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

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Inside The Beltway -- April '98

Ag policy update from the Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.

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red ballNew and Notable
red ballCFO Free At Last, With Budget At Risk
red ballResearch Title Makes Like Titanic… Again
red ballCredit Bill In Play
red ballFund for Rural America Update
red ballMinnesota & Illinois CREP
red ballHearings on Harkin Feedlot Bill
red ballCleanwater-palooza
red ballIn the Dead Zone
red ballARS Gets in the Act
red ballOrganic Standard News

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 ballNew and Notable

May 1, 1998 Commentes Deadline. May 1, 1998 is the deadline for comments on both the U.S. EPA Draft Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations and the USDA NRCS Proposed Nutrient Management Policy. We have prepared templates for written comments on these issues for those wishing some guidance on specific Copies of these templates will be mailed out the week of April 13.

Center For Rural Affairs Job Announcement. The Center for Rural Affairs of Walthill, Nebraska is advertising one job opening, with two alternative job descriptions. They are looking for either a Program Leader for the Center's farm and rural policy reform issues (application deadline May 29, 1998), or a Project Leader for the Nebraska Issues Project (application deadline May 15, 1998). Either job would be based in Walthill, Nebraska. For complete descriptions of the two positions, contact the Center for Rural Affairs at (402) 846-5420.

Farmland Protection RFP. USDA published a request for proposals (RFP) in the Farmland Protection Program (FPP) in the March 20, 1998 Federal Register. Proposals are due at NRCS State Offices by June 18, 1998. The FPP has more than $17 million available in FY 1998, for cooperative agreements to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land to limit its conversion to non-agricultural uses.

The program will accept proposals from States, Tribes, and units of local government that have pending offers with landowners for agreements that will protect lands that contain "prime, unique, or other productive soils." You can retrieve a copy of the Federal Register notice by accessing the Government Printing Office's Website at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html and searching for keywords on the relevant date, or contact the Community Assistance and Rural Development Division, NRCS at ccard.nrcs@usda.gov or (202) 690-0639.

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red ballConservation Farm Option

Maybe Moses and the Israelites only thought they were wandering in the desert for forty years. Goodness knows, the two long years we've tried to beg, cajole and browbeat the rule for the Conservation Farm Option out of the USDA have seemed like a generation or better.

Though not noted in the proposed rule, the department is simultaneously distributing the CFO project application form to all of its NRCS field offices, but we've heard disturbing reports that this may be news to more than a couple of them. We have copies of both the rule and the RFP available here if you need them. The RFP will also appear in the Register sometime the week of April 13.

It is not yet clear how much money will be available for this first round of CFO proposals for two reasons. First, the Administration has not yet decided whether they will spend only the $15 million authorized for this year, or the full $22.5 million available to them by adding unspent funds from last year. Second, during consideration of the emergency supplemental appropriations bill two weeks ago, the House Appropriations Committee stole $11 million from CFO to pay for farm disaster loans. The Senate bill does not include this cut. We are working to see that the Senate position prevails in conference.

Next year (FY 99) CFO will have $25 million, then $37.5 million in FY 00, $50 million in FY 01, and finally $62.5 million in FY 02.

Now we need your help. Start by thinking seriously about whether you or a farmer or farmer organization you know might be interested in applying. There is only a 60 day turnaround time to get applications in (June 1), and of course, April and May are not great times to be developing farm proposals. For project proposals, the actual individual farmer plans would not be needed until after the project is selected, so those will probably be due over the summer. However, individual farmers can put in applications directly instead of through projects, if they can put a proposal together before the end of May.

Second, we will be asking you to send in comments on the proposed rule. It will have a 60 day comment period (June 1 deadline) and we will be sending out information on what is in the rule and what needs fixing, if anything, in the near future.

To review, the CFO is a pilot program for farmers who participate in the farm commodity programs (i.e., farmers with production flexibility contracts under Freedom to Farm) to develop farm conservation plans to address one or more natural resource problems through innovative practices, including long-term diversified rotations. Payments for successful proposals will be made over a ten-year period, so it will be possible to develop fairly long range ideas. Proposals may be submitted by individual farmers or on a project basis by an organization, agency, or group of farmers. USDA has indicated they expect to fund some in both categories.

Proposals may be for payment on traditional conservation practices (much like the old ACP program or EQIP), for land retirement (similar to CRP, including buffer strips), or wetland restoration (similar to WRP). However, the program will place special emphasis on innovative practices like new technology, practices not common in the project area, experimental crop rotations, alternative cover cropping practices, on-farm field trials, research and demonstration projects, whole farm planning, integrated crop and pest management, and technology transfer. In addition, CFO staff would like to fund a few projects designed as performance-based rather than technology-based projects, and a few that serve minority or low-income producers.

CFO proposals may make use of the program's unique flexibility. The specific and sometimes rigid rules for CRP, WRP, and EQIP do not necessarily apply. Thus, for instance, if a farmer has not entered CRP because of its near absolute prohibition on grazing, CFO could be a very workable alternative. Or if someone wanted to establish a "rotational CRP" CFO might be the place to look. Wetland buffer areas might make for a good area wide CFO project. IPM practitioners could use CFO to set-aside land for the planting for beneficials. The ten year payment stream could encourage whole farm planning R&D projects, long term rotation study projects, and soil quality projects.

Attached to the RFP is a scoring sheet that should make it very clear how projects will be scored and ranked. The program encourages partnerships and some points are given for in-kind, financial, and project administration assistance from other sources. One very interesting possibility would be for farmers to apply for SARE producer grants in conjunction with a larger CFO project. CFO is also a place for farmers who have been turned down for SARE producer grants due to its very limited funding to try their proposals again.

The NRCS can contract with NGOs and others for project administration, including technical assistance, outreach, education, and/or monitoring and evaluation. Groups seeking such third-party payments should indicate this in the budget section of the application.

If you would like to be on a mailing/phone list of groups and farmers interested in applying for CFO funds, please call or e-mail Kris Thorp at the Center for Rural Affairs (krist@cfra.org; 402-846-5428). There have been several conference calls and mailings to talk over program developments and assist in getting proposals developed through this CFO network, so it is a good way to keep up to date.

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red ballAg Research Bill

The Iceberg. And here you thought it was just the Titanic that could slip beneath the arctic waves and an ocean of tears, only to re-launch in time for the 8:10 showing. Now that Congress has left town for a couple of weeks, we will try to make sense of what has transpired on the research reauthorization. This of course, was to be the research title of the 1995 farm bill, then 1996 farm bill, and then 1997 reauthorization. Now we try again in '98, but the fate of the measure remains very much in doubt. Its still alive, but in considerable jeopardy. Down in front.

This is not a simple story, but we will try to boil it down to the key points. Here's what we know:

  • The bill emerged from conference committee between the House and Senate on March 26.

  • The final package takes the $1.9 billion to be gained from administrative cost changes in the food stamp program and allocates it to crop insurance ($500 million), Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food System research ($600 million), food stamps for legal immigrants who are elderly, disabled, or children ($816 million), and the Fund for Rural America ($100 million).

  • The final conference bill has not yet been approved on the floor of the House or Senate. An attempt to go to a vote in the Senate was blocked by the Republican leadership.

  • The Administration has indicated strongly the President will sign the bill if it reaches him, with the key issue for them being the food stamp restoration to about 250,000 of the 935,000 legal immigrants who lost food stamp eligibility in the 1996 welfare reform law.

  • Just prior to skipping town, the Senate approved its version of the 1999 budget resolution, which includes a provision designating the $1.9 billion food stamp administrative cost offset to highway construction costs under the pending Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (AKA "ISTEA," "Ice-Tea," "Ice-T," or "The Other White Meat.")

  • Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has indicated a preference for spending the food stamp money on ISTEA, but has also vaguely indicated he might help find other offsets for the ag bill. Senator Gramm (R-TX) and other conservatives have indicated opposition to any restoration of benefits to legal aliens.

  • If the final ISTEA bill passes on the Senate floor with the food stamp offset prior to action on the research bill, the latter is clearly doomed. Glub, glub, glub.

  • House Appropriations leadership from both parties have indicated classic "turf battle" opposition to the mandatory research funding in the bill, but have yet to make clear if they will move to block the bill.

  • General prognosis on the Hill is the bill is still alive, but she's taking on water fast. The first test of life will be on the Senate floor sometime after the recess. The House will only act if it clears the Senate.

Stay tuned! There will no doubt be more to this story to tell.

The Deck Chairs. Now, for the research issues themselves. Going into the conference battle, we had a several priorities. Here's how we did on each one:

  • Fund for Rural America. We advocated for the Senate provision adding 3 years and $300 million to the Fund and mandating that half to two-thirds be spent on rural development activities. We wound up with just $100 million new dollars, which were added to the $200 million already in the Fund for 1999 and 2000, spread evenly over 5 years (1999-2003), for a net of $60 million per year. In essence, this is a cut of $40 million in the first two years, with the extra money tacked on the end. This was a defeat, but one that was probably locked in place when the Administration and the Senate Democrats picked food stamps and crop insurance as priorities and chose to sacrifice the Fund. The House conferees also insisted on report language directing that half the money be spent on research; if followed, this directive would reduce rural development spending to just $30 million per year, making it difficult to implement the beginning farmer and entrepreneurship proposals in the Small Farm Commission report.

  • Small and Medium Size Farms. We advocated for inclusion of Senator Feingold's three provisions on small farms and were successful on each one. Most importantly, the new $600 million "Initiative" includes as one of six priorities "farm efficiency and profitability" research, including the viability and competitiveness of small and medium-sized farms. The bill also included a separate, new authorization for a coordinated and targeted program of research, extension and education for small and medium size dairy, livestock, and poultry operations. The language allows USDA to redirect existing funding for this purpose. Finally, the new precision agriculture research authorization tags the applicability and accessibility of the precision ag technologies to small and medium-sized farms as a priority for funding.

  • Organic Farming and Crop Diversification. We advocated and won new authorizations for research directed toward organic farming systems and toward new crops and crop diversification. These items were sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and George Brown (D-CA), respectively. These authorizations are a first step, which, if successful, will require actual appropriations to get off the ground.

  • Precision Agriculture. In conference, we were able to retain key provisions targeting any spending to projects not likely to be funded by the private sector, allowing costs as well as benefits to be studies and publicized, and making the applicability to smaller farms a priority area.

  • Extension Funding. We backed Senate language to make national Extension "3(d)" noncompetitive funding open to minority land grant institutions and 3(d) competitive funding open to non-land grant educational institutions. This provision, fiercely contested by Extension, was not adopted.

  • Stakeholder Review. We backed Senate language, and opposed House language, on stakeholder review. The preferred language was adopted, making stakeholder review at each land grant institution a condition of receipt of formula funds under regulations to be proposed by the Secretary. Requests for proposals will not have to be approved by the REE Advisory Board as proposed by the House bill.

There are, of course, many other provisions in the bill, some interesting and some not very. Space prohibits us from going any further, but we're sure the Cliff Notes version will soon be available for all you ag research junkies!

Bargaining with a Higher Power. The ag research bill contains a major crop insurance deal. A little background: Since 1995, half of the federal funds used to reimburse crop insurers -- about $200 million -- have come out of discretionary (appropriated) dollars. Naturally, this drives the Ag Approps Subcommittees wild and has led to repeated attempts to make the entire amount mandatory spending. As you might recall, the attempt to go to conference committee and pass the research bill last year was blocked by Appropriations leadership who insisted that a crop insurance fix be part of the deal.

Well, they have gotten their wish. Over the five year life of the research bill, the cost for making crop insurance mandatory spending again is a bit over $1 billion. The bill uses $500 million of the food stamp offset toward that end. The remainder is paid for out of the crop insurance program itself through a series of reforms and offsets.

The financing mechanisms include:

  • Raising fees paid by producers. Rather than $50 per crop for catastrophic risk protection, the fee would become the higher of $60 or 10% of the imputed premium. A $20 fee for additional coverage would also be added. All fees would be retained by the program rather than going to the insurance companies. Total 5 year savings = $270 million.

  • Lowering reimbursements to insurance agents. The reimbursement rate to insurance providers for administrative and operating costs would drop from 27% to 24.5% of the premium. The loss adjustment reimbursement for delivery of catastrophic policies would shrink from 14% to 11% of the premium. Total 5 year savings = $240 million.

  • Reducing the budget for research and development and risk management education. The Risk Management Agency's R&D spending has come from the mandatory side of the budget since 1995, as has the $5 million risk management education program added by the 1996 farm bill. The combined total for R&D and education would be reduced to $3.5 million per year. Total savings = $20 million.

The slightly more progressive fee structure would impact about 160,000 out of about 720,000 operations. The remainder would continue to be at the $50 level. Another important targeting feature proposed by the Administration -- a $100,000 payment limitation on catastrophic coverage - never got serious consideration.

An earlier proposal from Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) to more completely privatize crop insurance and reduce RMA's role to solely that of an arm's length regulator was not included in the package. Instead the bill calls for a study of the issue.

Nonetheless, the third item in the offset package hurts our agenda directly. With less to spend on developing new pilot projects, we will have our work cut out for us in pressing RMA to move forward with whole farm revenue insurance coverage. If they can't get something approved this year, while they still have money, it will be tougher next year. At that point, they will need to get any funds above the $3.5 million through the appropriations bill for R&D and risk management education. Perhaps we have just added to our list of appropriations priorities!

Special Note: If the research bill is not passed and signed into law, the Agricultural Appropriations bill would have to find the $200 million for crop insurance by stealing from other programs. With an already very tight ag budget, this would be very, very not-good news for our priorities.

In The End, We're Only Humus. A miscellaneous item stuck into the research bill would solve a major problem for the national organic program. Under current law, the fees that will be paid by farmers, processors, and certification organizations would flow back to the General Treasury. The fix in the research bill would allow the revenue collected by the program to stay in the program to be used for expenses related to administering accreditation services. Other costs of the program would still come from appropriated funds. While this is progress, it's too early to break out the White Star champagne; the change would not alter the need to get USDA to change the fee structure in the organic rule to make it a progressive rather than a flat schedule.

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red ballRobb/Clayton Credit Bill Put in Play

Under a provision of the 1996 farm bill's credit title, farmers who have had debt forgiven in the past are ineligible for any future operating, farm ownership, or emergency loans. In response to recommendations by the Civil Rights and Small Farm Commissions, Secretary Glickman proposed, and Senator Chuck Robb & Rep. Eva Clayton introduced legislation to overturn this restriction.

The bill would:

  • Allow up to 2 writedowns or net recovery buyouts before losing loan eligibility.

  • Allow up to 1 additional debt forgiveness if it was a result of a medical condition or natural disaster and exclude any forgiveness provided as a resolution of a discrimination complaint against USDA.

  • Allow credit funds targeted to minority and women farmers to be reallocated from one state to another based on demand.

In a surprise move, Senator Robb attached the bill to the supplemental appropriations bill moving through Congress. The supplemental covers the costs of various natural disasters plus costs of military operations in Bosnia and funds for the IMF. Rep. Clayton tried the same approach, but was denied an opportunity to offer her bill by the Rules Committee.

The House Agriculture Committee had scheduled a markup on the credit issues, but canceled it when Robb made his move. Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) was going to propose significant changes to weaken USDA's proposal. Clayton's bill would have been offered as a series of amendments to the Combest proposal. In addition, Rep. David Minge (D-MN) planned to offer an amendment on our behalf to fix a 1996 farm bill provision on beginning farmer operating loans. Under the Minge amendment, beginning farmers would be eligible for operating loans for the entire time they qualified as beginning farmers -- up to 10 years -- rather than 6 year limit in the 96 bill.

We were also prepared to fight off an amendment by Rep. Charles Pickering (R-MS) to triple the size of the per-farm loan limitations. Average loan size currently range from 11% to 57% of the loan limitations, depending on the particular program, a fairly clear indication that increases are not warranted. The Pickering amendment would result in fewer loans to larger farms, and would help facilitate loans to large-scale factory livestock and poultry operations.

The legislative situation is somewhat muddy. The Robb bill might be dealt with in the conference committee between the House and the Senate on the supplemental appropriation, but the House may not accept it without significant changes. It might also be booted from that venue back to the Agriculture Committees for markup as a separate bill. If the latter route comes to pass, we will need to gear up again on the various amendments.

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red ballFund for Rural America Research Update

I. Standard Grants

The Fund for Rural America's 1997 standard research grants were finally all released in March. Altogether, 115 grants were made, totaling some $32 million. These included grants made to applicants responding to the main request for proposals as well as the Secretary's special initiatives and the Vice President's telecommunications initiative. Almost all of the projects were funded at fewer dollars than originally announced due to budget mismanagement problems at USDA. We understand that, on average, grants were 55% of requested amounts.

All of the numbers below are based on our own quick read of the list of grants. Since project titles require some interpretation, the numbers should be considered estimates.

Among the highlights and lowlights:

  • Of the 1200 proposals, the review panels ranked about 300 as top quality, of which the top 115 were chosen. Authors of the other 185 proposals received phone calls urging them to resubmit proposals in the next round of funding.

  • Of the 115, 81 were from land grants, 8 from other universities and colleges, 6 from ARS, 1 from ERS, 4 from companies, and the other 15 from NGOs, agencies and others.

  • Several NGOs were successful, including Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (crop rotation), Oregon Tilth (farmer genome project), Kansas Rural Center (Heartland network), the Wallace Institute, with ERS (organic market development), Farmers' Legal Action Group (assessment of contract poultry practices), Shirley (AR) Community Development Corporation (value-added incubator), and the Center for Civic Networking (public WebMarket expansion).

  • The Office of Extramural Programs tossed several NGO proposals for not qualifying as a "private research organization with an established and demonstrated capacity to perform research or technology transfer" as required by law. Review panels rejected others as being too strongly "advocacy" based, whatever that means.

  • The Review process did not differentiate or otherwise separate proposals responding to the Secretary's special emphasis on research to counter livestock concentration, but rather threw them in with all the other livestock proposals. Just who does that Glickman guy think he is, anyway?

  • Of the other special emphases, 4 gleaning/food recovery projects, 2 HACCP projects, and 2 phytonutrient projects were funded. There are also about a dozen telecommunications projects.

  • There are at least 15 livestock projects, a dozen projects with value-added agricultural enterprise as a main thrust, 10 forestry or forest product projects, and a few each with IPM, precision agriculture, and new products/new uses titles. Two University of California projects include "increasing adoption of sustainable agriculture" in the title.

  • From the titles of funded livestock project, which are difficult to interpret, it appears roughly equal numbers of projects are aimed at smaller and larger operations and at alternative and conventional systems.

II. Center Grants

As you may recall, the Fund awarded $881,000 last year for planning grants to come up with FRA "Centers." All of the Center proposals are now in hand. Most of the 35 proposals ask for close to the $4 million maximum award. The 35 submissions total $110 million, but at most $13 million will be awarded. Thus, there will likely be 7-10 center awards, each at less than the asking price.

The review panel for the center grants will meet in early June. We are told the reviewers will be clearly reminded that centers must meet the goals of the Fund as spelled out in the statute and RFP. The winning centers will then hold stakeholder workshops in July, with the aim of getting input and possibly securing additional resources from partners. These stakeholder meetings will be annual over the life of the grant.

Among the centers that sound like they could be helpful are a small farm center (Kentucky State), crop diversification (U of MO), conservation buffers (Forest Service), center for cooperative enterprise (U of WI), biologically-based IPM (Cornell), minority land loss and recovery (Tuskegee), intermountain center for sustainable agriculture (Utah State), and food venture and processing technology (Cornell). Others that might be useful include one on the Dead Zone (Iowa State), value-added wood products (U of WI), a melded grant for Native American Extension outreach, and several related to rural communities. On the clearly negative side, there is the proposed National Consortium for Pork Technology and Education, and the Center for Sanitary Barriers to US Meat Exports, both with Iowa State as the lead institution.

III. The Next Round

A new draft request for proposals (RFP) is complete and is awaiting clearance. The tentative goal is to make the next round of awards by the end of the calendar year or early in the new year. This would imply an RFP release date within the next month. We are trying to learn more and will let you know in the next Report.

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red ballCREP Projects for Minnesota and Illinois Rivers

The USDA has announced Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program initiatives with the states of Minnesota and Illinois. Under the CREP, funds from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are combined with state funds to target areas of state environmental concern.

The Minnesota River Watershed CREP, announced February 19, 1998, targets 100,000 acres in the floodplain of the Minnesota River and its principal tributaries. Farmers may enter into 15-year contracts with USDA for annual rental payments, incentive payments, and cost-share assistance to establish protective vegetation along the River and its tributaries. In addition, funds from the Reinvest in Minnesota Program will be used for lump-sum payments to purchase easements to maintain the CREP conservation practices after the CRP contracts have expired.

If the full 100,000 acres are enrolled before the CREP offer expires on September 30, 2002, USDA estimates that the total financial obligation will be about $223 million, with about $163 million from the federal government and $63 million from Minnesota. For further information, contact local USDA Service Centers, Farm Service Agency Offices, or Natural Resources Conservation Offices in the Minnesota River watershed.

The Illinois River CREP, announced on March 30, 1998, has a project area consisting of the Middle Illinois and Peoria sections of the Illinois River and the watersheds of Illinois River tributaries, including: the Vermillion, Mackinaw, Spoon, Lower Fox, Lower Sagamon, and Kankakee Rivers. The area was chosen on findings of high sedimentation rates within these watersheds.

Illinois and the USDA have established goals for this CREP, including

  1. A 20% reduction in sedimentation in the Illinois River.

  2. A 10% reduction in phosphorus and nitrogen loading.

  3. An increase in waterfowl and state and federally listed species populations by 15%.

  4. An increase in native fish and mussel stocks in the lower Illinois River by 10%.

The state of Illinois is responsible for monitoring the CREP to evaluate and record progress on achieving these goals. Illinois and the USDA anticipate an enrollment of 100,000 aces in the CREP. USDA will contribute $202 million for CRP payments for 15-year contracts and Illinois will contribute $48 million for additional 15 year or 35 year contracts or for purchase of permanent easements on the CREP land.

Participants in the CREP will receive a 30% increase above the annual per acre rental rate for enrollment of riparian buffers, filter strips, and wetland restoration and a 20% increase above the annual acre rental rate for enrollment of erodible land. Both the USDA and Illinois will share with the participant the costs of installing new vegetative cover.

Continuous enrollment in the Illinois River CREP will begin May 1, 1998. For more information on the Illinois River CREP, contact the USDA county service office, the local Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District, or the district office of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for districts in the project area.

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red ballHearing on Harkin Feedlot Bill

You say Ay-FO, I say Ah-FO.
You say Kay-FO, I say Kah-FO.
Ay-FO, Ah-FO, Kay-FO, Kah-FO,
Let's call the whole thing off."
("The CAFO Song," © F. Hoefner 1998)

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing on Senator Harkin's Feedlot / Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Bill, S. 1323 on April 2, 1998.

Main features of Harkin's Bill include:

  1. Reduces regulated CAFO size to about one-half of current U.S. EPA regulations for feeder cattle, dairy cattle, and swine.

  2. Regulates poultry operations, even if dry manure-litter is the primary animal waste.

  3. Aggregates animals in a watershed to get the number of animals for CAFO determination.

  4. Requires preparation and compliance with an animal waste management plan, including land application limitations, required to operate a CAFO.

  5. Imposes some restrictions on earthen lagoon siting.

  6. Imposes joint responsibility for compliance on the CAFO operator and the owner of the animals in the CAFO.

  7. Authorizes USDA as the agency enforcing compliance with the bill's requirements, including authority to order closure of a non-complying CAFO.

  8. Increases funding authorization for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to $600 million per year from 1999 through 2002.

Witnesses who testified at the hearing included Robert Perciasepe, EPA Assistant Administrator, Office of Water; Craig Cox, USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment; Governor Parris Glendening of Maryland, state agency representatives from Idaho and North Carolina, the mayor of Tulsa Oklahoma; representatives from the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattleman's Beef Association, and the National Turkey Association - National Broiler Association; and an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The most important outcome of the hearing was that all witnesses agreed that USDA should not be the enforcer and Senator Harkin conceded that point.

Numerous witnesses (including the mayor of Tulsa, the Director of the North Carolina Division of Soil and Water Conservation, and Harry Knobbe representing the National Cattleman's Beef Association) pointed out that a major problem with large-scale, geographically concentrated CAFOs was that sufficient land was often not available to handle the animal waste in an environmentally sound manner. Other witnesses provided reasons for implementation of national minimum standards for CAFOs. Governor Glendening noted that processors, who are often the owners of animals in CAFOs, are asked to take measures to deal with environmental problems they respond with threats to move to other states with lax regulation. The Mayor of Tulsa said that nutrient pollution of her city's water supply was coming from sources both within Oklahoma and across the state lines in Arkansas. The need for increased funding for a more stringent regulatory program at both the federal and state level was also an issue.

Only a few Senators showed up for the hearing. Senator Pat Roberts (KS) stopped by to decry EPA regulation in general, to opine that Kansas already had stricter standards than those in federal law, and to make a remark, quickly withdrawn that implied that cattle are fine but hogs may be different. Senator Kerrey (NE) came down against both the Harkin bill and EPA's strategy to increase regulation of CAFOs. He opined that EPA was implementing a national action plan before there is evidence of a national problem and indicated that Nebraska had its animal waste management concerns under control. Senator Lugar (IN) who attended most of the hearing, also appeared skeptical about increased regulation of CAFOs but did not come out clearly against increased federal involvement in CAFO regulation.

It is unlikely that the Harkin bill will be the legislative vehicle for increasing CAFO regulation. Indeed, if a more stringent U.S. EPA strategy for regulating CAFOs is implemented under the current Clean Water Act, Congress may defer considering any additional federal legislation for dealing with environmental problems arising from CAFOs.

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red ballUSDA-EPA "Cleanwater-Palooza" Road Show

Robert Perciasepe, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water and Jim Lyons, USDA Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment will be holding seven 2-day "stakeholder" meetings for the Clean Water Action Plan around the nation. These meetings are intended to give non-governmental stakeholders an opportunity to express their views on the Clean Water Action Plan to federal, state. local, and tribal officials. Their last stop is in the Midwest - Chicago, Illinois on May 12 and 13. For further information on the Midwest meeting's time, place and agenda, contact the EPA Region 5 office in Chicago by phone at (800)-621-8431 or (312) 353-2000.

You can order a copy of the Clean Water Action Plan from the USDA by contacting Douglas Wilson, USDA-NRCS, Conservation Communications Staff Room, 0054-South Building, P.O. Box 2890, Washington, D.C. 20013-2890 or by FAX at (202) 720-6009. The Plan is also available for viewing on the internet at: http://www.epa.gov/cleanwater or http://www.nhq.nrcs.usda.gov/cleanwater.

…Meanwhile Back at the Ranch... While their assistants are out on the road, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and EPA Administrator Carol Browner will be meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 5 at a summit hosted by Senator Tom Harkin on the roles of the EPA and USDA in regulating Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. SAC and other participants in the Clean Water Network's Feedlot Workgroup are invited to the summit. We will keep you all informed of the outcome of the summit in the next MSAWG newsletter.

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red ballDead Zone Update

EPA Regional Administrators with jurisdiction in the Mississippi River Watershed have formed a compact to support a systems approach to deal with the water quality of the Mississippi watershed and the Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" issue. [We have a copy of this 2-page "St. Louis Compact", which we will send out on request].

In a meeting at EPA headquarters here in Washington, D.C. on March 31, the Regional Administrators in the Mississippi watershed expressed a strong interest in making contact with sustainable agriculture organizations in their regions who could provide information on sustainable agriculture techniques and practices, particularly those that concern nutrient and pesticide management. This is an excellent opportunity to educate important actors in the implementation of EPA programs about sustainable agriculture.

If you have not already done so, we recommend that you also ask about regional public notification lists for EPA meetings, actions, etc. concerning agricultural issues. You might also want to consider mailing them copies of your organization's publications on sustainable ag practices, concepts and research results, plus invitation to field days this summer.

FYI: Info on U.S. EPA Regional Offices in the MSAWG geographical area:

  • Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio & Wisconsin)
    David A. Ullrich, Acting Regional Administrator
    U.S. EPA Region 5
    77 West Jackson Blvd.
    Chicago, IL 60604
    Ph: 800-621-8431 or 312-886-3000
    Fax: 312-353-1120
    e-mail: ullrich.david@epamail.epa.gov

  • Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri & Nebraska)
    Dennis Grams, Regional Administrator
    U.S. EPA Region 7
    726 Minnesota Ave.
    Kansas City, KS 66101
    Ph: 800-848-4568 or 913-551-7006
    Fax: 913-551-7976

  • * Region 8 (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming & Utah)
    William Yellowtail, Regional Administrator
    U.S. EPA Region 8
    999 18th St. , Suite 500
    Denver CO 80202-2466
    Ph. 800-227-8917 or 303-312-6312
    Fax 303-312-6339

Note also that the EPA, USDA and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Agencies will also be sponsoring regional Nonpoint Source Forums. A Midwest Forum is scheduled for June 2, 1998 in Kansas City, Missouri at the Embassy Suites-Airport Hotel. For more information on this forum, contact the U.S. EPA Region 7 Office (address and phone number listed above).

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red ballARS Gets In The Act

The Agricultural Research Service is holding a National Program Workshop on Manure Management in Kansas City (KC Missouri Holiday Inn), April 22-24. The purpose of the meeting is to evaluate the new draft national program plan that will determine what types of waste management research ARS will prioritize. They've courted MSAWG to attend. John Crabtree (Center for Rural Affairs) will be going; if you are interested, call John or Ferd.

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red ballOrganic Program News - NOSB Meeting

The saga of the National Organic Program continues, with more than 40,000 comments on the proposed rule registered so far with the USDA, and a whole slew of them waiting in the wings.

With the issue still burning white-hot, the National Organic Standards Board met in Ontario, CA the week of March 16. The Board first approved a "reaffirmation statement," which essentially said that the newly constituted NOSB supported the work of previous NOSB meetings and urged the Secretary to revise the Proposed Rules based on the recommendations of the Board.

Seems pretty obvious, but keep the intended audience in mind. The Board also signed a letter to the Secretary asserting the Board's control over the National List of allowed synthetics in organic production which accompanied a legal memorandum on the topic prepared by the Wallace Institute.

The NOSB is working on recommendations on several issues of public concern - each a paragraph long - so that people have an accessible guide to NOSB work. These issues include clarification of:

  • the meaning of "made with certain organic ingredients"
  • importance of crop rotation
  • importance of organic plan and recordkeeping
  • inerts
  • eco-labeling
  • fees
  • livestock standards
  • definition of organic
  • the role of certifiers
  • GMOs
  • ionizing radiation
  • biosolids
  • the role of the NOSB

Fourth, a resolution passed unanimously which asked the Secretary to formalize a relationship with the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) to provide technical assistance to the Board.

By the way, the Secretary responded to reporters' questions on the Proposed Rules as he departed the Public Voice conference on March 23. He said three things that are music to the organic, environmental, and consumer community ears: there will be another opportunity for public comment after the revised rule comes out (although he would not elaborate on his meaning); USDA will not enact a Rule that is not supported by the organic industry; and that organic label was a marketing and production claim, not a food safety claim.

If half the work in training an elephant is getting his attention, then organic advocates may have this particular Jumbo at a trainable moment.

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