Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- Feb. '98

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Inside The Beltway -- Feb. '98

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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red ballBreaking News
red ballCRP 16th Sign-up
red ballCFO’s Bureaucratic Black Hole
red ballUSDA Budget News
red ballSmall Farm Commission Report
red ballTransitions

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.

red ballAchin’ Breakin’ News
  • Research Bill: We’re 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 Harkin’s (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 Harkin’s 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 VP’s 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 programs.

  • 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.
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red ballCRP: 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 doesn’t 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 you’re 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, it’s little wonder that the highly touted Continuous Sign-up is fast becoming a toy that no longer holds NRCS’ attention.

Long gone are the happy days of Secretary Glickman promising Congressmen Walsh and Fazio that they’d 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 they’ve 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.

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red ballCFO 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 money.

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red ballUSDA Budget News

After USDA broke with tradition and announced figures (generally quite good) for several programs before the release of the President’s 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.

We’d 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 President’s request (well shy of the $15 million we called for and the Small Farm Commission’s $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 President’s request also reflects a few items from the Vice President’s Clean Water Initiative. The Initiative’s 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 who’ve been around the circus for a few tours know what that means: it’s now officially Margaret Krome season. Go get ‘em, Margaret!

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red ballSmall 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 goals:

  • 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 farms.
  • Conduct appropriate outreach through partnerships to serve small farm and ranch operators.
  • 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 farms.
  • Provide just and humane working conditions for all people involved in production agriculture.

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.

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red ballTransitions

As noted in the previous report, we’re pleased to make room here in Suite 211 for Martha Noble, new with the Coalition, and Mark Keating, who’s 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. We’re 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 you’ve 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. You’ll be located in wonderful Walthill, Nebraska, where the Thrif Shop is so frugal they don’t 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 information.

Tom Hebert will leave his post as USDA’s 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.

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