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Inside The Beltway -- Feb. '98
Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable
Agriculture Working Group.
Jump down menu:
CRP 16th Sign-up
CFOs Bureaucratic Black Hole
USDA Budget News
Small Farm Commission Report
Previous editions of Inside the Beltway
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
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Achin Breakin News
- Research Bill: Were still waiting for the House to appoint
conferees, though we just caught wind of a plan to name them the week of
February 23. This may hinge on working out a deal on dividing up the money
between research, crop insurance, food and nutrition programs, and perhaps other
bidders. Stay tuned
- Feedlot Bills: Representative George Miller (D-CA) will be
introducing his feedlot bill February 11. It shares many of the strong points
with Senator Tom Harkins (D-IA) bill, but is written as a series of
amendments to the Clean Water Act, and thus clearly maintains a strong role for
the EPA. We will announce details at the MSAWG Annual Gathering. Meanwhile,
Senator Harkins bill to strengthen regulation of large animal feeding
operations through an enhanced USDA role will be the subject of hearings
(perhaps in March) and a special summit meeting between USDA and EPA (maybe this
summer, after they release the "joint action plan" that they are
working up as a part of the Clean Water Initiative).
- Clean Water Initiative: As you may recall, the VPs Clean
Water Initiative announcement gave the federal agencies 120 days to come up with
an "action plan." They will unveil that plan February 17, complete
with implementation ideas related to wetland protection, coastal zone
management, polluted run-off, feedlots, nitrogen and phosphorous source
identification, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and other conservation
- Risk Management Education: A request for education, curricula, and
research proposals on risk management related to production, marketing and
financial/legal aspects of agriculture appeared in the February 10 Federal
Register. Proposals are due Aril 13. A total of $3 million is available, with
grants not to exceed $250K.
CRP: Sweet 16 And Never Been
At the very end of January, Secretary Glickman flew out to Olympia,
Washington to announce that there might actually be a little North Dakota ground
left here and there to farm in the coming decade.
Actually, he was
there unveiling the results of the 16th CRP Sign-up which, compared to previous
bidding rounds, did a better job of targeting the program to land that would
benefit from CRP enrollment, rather than land that can stay in production with a
good conservation plan. This enrollment accepted 5.9 million acres out of the
9.5 million offered, with a better representation of acres in the Great Lakes
and Corn Belt than in the previous round. In part, this reflects adjustments to
the ranking system that reduced the importance of the cost factor, and brought
in more high-value land.
Still, you might want to hold off on popping open the champagne. The
ranking for wetlands is still too high (especially in light of the existence of
a dedicated Wetlands Reserve Program) and the scoring for water quality benefits
remains untargetted. And the reasonable size of this sign-up does have a
downside, as it doesnt balance out much of the poor judgment from the
previous CRP enrollments.
After the 16 million acre binge in the 15th sign-up, the maneuvering
beneath the statutory limit of 36.4 million acres gets more tricky with every
enrollment. The math works out like this: 28.7 million acres are in the
program now, with 4.8 million in contracts that expire September 30. Add back
in the 5.9 million from this 16th round that will enter on October 1, and youre
at about 29.9 million acres in the program after rounding, logarithmic
regression, and tossing the calculator out the window. With the Secretary
musing about a 17th sign-up in the Fall, its little wonder that the highly
touted Continuous Sign-up is fast becoming a toy that no longer holds NRCS
Long gone are the happy days of Secretary Glickman promising
Congressmen Walsh and Fazio that theyd bring in 7 million acres under the
continuous enrollment, which targets special conservation practices like
riparian buffers, field windbreaks and grass waterways. The current target is
down to 5.5 million acres, divided up into 4 million for general continuous
enrollments, about a million for Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program acres,
and half a million for kind of a CRP slush fund, that will probably include
Conservation Farm Option land retirement acres, among other things.
As of the last announcement, the department had brought in just
585,000 acres in the Continuous Sign-up, so theyve still got some work
ahead even to clear the lower bar. Perhaps they may want to consider our
long-standing call for bonus payments for all continuous enrollments.
CFO Bureaucratic Black Hole
With each passing day, the story of the Conservation Farm Option sounds more
and more like a tale penned by Franz Kafka. Typical of absurdist fiction, it is
difficult to say for certain if the powerful bureaucratic forces arrayed against
the hero are malevolently omniscient or cosmically inept. In any case, the
results are much the same.
After gathering dusts on desks at USDA, the CFO rule did hard time
over at the Office of Management and Budget since December. They will release
it any day, but with funding at $15 million rather than the $22.5 million that
would fold in the authorized but unspent funds from last year.
Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Harkin helped out with a strong letter
to Secretary Glickman, urging him to get moving, and to issue a request for
proposals simultaneous with the draft rule, so that farmers and non-profit types
can get working on proposals ASAP.
The letter also commended the
Secretary for the budget tactic of hanging on to the $7.5 million Congress
authorized for the CFO last year, unspent because there was no program, adding
it to the $15 million authorized for FY 1998. Hopefully, he will stick to his
guns in the face of the green eyeshade brigade and hang on to the additional
USDA Budget News
After USDA broke with tradition and announced figures (generally quite good)
for several programs before the release of the Presidents entire FY 1999
budget request, there were just a handful of surprises when the full document
came out. Unfortunately, several of those were unpleasant ones.
Wed already gotten the good news that the budget request would
peg Direct Farm Operating Loans at the authorized level of $500 million, and
Direct Farm Ownership Loans at $85 million. The budget fulfilled these and
other budget recommendations by the Small Farm Commission in "A Time To
Act," including a boost to $10 million (from $3 million this year) for
Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers. When the
budget came out, we were pleased to see the Appropriate Technology Transfer for
Rural Areas bumped up by $700,000 to $2 million
On the other hand, the SARE program just got a minor nudge from $8
million to $10 million in the Presidents request (well shy of the $15
million we called for and the Small Farm Commissions $18 million bid).
The SARE (Chapter 3) Professional Development Program is becalmed at $3.3
million, the level for the past two years and short of the $5.3 million we think
the program needs to get headed in the right direction.
The Presidents request also reflects a few items from the Vice
Presidents Clean Water Initiative. The Initiatives Action Plan will
be released February 17. As previewed in the USDA budget, the Initiative
includes a $100 million increase in EQIP (albeit an increase that depends on
authorizing legislation that is unlikely at best), a proposed $20 million for "Competitive
Partnership Grants" to hire non-federal watershed coordinators in priority
watersheds, an additional $3 million for NRCS to document baseline conditions in
key watersheds, and $2 million for ARS to research management practices to
minimize loss of nutrients and pathogens into the environment.
The Civil Rights Action Team also scored a special budget initiative.
In addition to the increase in the minority farmer outreach program, the budget
also calls for increases for civil rights enforcement, facilities budgets at
black, Native American, and Hispanic Land Grant institutions, the Indian
Reservation Extension Program, and farm labor housing.
The other by-now-perennial special initiative, still searching for an
elusive first significant win in the appropriations process, is for Integrated
Pest Management (IPM). Research and Extension for IPM is tabbed for an $11
million increase, plus $2 million more for pesticide data collection, as well as
$6 million more for minor use pesticide programs. The National Research
Initiative also gets its traditional "big increase" to $130 million,
despite Congress annual refusal to go along in prior years.
The budget now moves to Congress, where the appropriations
subcommittees will begin receiving groveling supplicants in a process they
jokingly call "hearings." For those of you whove been around
the circus for a few tours know what that means: its now officially
Margaret Krome season. Go get em, Margaret!
Small Farm Commission Report
On January 22, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman officially received "A
Time to Act," the report of the Small Farm Commission. Glickman announced
the appointment of an action team to begin implementing the recommendations.
The action team (complete with "realistic action figures"?)
will be headed by Deputy Secretary Richard Rominger and will include the
leadership of the rural development, research, marketing, natural resources, and
farm services divisions of USDA. Glickman also called upon Congress to take
quick action to reverse a 1996 farm bill provision which denies USDA credit to
any farmer who ever received a debt write-down in the past.
Copies of the report are available by phone, at 202-720-0122, or by
writing to National Commission on Small Farms, P.O. Box 2890, Washington, D.C.
20013. The report number is MP-1545. You can also
download the full
120-page report in WordPerfect or Adobe Acrobat .pdf formats. A variety of news
releases and background statements are also available at
http://www.usda.gov/news (see Release
0026.98, 0027.98, 0029.98, 0030.98).
The Commission's 146 recommendations are divided into 8 broad policy
- Recognize the importance and cultivate the strengths of small farms.
- Create a framework of support and responsibility for small farms.
Promote, develop, and enforce fair, competitive, and open markets for small
- Conduct appropriate outreach through partnerships to serve small farm and
- Establish future generations of farmers.
- Emphasize sustainable agriculture as a profitable, ecological, and socially
sound strategy for small farms.
- Dedicate budget resources to strengthen the competitive position of small
- Provide just and humane working conditions for all people involved in
Many of the specific proposals of the SAWGs and the National Campaign for
Sustainable Agriculture for research, marketing, environment, beginning and
minority farmers, and other areas are reflected in the Commission's
recommendations. Future issues of this report will look at particular areas and
assess agency progress on implementation.
As noted above, the
department did come through on some, but not all of the budget recommendations
from the Commission.
As noted in the previous report, were pleased to make room here in
Suite 211 for Martha Noble, new with the Coalition, and Mark Keating, whos
thrown in his lot with the Wallace Institute. Both started work on Friday the
Second, and knew their way around the Sustainable Agriculture Cabal Global
Command Center by early afternoon.
They were issued keys to the
executive washrooms, sauna and health club facilities here in the posh, modern
Methodist Building. Were thrilled to have them; Martha will be at the
MSAWG Annual Gathering, and both Mark and Martha will be around at the Campaign
for Sustainable Agriculture meeting here in Washington D.C. at the end of the
month. Make yourself neighborly.
The Midwest SAWG (perhaps youve heard of them) will shortly
issue a position announcement for a half-time Grassroots Coordinator. The job
will continue to focus on generating response to federal legislators and agency
officials, disseminating information on key programs, some grant report writing
and other tasks. Contact Kris Thorp at the
Center for Rural Affairs for a copy of the job description. "Iron Duane"
Hovorka has agreed to stay on until we can find a new organizer, so long as we
do so with some alacrity.
The Center For Rural Affairs has a
full-time opening for a project leader with its Research and Technology Policy
Project. The position will include analysis, advocacy and organizing on federal
research and technology policy, as well as working for institutional change
within the land grant system. Youll be located in wonderful Walthill,
Nebraska, where the Thrif Shop is so frugal they dont use the last "T."
Contact Kim Staritsky at the Center for
Rural Affairs, P.O. Box 406, Walthill, NE 68067 or (402) 846-5428 for more
Tom Hebert will leave his post as USDAs Deputy Undersecretary
for Conservation on February 14. As we understand it, his plans call for a
substantial amount of time off, followed by consulting work. We will keep you
posted on whom the Department taps to replace Tom.
Previous editions of Inside the Beltway
©1998 Committee for
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