not under the direct influence of surface water to be relatively free of microbial contamination. The Center for Disease Control data, however, indicates at least 318 waterborne disease outbreaks associated with ground water systems between 1971 and 1996. Viral and bacterial pathogens present in human and animal feces can contaminate ground water sources through failed septic systems, leaking sewer lines, leaking distribution systems, and when land applied passage through soil and cracks in the ground. The proposed EPA Ground Water Rule is intended to provide for increased monitoring, prevention, inactivation, and removal of bacterial and viral contaminants from ground water.

In light of growing evidence that ground water contamination may be associated with mishandling of factory farm animal waste, the SAC office is currently examining the proposed rule to determine whether it is appropriate for SAC to submit comments. Please contact Martha Noble at (202) 547-5754 or by e-mail at mnoble@msawg.org if your organization wants more information about the rule or is considering submitting comments on the rule.

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red ballEPA Nutrient Criteria

The EPA has released the Nutrient Criteria Technical Guidance Manual: Lakes and Streams (First Edition), the first in a series of technical guidance manuals intended to be used by the States and Tribes as the basis for developing state and tribal water quality standards for nutrients, i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus. Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p. 33322 (May 23, 2000). The manual is available on the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/OST/standards/nutrient.html. The manual may also be requested from EPA's Water Resource Center by phone: (202) 260-7786 or by e-mail: center.water.resource@epa.gov.

In addition to the outlining the process for establishing water quality standards for nutrients, the manual contains chapters describing data models and management options to protect or restore lake and reservoir resources. The EPA is inviting the public to review the manual and provide scientific views on the guidance. Comments should be submitted to the EPA by July 24, 2000 and should be sent by mail to Robert Cantilli (MC-4304), U.S. EPA, Ariel Rios Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington D.C. 20460 or by e-mail: OW-General@epa.gov.

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red ballCRP 20th Sign-up

On May 19. 2000, Vice-President Gore, who's getting a whole lot of sugar-daddy practice lately, made the announcement that the USDA will enroll about 2.46 million acres of farmland under the 20th CRP sign-up. These contracts will be effective as of October 1, 2000. About 3.5 million acres were offered for the program, with USDA accepting 39,508 of the 56,093 offers made for enrollment. Montana, with 263,629 acres of acceptable acreage, tops the list of states, followed by Texas, Washington, North Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas, where accepted acreage ranges between 150,000 and 200,000 acres. Over 42 percent of producers submitted offers below the maximum acceptable rental rate in order to enhance their bids.

By October 1, 2000, with the 2.46 million acres from the 20th sign-up included, total CRP enrollment will be at least 33.5 million acres, with about 1 million acres in continuous sign-up CRP and 56,000 acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). With the about 1 million acres currently in continuos CRP or CREP and with the USDA having indicated that some 3.1 million acres of CRP are currently reserved for future enrollment of practices covered by the continuous sign-up CRP and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the USDA appears to be holding to its commitment to keep a total of 4 million acres (out of the 36.4 million acre cap) available for the CRP buffer initiative.

As we noted in the April MSAWG D.C. Report, USDA recently established an incentives program for the continuous CRP sign-up, effective April 6, 2000. SAWG organizations working with producers on buffer enrollments should redouble their efforts given the new extra incentives, and the few acres left to be enrolled. The clock is definitely ticking!

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red ballEPA Nixes GE Plant Pesticide Petition

On April 19, 2000, the EPA denied a petition requesting that EPA cancel registrations of Bt crops, which the agency regulates under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Greenpeace, the Center for Food Safety, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements and over seventy U.S. organic farmers, environmentalists and farming organizations, filed the petition. In its response to the petition, EPA said that it is not aware of any adverse environmental effects on the environment, including effects on non-target species such as the Monarch butterfly. 

The agency also concluded that its current policy for managing Bt resistance in pest populations is adequate and that it is unlikely that Bt genes will move from crops to weedy relatives. The agency also rejected claims that Bt toxins exuded from plants or in residues could have adverse effects on soil ecology.

The EPA was required to respond to the petition under court order in a lawsuit filed by the petitioners. The petitioners have 30 days to assess EPA's response and decide whether to amend the complaint in the lawsuit.

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red ballTMDL Joint Agreement

On May 1, 2000, the EPA issued a joint statement with the USDA on Agricultural and Silvicultural Issues Within EPA Revisions to TMDL and NPDES Rules. The statement is posted on the web at www.epa.gov/owow/tmdl/tmdlwhit.html. With regard to the NDPES permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), the statement provides that "agricultural stormwater discharges" are exempt from NPDES permits requirements. This provision appears to contradict recent court decisions on the scope of regulation of CAFO waste under the Clean Water Act. In addition, because EPA has failed to provide the public with a clear definition of what constitutes agricultural stormwater discharges, this provision leaves a gaping hole in EPA guidance on CAFO NPDES permits.

Note also that NRCS State Conservationists are in the process of revising state nutrient management policy and that some states may be moving forward with Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan provisions in advance of the finalization of guidance from NRCS National Headquarters. Here at SAC, we are trying to track nutrient management developments at the state level. We would like to hear from those of you working on these issues, especially those of you on NRCS State Technical Committees. Please contact Martha Noble at the SAC office, by phone (202) 547-5754 or by e-mail mnoble@msawg.org.

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red ballWhite House Food & Ag Biotech Initiatives

On May 3, 2000, the Clinton administration announced numerous Food & Agricultural Biotechnology Initiatives. Details of the initiatives are posted on the web at www.usda.gov/special/biotech.htm.

Food and Drug Administration actions under the initiative include publishing a proposed rule under which developers of bioengineered foods and animal feeds must notify the agency of the intent to market
a food or animal feed from a bioengineered plant at least 120 days before marketing. The proposed rule will require that specific information be submitted to allow the agency to determine whether the foods or animal feeds pose any potential safety, labeling, or adulteration issues. The proposed rule will also authorize the FDA to make public, consistent with applicable disclosure laws, the submitted information and the agency's conclusions, by posting them on the FDA website.

The FDA also announced that it will not require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Instead, the agency will prepare for public comment a draft guidance to assist manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label foods as being made with or without the use of bioengineered ingredients. The agency did not rule on proposals to label bioengineered, Roundup-Ready consumers.

USDA announced that the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is initiating a procedure to accredit laboratories that are testing grains for the presence of genetically engineered grain. GIPSA will also be evaluating test kits for evaluating the presence of genetically engineered grain against the manufacturer's performance specifications. USDA also announced that it will issue an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking this summer to solicit public comment on other steps to differentiate non-bioengineered commodities to better meet the needs of the marketplace.

The administration also announced that the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will conduct a 6-month interagency assessment of federal environmental regulations concerning agricultural biotechnology and make recommendations, if appropriate, to improve them. With regard to public relations and international trade, USDA, EPA, FDA, and the State Department will enhance domestic and foreign public education and outreach activities to improve the understanding of the nature and strength of U.S. regulatory processes.

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red ballLoans for On-Farm Commodity Storage

USDA Secretary Glickman announced on May 9, 2000, that the USDA is establishing a program to make seven-year, low interest loans to farmers to build or upgrade storage and handling facilities for commodities including wheat, rice, soybeans, sunflower seeds, canola, rapeseed, safflower, flaxseed, mustard seed, crambe, other oilseeds to be announced, corn, grain, sorghum, oats, and barley. Loans may cover up to 75 percent of the net cost of the needed storage or handling equipment, up to an amount of $100,000. Borrowers are limited to one loan per fiscal year. Farmers may begin filing applications on May 30, 2000. USDA will publish regulations for the program in the Federal Register during the week of May 8 and take comments for 30 days. The Farm Service Agency has posted a fact sheet for the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program on its website at www.fsa.usda.gov/pas/news/releases/2000/05/1499.htm.

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red ballWORC Calls for Calls

The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is urging supporters to contact USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, as well as U.S. Senators and Representatives in support of the WORC petition to the USDA to curb the practice of captive supplies in livestock markets. Packer-owned livestock, or captive supplies, serve primarily to depress the prices offered to independent producers in the open market. For more information, check out http://www.worc.org/issues.html#meat.

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red ballNominations Needed for REEE Advisory Board

The USDA is seeking nominations for 10 of the 30 members of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board, as created by the 1996 Farm Bill. The advisory board reviews the policies, work and future plans of USDA's research, extension, education, and economics functions. The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition would like to help coordinate and promote a slate of good candidates for this board, so if this sounds like fun to you, seek caring, professional help immediately, but not before you call us here at the Coalition at (202) 547-5754, or E-mail Ferd Hoefner at fhoefner@msawg.org.

The open positions include: livestock producer, national farm organization, commodity organization, social scientist, processor, and international development specialist.

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red ballBriefs:

Community Food Projects RFP

The USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) has announced a request for proposals (RFP) for FY2000 Community Food Project (CFP) grants. The program has $2.4 million available in FY2000. USDA must receive proposals on or before June 29, 2000. The RFP is published in the Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p. 31373-31383 (May 17, 2000) and is also posted on the CSREES website at www.reeusda.gov/crgam/cfp/community.htm. Application forms will also be posted at this website. For further information, contact Dr. Elizabeth Tuckermanty by phone at (202) 205-0241 or by e-mail at etuckermanty@reeusda.gov.

In addition to requesting proposals for Community Food Project grants, the CSREES announcement is also requesting proposals for Technical and Training Assistance Grants from organizations that can assist CFP applicants, on a regional or nationwide basis, in the following areas: understanding the CFP grant application process; understanding the goals of the CFP program; developing the information necessary to support a CFP grant such as assessment of food security needs and appraisal of existing community assets pertaining to food security; food security coalition building; project development; and fund raising. Funds for these grants are to be awarded in FY2000 for projects that will assist grant applicants in future fiscal years. Up to $250,000 of the CFP funds will be available for Technical and Training Assistance grants.

The CSREES is also soliciting stakeholder comments from any interested party regarding the FY2000 CFP grants program, for use in development of any future requests for proposals for the program. Submit written comments by November 17, 2000 by mail to Policy and Program Liaison Staff, Office of Extramural Programs, USDA-CSREES, STOP 2299, 1400 Independence Ave., Washington, D.C. 20250-2299; or by e-mail to RFP-OEP@reeusda.gov. Refer specifically to the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program RFP for FY2000 in your comments.

The SAC office also recommends that you check out a guide to CFP grant preparation that the Community Food Security Coalition has posted on its website under publications at www.foodsecurity.org. Contact Martha Noble at SAC, phone (202) 547-5754 or e-mail: mnoble@msawg.org, if you have difficulty obtaining forms or have additional questions about the CFP program.

Rural Cooperative Research RFP

The USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service has announced a request for proposals from non-profit organizations and institutions of higher education interested in applying for competitively awarded cooperative agreements for research related to agricultural and non-agricultural rural cooperatives. Federal Register, Vol. 65 at p. 30051 (May 10, 2000). The agency has $300,000 in FY2000 funds for the program and is seeking proposals focusing on numerous issues such as the evaluation of cooperatives' roles in the market structure for food and fiber, as well as governance and control issues. Applications must be postmarked no later than June 20, 2000. Application forms are posted on the web at www.usda.gov/rbs/coops/rrcop.htm. Forms may also be requested by calling (202) 690-0368 or faxing (202) 690-2723. For further information, contact Dr. Thomas H. Stafford, Director, Cooperative Marketing Division, Rural Business-Cooperative Service by phone at (202) 690-0368. 

New Info from SAN and SARE

The latest marketing guide from the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) is available on the web at www.sare.org/san/market99/index.htm and includes real-life stories and practical tips on marketing agricultural products through alternative channels, such as farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangements, restaurant sales, and other methods.

SARE just issued a boffo new 20-page booklet "A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests," which reviews pest-management strategies that incorporate cover cropping, attraction of beneficial insects, and other methods to reduce insect, weed, and other pest pressures as a part of integrated cropping systems. Look for more information at www.sare.org/san/htdocs/pubs/.

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