Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- March '98

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Inside The Beltway -- March '98

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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red ballEPA AFO Annoucement
red ballMSAWG Annual Gathering
red ballNational Campaign Annual Gathering
red ballSARE Tenth Anniversary Hoedown
red ballUSDA cracks the WHIP
red ballResearch Bill Conference
red ballCrop Insurance Tussle Brewing
red ballEmergency Credit Bill Aired
red ballKeeping an eye on CVAP
red ballEQIP Hearing
red ballFood Security Action Plan

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@msawg.org for more information.

red ballEPA AFO Annoucement

The EPA has released for pubic comment a Draft Strategy for Addressing Environmental and Public Health Impacts from Animal Feeding Operations. The Draft Strategy notes that in 1994 there were 450,000 AFOs. of which over 6,000 fell into the largest category of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Less than 25% of the CAFOs have Clean Water Act permits. In addition, EPA recognized that current CAFO regulatory standards are not adequate to protect rivers, lakes and coastal waters from polluted runoff.

The Draft Strategy proposes the following steps to deal with AFOs:

  • Improve compliance and enforcement of existing regulations.
  • Continue dialogues with animal agricultural industries, environmentalists, and community organizations.
  • Submit for public comment (July 1998) and finalize (Nov. 1998) a unified national strategy under EPA and USDA leadership to control pollution from feedlot operations.
  • Identify and list priority watersheds at greatest risk from AFOs by 1999.
  • Set new national standards for allowable levels of pollution in runoff from poultry and swine facilities by Dec. 2001, and from cattle and dairy operations by 2002. Poultry standards will apply to all poultry AFOs, not just those with continuous watering systems.
  • Issue permits to limit pollution from the largest CAFOs by 2002, and from all other large feeding operations and priority facilities in impaired watersheds by 2005.
  • Expand the scope of regulations to include national efforts to manage pollution from land application of manure.

In a press release on the Draft Strategy, the Clean Water Network welcomed the direction the strategy was taking but called for quicker action as well as a national moratorium on new and expanding large CAFO operations until the backlog of unpermitted facilities is addressed.

Copies of the Draft Strategy are available from EPA's Water Resource Center at 202-260-7786 or on the internet at http://www:epa.gov/owm/afo.htm. Written comments will be accepted until May 1, 1998 and may be submitted to Ruby Cooper-Ford, 401 M St., N.W., U.S. EPA Mail Code 4203, Washington, D.C. 20460, or by e-mail at ford.ruby@epa.gov. We will have a template for written comments available by mid-April for those wishing some guidance on specific points to raise.

EPA also released a "Compliance Assurance Implementation Plan for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations." Call it CAIPFCAFO in the right company and you'll look really, really cool. This plan is the first step in the Draft Strategy - to improve compliance and enforcement of existing CAFO regulations - and indicates that EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance intends to make implementation of existing regulations a priority. This Plan is also available by contacting Michelle Stevenson at 202-564-2355 or on the internet at http://www.epa.gov/owm/afo.htm or at http://es.epa.gov/oeca/strategy.html.

The Draft Strategy joins a growing list of proposed measures for dealing with livestock waste management, including the Miller and Harkin feedlot bills and the NRCS nutrient management guidance. We will summarize all these and include a comparative table with the draft MSAWG Livestock Policy Statement (said table is getting a wee bit crowded!). Once circulated, the Livestock position paper will be the subject of a conference call before being finalized. It will then help frame our responses to the EPA strategy and the EPA-USDA strategy when it is issued for comment this summer.

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red ballMSAWG Annual Gathering

The Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group came together February 13-15 at the Assisi Center in Rochester Minnesota to celebrate ten years of accomplishments, recognize leaders in the movement, and prepare for the work ahead in 1998. More than 75 people participated in workshops, policy-setting sessions and the good fellowship of the MSAWG's Second Annual Gathering/Tenth Anniversary celebration.

Former Chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Paul Johnson delivered the event's keynote address, and challenged his audience to continue the hard work of building ethical considerations into what he called a "values-added agriculture" and spreading the word that farms can produce much more than food. It is these other products - clean water, inspiring landscapes, wildlife, and more - that should be the focus of the next Farm Bill in 2002, Johnson said.

MSAWG honored Johnson for his many years of service at USDA, and before that in the Iowa legislature and on his farm near Decorah. Bob Warrick of the Sierra Club Agriculture Committee, Loni Kemp of the Minnesota Project and the Land Stewardship Project of Minnesota were also recognized for their long service to the Working Group. Each received a pitchfork with a congratulatory, magnetic plate attached; Johnson noted that the award - the fork part, at least - would see considerably more duty out in his barn than any of the other commemoratives he's received. One would have to imagine the amount of manure that needs pitching will go down, now that he's dealing with livestock rather than bureaucrats.

A highlight of the meeting was the rousing description by Kim Cambron (Illinois Stewardship Alliance), Hugh Espey (Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement), and Mark Schultz (Land Stewardship Project) about fighting - and winning - on the side of local communities that do not want hog factories to move into their towns. MSAWG committees set their sights on the year to come, and set priorities for policy and appropriations work for 1998.

As always, there was also good fellowship and friendships renewed, particularly at the commemorative dinner on Saturday night, where several of the Working Group's usually mild-mannered sorts honored the dinner's "Aloha Rochester" theme in some of the world's loudest Hawaiian shirts, mere possession of which I believe would violate a whole flock of Nebraska state statutes.

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red ballNational Campaign Annual Gathering

The weekend after the big MSAWG "do," a similar cast of characters set up camp in Washington, D.C. for the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture's Annual Meeting. The primary focus of the meeting was to set policy and appropriations priorities for the coming year, but there was also a considerable emphasis on workshops, training, and networking with others from around the country. Troopers all, participants rolled up their sleeves, rinsed their bloodshot eyes in strong coffee, and went at it for yet another weekend.

The policy priority-setting effort was one of those consarned dot-sticking deals, with each issue committee lining out a list of possible projects on large sheets of paper, and representatives of each group placing adhesive dots next to those they would support. The exercise was very significant, however, touching off a heated but important discussion of the interaction between sustainable ag and civil rights policy work.

The top dozen vote-getters in the policy arena were:

  • Organic Rule
  • Local/Regional Ag in Food & Nutrition programs
  • USDA Conservation Programs
  • Feedlot Regulation
  • SARE
  • World Food Security National Plan
  • Clean Water Act
  • Captive Livestock Supplies
  • Fund for Rural America Research
  • Establishment of Civil Rights Division at USDA
  • Beginning Farmer Programs
  • Bt & Resistance Questions, Transgenics

Following a Monday meeting with Deputy Secretary Richard Rominger, visits to the EPA, USDA and Capitol Hill, the Campaigners dispersed, ready to gather again somewhere down the road at the next show on the tour.

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red ballSARE Tenth Anniversary Hoedown

The faithful didn't have to wait very long for the next gig, the big celebration of SARE's tenth anniversary, held in Austin, Texas, March 5-7. The meeting gave more than 480 people the chance to pat one another on the back a little about how far the Sustainable Agriculture movement and the SARE program have come in the past decade, as well as taking a look at the long road ahead.

Participants have related a number of cases of "kid in a candy shop" syndrome; with dozens concurrent poster sessions, plenary sessions, a choice of farm tours, as well as friends old and new, it was sometimes hard to choose among all the options. On top of it all, an exhibition of "art in agriculture" ran through the meeting, with photos, drawings, and wearable sculpture. All in all, a pretty good kick off for the next decade of work.

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red ballUSDA cracks the WHIP

USDA Secretary Glickman announced that USDA's Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program will provide $24 million during FY 1998 to help landowners improve fish and wildlife habitat on private land. Under WHIP, the NRCS may provide technical assistance, including help for participants in preparing a required wildlife habitat development plan, and financial assistance in the form of cost-sharing up to 75% of the costs of implementing practices, such as planting native vegetation, streambank restoration, and aquatic habitat restoration.

Secretary Glickman particularly thanked Senator Thad Cochran (Miss) for supporting WHIP. A glance at the allocations of WHIP funds to the states indicates that Mississippi received the second largest allocation, about $1.3 million. Together with Arkansas' allocation of over $1.2 million, this suggests lots of wildlife habitat improvement should occur in the Mississippi Delta region. Colorado received the largest chunk of WHIP funds, over $1.7 million.

MSAWG member states received the following allocations: Illinois - $540,000; Indiana - $90,000: Iowa - $301,392; Kansas - $432,000; Michigan - $636,480; Minnesota - $648,000; Nebraska - $691,200; North Dakota - $325,584; Ohio - $180,000; and Wisconsin - $306,000.

When NRCS released the final rule on the WHIP program on September19, 1997, the agency acknowledged that it did not have a national standard for measuring wildlife habitat improvement in order to track wildlife habitat benefits achieved under WHIP, but indicated an intent to try to develop one. We will encourage these monitoring and evaluation efforts and also try to ascertain where exactly the WHIP money is going. The 1996 Farm Bill provided that a total of $50 million be made available for WHIP for fiscal years 1996 through 2002. The administration has budgeted $20 million for WHIP in the proposed 1999 USDA budget.

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red ballResearch Bill Conference

As we predicted in the last Washington Report, the House of Representatives did vote at the end of February to go to conference committee with the Senate on the reauthorization of the research title. But not without a re-run of the difficulties that held it up last year.

Liberal Democrats insisted that at least half of the mandatory funds at play in conference, which derive from food stamp program administrative reform savings, stay within food stamps to help restore benefits to legal immigrants taken away by the welfare "reform" bill. House Appropriators of both parties argued the number one priority for conference was to fund crop insurance reimbursements to the insurance companies, funding that once was entirely mandatory but now comes partially out of the annual appropriations bill. In fact, floor debate touched on many topics with only the briefest of references to the underlying research provisions.

For a few days it appeared the conference would start and finish quickly, but as we go to print, they've still got the tranny in park. Commencement of the conference now appears to be next week, or maybe next month, or maybe next year - hard to narrow it down past that. The House side in particular apparently would like some type of leadership agreement on how the money will be divided before starting the conference. (If you thought maybe it was just such substantive issues that the conferees themselves were appointed to discuss, you must be looking at your pre-1994 civics textbook.)

It appears there will be about $1.4 billion in mandatory funds to divvy up. Our priority remains the 3-year, $300 million for the Fund for Rural America. Funding for food stamps will likely be an easier issue to resolve than the thorny issue of crop insurance. The Administration and Senator Lugar both have their own ideas of how to pay for crop insurance, neither of which takes money from the research bill, but the House side seems committed to getting at least the $200 million needed for this year from the $1.4 billion.

The conferees are Representatives Bob Smith (R-OR), Larry Combest (R-TX), Bill Barrett (R-NE), Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), and Cal Dooley (D-CA) and Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Pat Coverdell (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Pat Leahy (R-VT). If you are in one of these states, you hopefully have already received an action alert. If not, give us a call and we can get one to you.

The Coalition has prepared a letter to conferees on the Fund for Rural America, small farm and environmental research priorities, new research authorizations we support, and stakeholder provisions. The letter has been signed by a dozen organizations. A second letter supporting the small farm provisions has been signed by National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Farmers Union, SAC, and the Center.

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red ballCrop Insurance Tussle Brewing

A March 10 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on crop insurance provided the backdrop for an unveiling of Chairman Lugar's crop insurance reform proposal. According to a concept paper distributed at the hearing, the Senator's forthcoming bill would restore all crop insurance funding to mandatory (entitlement) status but will simaltaneously phase-in market-oriented reforms, moving toward total reliance on private insurance products with USDA's role restricted solely to being the regulator. In the meantime, underwriting and premium subsidies would be scaled back.

The 5-year cost for returning to full mandatory funding is just over $1 billion. Lugar would achieve the necessary savings in part from within the crop insurance program -- for instance, by reducing reimbursement rates to the companies and graduating farmer-paid premiums for catastrophic coverage -- and in part through unspecified cuts in other agricultural programs.

Under the Lugar plan, from 2000 to 2002 the Risk Management Agency could not offer any new pilot projects or policies and after 2002 would be allowed to offer no policies at all except in states where the Secretary determines private products are not sufficiently available. This proposal, if it became law, could eliminate the possibility of a whole farm insurance product being offered unless it was privatized.

The USDA budget proposal for crop insurance took a somewhat different approach. Beginning in 2000, the Department proposes to limit payment eligibility for catastrophic coverage to $100,000 per person ($58 million/year savings), reduce expense reimbursement to the companies ($37 million/year savings), slightly reduce premium subsidies for buy-up coverage ($33 million/year savings), and reduce the loss ration target slightly ($30 million/year). Like the Lugar proposal, additional cuts would be needed in other programs to yield the full $1 billion needed.

Both plans include an element of progressivity in payment structure, which is a positive development. The opposition to the payment limitation will undoubtedly be fierce, but the Department deserves credit for putting it on the table. The Department's testimony also made brief reference to whole farm coverage in a concluding section title "Pushing the Envelope:"

"Secretary Glickman is concerned that the RMA safety net reaches as many farmers as possible. Since developing individual programs for each of the 1,500 different crops produced in the country would be an extremely time consuming process, RMA and insurance company representatives are exploring ideas on how to provide farm-based revenue coverage. RMA has reviewed a number of approaches from several different sources. Much work remains to be done, but we believe the goal is worth the effort."

None of the Committee members followed up with any questions on this "pushing the envelope" statement, a clear signal that we too have much work remaining to do.

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red ballEmergency Credit Bill Aired

USDA sent draft legislation to the Hill March 11th to allow federal farm borrowers up to two write downs or write offs of previous debt before becoming ineligible for subsequent loans. A third chance would be permitted if one of the first two restructurings were due to weather disaster, medical crisis, or were part of a settlement of a civil rights case. The proposed legislation would also allow credit funds targeted to socially disadvantaged farmers to be pooled between states. The proposal was submitted to coincide with a House Agriculture Committee hearing.

At the hearing, the Chair of the Subcommittee, Larry Combest (R-TX), suggested a modified approach. His proposal would limit the second chance to farmers with write offs or write downs between the implementation date for the 1987 credit act and the 1996 farm bill, and limit the subsequent loan to a guarantee of a commercial loan.

During the hearing, Representative Minge (D-MN) asked USDA about the need for a correction to the credit title related to beginning farmers. The 96 farm bill superimposed a 5 year operating limit to qualify as a beginning farmer for an operating loan on top of the existing definition of beginning farmers as those who have not operated for more than 10 years. The USDA witnesses indicated general support for doing something to resolve the conflict, though this change is not in the bill they sent to the Hill. The Congressman also asked why the Beginning Farmer Advisory Committee has still not been appointed four years after the legislative timetable.

Other members of the Committee, particularly from the Southeast and West Coast, indicated a desire to double the size of the per farmer loan limitation for farm ownership and operating loans. This move, if enacted, would move the agency further from its mission of helping beginning and limited resource farmers get started and established in agriculture toward support for large, established operations and new or expanding factory livestock operations. The Administration's position is still being formulated, although they have opposed such moves in the past.

In related news, USDA has asked Congress to enact supplemental appropriations for farm credit as part of the big supplemental bill containing disaster relief, funding for Bosnia, the UN, and the IMF. Their proposal would provide $25 million in additional emergency disaster loans, $39 million in additional direct farm ownership loans, $25 million in additional guranteed farm ownership loans, and $10 million in additional direct farm operating loans. This funding would be offset. At the hearing, USDA indicated the offset might be cuts in unused guaranteed operating loans funds, which for complicated reasons is problematic.

We will be watching both the supplemental approrpriations bill and the possible emergency credit legislation very closely. We will try to get a fix for the beginning farmer problem and oppose efforts to raise loan limitations. We will support increased funding but try to change the offset provision. The supplemental appropriations bill is on a fast track and if the Administration gets its wish, the credit bill will be also. We will keep you posted.

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red ballKeeping an eye on CVAP

As we've noted here before, more than $1 million in Fund for Rural America money got carved up among 18 Cooperative Value-Added Program recipients in FY97. If you've got one of these in your state, it's worth keeping your eyes open, both as a possible source of funding, and in order to head off any mischief. Midwest projects landed in Iowa (one at ISU and another at the Chariton Valley Resource Conservation & Development Council, Inc.), Kansas (one at the KS Department of Commerce and another at KSU Ag. Econ.), Michigan (Farmer's Education Foundation), Minnesota (MN Dept. of Ag.), North Dakota (Traill County Econ. Development Commission), South Dakota (SDSU), and Wisconsin (Pri-Ru Ta Resource Conservation & Development Commission). We've got a list of contact names and phone numbers for each of these projects if you're in one of the states named.

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red ballEQIP Hearing

The Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research of the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing March 5 regarding implementation of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Rumor suggested that USDA NRCS witnesses would be on a hotseat with grilling by Republican representatives, but the reality was that few Republican representatives showed up for the hearing. In addition, the announcement of EPA's release of its Draft AFO Strategy may have inspired the Subcommittee Chair Larry Combest (TX) to go easy with a program which his prepared statement described as one that might preempt the need for increased regulatory control of environmental problems arising from agricultural production.

Craig Cox, USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, was the chief witness. A few EQIP implementation facts garnered from his opening statement and testimony include: (i) NRCS received 60,000 EQIP applications in FY97; (ii) NRCS funded 23,000 long-term EQIP contracts in FY97, with the financial assistance exceeding $174 million; (iii) NRCS estimates that 54% of EQIP funds will be spent on livestock-related problems; and (iv) some USDA employees and conservation partners need more training and experience to help them carry out EQIP the way it was designed.

Implementation of EQIP is an MSAWG and National Campaign conservation priority. With regard to some of MSAWG's ongoing concerns, the hearing considered the following issues:

  • EQIP funds to large CAFOs. With EPA's developing CAFO strategy and increased regulation of CAFOs on the horizon, NRCS State Conservationists and the NRCS Chief will be under greater pressure to waive limits on the size of CAFOs eligible for EQIP assistance. Subcommittee Chair Combest explicitly suggested that the EQIP program be considered as a source of financial assistance to large-scale CAFOs regulated by EPA.

  • State Technical Committees and Local Working Groups. Representative Dooley (CA) questioned the role of State Technical Committees, noting that the Committee members may be getting large amounts of information with little time for assessment before the State Conservationist wants a recommendation.

    No representative questioned the make-up of the local working group. Craig Cox's written testimony, however, emphasized the role of the local working groups in defining conservation problems in priority areas stating that locally-led conservation involves farmers, ranchers, and other people at the local level who can ensure that EQIP activities are focused and successful.

    MSAWG's position is that local working groups limited to government agency and conservation district members, without explicit inclusion of farmers, ranchers, non-profit farm organizations, conservation organizations, and others with expertise and knowledge of environmental problems and solutions, may not adequately recognize and address conservation problems.

  • Whole farm planning option. Craig Cox's written testimony was emphatic in its approval of EQIP as a vehicle for "all of the resource concerns to be addressed with a comprehensive, system-type approach rather than through individual practices that only address part of the problem." His statement added that a " . . . comprehensive approach encourages farmers and ranchers to consider all of the effects of their actions on their own unit, as well as the impacts beyond their farm and ranch."

    In an interchange with Subcommittee Chair Combest, however, Cox did some back-pedaling on this issue. He indicated that a more comprehensive plan may initially rank more highly for EQIP funding than a less comprehensive plan but that this factor could be offset in the ranking by cost considerations. Cost considerations are based on the least-cost solution for dealing with specific resource problems identified for by the priority area or statewide concern, not by a measure of overall environmental benefits that may be realized by a comprehensive plan.

  • Monitoring and Evaluation. This issue was conspicuous by its omission, even though Subcommittee Chair Combest's written statement noted that it is "very imperative" that we know what is being accomplished by EQIP. Apparently, this imperative has not yet taken concrete form at USDA.

    In a slightly more optimistic light, the hearing did provide the impetus for NRCS to compile some EQIP program information for FY 1997 / FY 1998. The compilation is a notebook with State Profiles for states represented by House Subcommittee members.

    The notebook includes maps of state priority areas funded for FY97 and FY98; a map showing the percentage of FY98 EQIP dollars allocated to livestock concerns in the state; descriptions of priority areas in the Representatives' districts; significant statewide natural resource concerns; and the names and affiliations of State Technical Committee members.

    MSAWG member states included in the compilation are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Other states include Texas, California, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.

    We have a copy of the compiled material here in the Washington office which we can share with you if you are interested. But note that the maps are in multi-color and may be difficult to decipher in black and white reproduction.
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red ballFood Security Action Plan

The follow-up to the World Food Summit is not an MSAWG priority this year, but here in the Washington office we are tracking developments just in case something relevant to other MSAWG issues appears in the follow-up papers.

Up to now a Federal Interagency Working Group on Food Security has followed two tracks, producing a Discussion Paper on International Food Security and a Discussion Paper on Domestic Food Security, released on February 13, 1998.

The Domestic Discussion Paper is supportive of a number of MSAWG initiatives, such as strengthening the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program and creating mobile farmers markets to give access to fresh produce to those not served by fixed location farmers markets. The Discussion Paper also generally supports environmentally sensitive agricultural policies, including use of IPM. Although the Paper does not specifically reference USDA's SARE program it does support research contributing to a productive and sustainable agricultural sector, food systems, and environment.

Biotechnology is advocated but at least there is a section calling for research on the economic and social impacts of biotechnology in agriculture. There is also strong support for full implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. In addition, in a public discussion of the Paper on March 6, the discussion leaders agreed with the recommendation that the subgroup working on the Domestic Paper consider the recommendations of the Small Farm Commission's report "A Time to Act", particularly in sections concerning community economic security.

The next step in the follow-up process is the reconciliation of the international and domestic discussion papers into a single U.S. Action Plan on Food Security. The international paper does suggest that SARE and ATTRA's programs be used as models for food security in other countries but also has strong support for large scale U.S. export agriculture without much attention to the sustainability of U.S. agriculture. Strong public support for sustainable agriculture in both the U.S. and other countries might strengthen the positions taken in the Domestic Paper during the reconciliation process.

Copies of the Discussion Paper on Domestic Food Security are available from the Office of the National Food Security Coordinator, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, by calling 202-690-0776 or faxing 202-720-6103. The paper is also posted on the U.S. Government Food Security Home Page at http://www.fas.usda.gov./icd/summit/summit.html. The Discussion Paper on International Food Security is posted on the internet at http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/summit/discpapr.html.

Send your written comments on the Domestic Paper to:

Dr. Carol Kramer
LeBlanc Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
1120 20th St., N.W., Suite 201
Washington , D.C. 20036
FAX: 202-208-2322

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Home Farm Policy Menu Inside The Beltway -- March '98

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